Hey Sales Guy — Stop Pissing Off The Engineers

Sales -- Stop Pissing Off the Engineers

So you are the sales god — savior of the business — and the go-to-guy when that deal must get closed to save the quarter. You can sniff a wanting customer through your smartphone. You were born to hunt elephants and nothing gets in your way of a good kill. Your brain is evenly split between “solution selling” and “commission check” and you know when to be where. You create meaningful relationships when you sleep and can coax cash out of a stone. You will do whatever it takes to try and get the feature you think you need added to the product, to close that whopper, to be the hero, to win the sales contest and that trip to Hawaii.

But do you speak engineering? Do you know how to ask for that magic feature that you are convinced will win the deal?

The intersection between customers and sales is where business is done and companies flourish or flounder. Great sales people are usually the difference between breakaway success and mediocrity. It’s no secret that if you are an over-achieving sales performer, you are worth your weight in gold. And that’s why you nearly get paid that much and are showered with Rolex watches, exotic getaways, and other goodies that make the rest of us in product and engineering stare and wonder.

However, the reality is that sales needs engineering more than engineering needs sales. And that’s why at Aha! we are heavily investing in engineering and not sales. Sales people come and go but engineers build what matters. They can continue to crank out product without you (and be happy doing it), but you can not write a line of code yourself. Engineers are the manufacturing engine that drives the business forward and are the most important non-customer asset in the company. You are overhead — until and if you ever deliver.

So why do sales people keep pissing off engineering (and product managers for that matter)? “I only ask for what customers demand,” you think, but consider the following three things you say and how it regularly pisses of engineering. It’s a chance to pause and truly reflect. Think of this as a chance to learn a better way and improve your ability to converse internally to get the support you need.

“This is the most important feature, really”
What you think: Engineers are here to serve me and everyone else in sales. Coding all day is good fun, and they are just looking for the next good idea to add to the product. Left alone, engineers would not know what to add and product management is generally clueless too. Plus, what do they know about the market, competition, or customers anyway. I am the one in the trenches. Whenever customers mention a new idea in passing, that’s the sound of the cash register to my trained ears. It’s good to take exactly what the customer said or wrote verbatim and go get it built. What could be more important?

Reality: Engineers and product managers don’t trust you for the following reasons. Every new feature request you hear about is now the “most important.” And we hear the same plea from every one of your colleagues. Imagine what the product would look like if we implemented every request. Worse, when we have delivered the new, new thing, you have not been able to close the deal anyway. So, we are skeptical. Here is what we suggest, vet that if the feature is delivered the customer will buy. Get the customer to acknowledge that informally in an email and describe in their own words exactly what the feature needs to do and why it’s important. And if that’s not possible, ask your favorite product manager to join a 15-30 minute call with you and the customer to better understand their request. Take accountability to fully vet the deal and request and involve product and engineering when necessary. If your “this feature will close the deal” claim is true (and the deal is significant or the feature will positively impact many other customers and prospects) strong product and engineering teams will jump on it.

“If we don’t deliver feature X, competitor Y will beat us again”
What you think: Let me appeal to their competitive streak. No one wants to continually be beat by a competitor. They deserve to know that we are just are not at competitive parity without this feature. So, if I keep putting it in these black and white terms, they will have to deliver what I am asking for. And if they don’t build it, I will just escalate it to the VP of Sales who will argue that sales is not getting the support it needs. He will then escalate it to the VP of Product and the VP of Engineering. So, just give me what I want before this gets ugly.

Reality: It’s unlikely that one feature is going to make or break the deal or that the competitor has every feature that we have. Could it be that the customer really is not in our sweet spot and that there are about 20 things we do not do as well as competitors who are more suited to help solve the specific problems the customer has? Sometimes the customer is just being nice and only highlights one key difference instead of telling you to take a hike. Once again, try providing some basic context for the opportunity so we have confidence that you understand all of the dynamics. If you do, we will listen. And if you want to maintain a positive relationship moving forward, don’t blame every deal lost on the product or escalate anything. Finally, proactively answer the following question “have I just been outsold in the opportunity,” because we are all thinking it.

“Sure, Mr. Customer, that is coming in the next release”
What you think: I am a sales rockstar because I know how to handle fire. Who else in the organization has more heat to perform every quarter than I do? I am a one-man revenue-generating force and it takes creativity to stay on top. So, don’t worry about what I do to keep the deals rolling. Everyone knows that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and you do what you need to do. So every so often, if I need to embellish which features are coming next or when they are coming, don’t worry. It’s just part of the job and customers know that I will say yes to just about anything.

Reality: Sales leaders know that there is a product roadmap and that every customer request can’t possibly be on it. They know this because they understand the product strategy and can explain to customers where the business is heading and why. Sage sales folks always have their head up and are listening to what the customer is really asking for and if there is a way to solve it with the existing product today or through a separate process. Life is full of required “work arounds” and so is even the most lovable software. When there is really no work around, follow the advice in the first item above. Whatever you do, don’t promise the feature, because more often than not you will lose externally with the customer and internally with product and engineering.

I know you do the above, because it happens in every company. And a certain tension between sales, product, and engineering is healthy when urgency drives greater teamwork. Just remember that it takes many deals to get to quota and many deals means you need lots of fans.

The best in sales operate from a position of customer and market insight but are dependent on engineers for the product that will sell and ultimately pay the mortgage. Your job is to humbly ask for what you need with product as an ally. This means that your customer should be in the target sweet spot and the requests are nearly guaranteed to deliver the business. Prove that you can follow this pattern to deal success a few times and your product team and engineers will start paying for your umbrella drinks on those tropical beaches.

Are you and your product team looking for a better way to set product strategy and roadmaps and clearly articulate features that will drive customer love? Sign up for the free 30 day trial of Aha!

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