The Gateway guide to sales and marketing

The first of a four-part series exploring different commercial career paths
Types of work

What is sales and marketing?

Sales and marketing describes the process by which the goods or services a company provides come to be bought by its customers. Sales and marketing are highly distinct from one another and the two processes vary hugely depending on the industry.


In business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, where the customer is an individual, such as retail, tourism and high-street banking, marketing typically involves ensuring that as many people as possible are aware of, and enticed by, the company's product. This will be done by advertising in a range of media (TV, radio, online, billboards, newspapers, flyering etc.) and also through public relations events and sponsorship; such as British Airways putting their name to the London Eye, or Emirates and Reebok purchasing the naming rights of premiership football stadia. By contrast, sales are conducted once the consumer enters the store (or logs onto the website) and are boosted by a range of factors including price and promotions, customer service (or ease of use for a website), product range and availability and after-sales offerings such as warranties and insurance.


Sales and marketing in business-to-business (B2B) is very different. Advisory firms such as investment banks, accountancies, consultancies and law firms all try to build lasting relationships with their clients in order to secure repeat business for many years (law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have advised the Bank of England since 1743, for example) but they also need to market their services in order to get new clients on board. B2B marketing is often subtle, with companies keen to ensure their brand is well seen by the right people (for example, Ernst & Young sponsors exhibitions at Tate Britain). At large organisations the task of finding new business is not confined to a sales team. Investment banking analysts can spend weeks at a time drawing up potential M&A scenarios that are then sent to prospective clients. The idea is to demonstrate the financial value that bringing the bank on board could bring. At consultancies, analysts will often be asked to write a short report at the end of a project, which may be turned into a flyer and sent to other firms in the client's sector as a way of encouraging new business.

What graduate careers are on offer in sales and marketing?

The vast majority of graduate sales and marketing roles are found in B2C companies, with the big FMCG, telecommunications firms and retailers being the largest recruiters. If you've missed their graduate programme deadlines it's not necessarily too late as, on top of the formal schemes, many large companies also recruit ad hoc throughout the year into sales and marketing vacancies.


The word "sales" can conjure up images of cold-callers in dismal office blocks or candidates on The Apprentice flogging their wares to hapless passers-by. But, in reality, graduate sales jobs are far more about account management and business-nous than convincing someone to purchase something against their will. For example, if you start a sales career at Proctor & Gamble (P&G), you will work for one of their brands, let's say Gillette. P&G will sell Gillette's products to retailers such as supermarkets and convenience stores, who will then sell them on to the consumer. Your job at P&G will be to encourage a Tesco or a Sainsbury's to buy as many units as possible - and this is done not through bolshy salesmanship, but through demonstrating profitability through facts and figures. You would look to boost the retailer's sales of your products by suggesting the promotions or price discounts that you can offer and by using negotiation skills to ensure that your product gets the best place on the shelf. When not on the shop floor, you'll spend time calculating sales statistics to present to your clients, which means that some level of mathematical ability is often required.


Marketing departments are often split into a number of different teams. The first distinction is between the mathematical and the creative side of marketing. Marketing is as much a science as an art and any company embarking on a marketing campaign is principally concerned about the return on investment they get from that campaign. This often means making sure the campaign is targeted towards a group of people that should be buying the company's products but, for some reason, have not been doing so. This is where the customer insight team comes in.

The customer insight team

As a junior on a customer insight team you will be asked to analyse the company's sales data. This data will typically be come in the form enormous spreadsheets, provided by a third party company such as TNS. The conclusions drawn from the data will be drawn up into a report to be presented to senior directors of the company and which may be used to establish new sales and marketing strategies.

For example, let's say you work for a mobile phone company. As a customer insight analyst you may have discovered that your company have significant market share of both the 14 to 17 year old pay-as-you-go market and the 24-27 year old prepaid tariff contract. However, the company has very few customers aged between 18 and 23, which you know is a key age-range in which consumers build a brand loyalty that can last for many years. As a customer insight analyst you might be asked to find out the reasons why people in this age range do not use the network. This could involve working with market research houses, who will conduct focus groups with people in this age range, reporting back reasons as to why the company is unpopular. Causes may be practical (perhaps there is poor reception in some major university towns), financial (it could be too expensive) or there could be an issue to do with how the company is perceived: for whatever reason 18 to 23 year olds may not identify with the firm's values. At this point the creative element of the marketing process begins to kick in.

The creative team

It is a common misconception that the artistic elements of marketing are dreamed up from nowhere by people in new-age offices playing on their apple macs. The process will continue to be rooted in business principles. Creative ideas are always generated in the context of a wider campaign, in this case making a phone company appeal more to people in a certain age range. You will work with agencies (see below) who specialise in different types of marketing, such as branding, TV advertising, online marketing and even viral marketing (generating internet chatter and real-life word-of-mouth, through virtual or real events which will make people spread the word, such as T-Mobile's karaoke party in Trafalgar Square, organised online and then turned into a TV advert).

As a junior member of a creative marketing team at a corporate company you may be expected to manage the marketing process rather than get directly involved in the design and branding aspects of the campaigns. Whilst this can leave the creative-minded somewhat disappointed, the exposure to the business questions you get from doing such a role often serves as a good training base, whilst the contact network developed from having managed numerous campaigns can allow people to move to work for an agency having completed their training at a corporate.


Many marketing agencies, whether of the quantitative, research or creative variety, hire graduates. A significant number (over 100 in the UK) are owned by the WPP Group: they have a breakdown of all their portfolio companies on their website. Whilst starting at an agency may satiate an appetite for working in a creative environment from day one, the salaries are typically low (around £18,000) and the hours can be long. On top of this, the work given to juniors will often be of the administrative variety, leaving the experienced pros (where you have to work your way up to) to do the highly creative work - it can be better to join these firms as an experienced hire after having worked a few years elsewhere first.

Continue learning below