The Business: Marketing and Sales

I was recently confronted with some folks who were oddly conflating marketing and sales. This has happened to me before, but these folks managed to express themselves in a way that made it fundamentally clearer, to me, about where the confusion was. So I wanted to help them address the confusion, so they could make better business decisions.

“The Business” is a series of posts about understanding and running businesses. Much of the inspiration for these posts comes from my own side business of independent fiction writing and publishing.

One of the messy necessities of being self-published is the need to get reviews for your books. One aspect of that is getting folks to post honest reviews on your book’s Amazon page (other online bookstores matter, but not nearly as much as Amazon). Another related activity is getting professional reviews for your books.

Professional reviews are the ones that you often see quoted in the book’s “blurb,” or description, and they’re usually attributed to a “brand-name” reviewer like BookLife or Kirkus Reviews. Many popular review companies, like those two, accept submissions from authors and choose which ones they want to review. All of them also offer paid reviews, wherein an author pays to have an honest, unbiased review written. In some cases, authors can control whether the resulting review remains private or is publicly published, but the authors never have any input into the review once it’s been paid for.

Ive used paid reviews myself. They’re definitely unbiased; I’ve had negative comments as well as ones I saw as positive. Paid reviews from a reputable brand can help “fill in the gap” until you build a quantity of Amazon reviews.

Paid reviews are a form of marketing.

It’s important to understand the difference between marketing and sales, and how they two often don’t directly connect.

My own experiences have led me to broadly categorize marketing activities into three chunks: what I call brand marketing and what I call lead marketing and directed marketing. Marketing professionals use those terms, but they may use them a little differently than I do—just be aware that what you’re getting is my lingo, not the Official Jargon of the industry.

Lead marketing is simple: you try to get people to give you their contact information, so you can then engage in directed marketing to try and get them to buy something. It’s like when you go to a tech conference, right? Everyone wants to hand you swag and shirts and stress balls and stuff, but first you have to let them scan your badge. Boom, you’re a lead. Now, you’re not a well-qualified lead, because they don’t even know if you need whatever they’re selling, but you’re a lead nonetheless.

Some companies engage almost primarily in lead marketing. They’ve tuned the process and pipeline and know that for every x% of leads, they’ll generate $y of revenue. More leads, more money. So in those cases, marketing equals money. A certain amount of a certain type of marketing will result in measurable sales gains.

Other companies don’t engage in any lead marketing at all. Take Coca-Cola. They do brand marketing. They’re not out collecting email addresses and then spamming you to drink sugary syrup-water; they’re just “getting in front of you” a lot. They try to get you to associate their brand with things you might like, such as Christmas, polar bears, feeling refreshed, and so on.

Done properly, brand marketing will drive increases in sales, but not in a way you can easily measure. You can’t often predict that spending $10M on a Super Bowl ad will make more people go to your new movie, and you can’t predict how many tickets you’ll sell based on that ad. Brand marketing is more about a constant effort.

Paid book reviews are a lot like brand marketing. You do them because you think (if in fact you do think) that the expense will, over the long haul, help keep your sales growing. But you’ll never be able to prove or disprove it. You’ll never know that your paid BookLife review resulted in 20 sales, or 200 sales, or 0 sales. Brand marketing is often part of a comprehensive campaign, the overall result of which is to help drive sales.

When saw one author post something like, “I’m not paying for a Kirkus Review because I did so once and my sales didn’t go up that much,” I knew that person didn’t understand the kind of marketing they were engaging in. “Normal” marketing isn’t about a 1:1 or 1:x increase in sales; it’s about an overall campaign of branding and association. I wouldn’t pay for a review of a single book, for example; I’d pay for a review of the first book in a series, and I’d be running a long-term marketing campaign for the series. I also engage in lead marketing, for example (see, where I offer something of value in exchange for someone joining my newsletter. That in turn lets me tell them when I’ve a new book out, which helps me get both sales and more Amazon reviews.

Marketing, I’ve learned over the years, is something a lot of business leaders regard as a “necessary evil.” Some people have trouble when the amount of money spent on marketing, because they don’t see short-term revenue gains that they can directly connect to the marketing. Marketing is difficult to measure, in other words. Sure, smart business leaders who really understand marketing do know how to measure it, but they rarely measure it in a straight line from expense to sales.

Interestingly, marketing works for people, too. Applying for a job is a kind of lead marketing, where you hope to be able to send your directed marketing piece—your resume—in a follow-up. It’s transactional, and all about getting you the one thing you want—that job. But people can also engaging in brand marketing. That’s the everyday way you show up to work and impress your peers, the way you engage with social media, the way you contribute to open source projects, the way you help support communities, and so on. None of those activities will directly get you your next job, most of the time, but all of those activities can contribute to your getting that next job (or promotion, or whatever).