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Learn to sell (blairreeves.me)
329 points by ntang on Dec 8, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 148 comments

This is really important. I love programming and am somewhat introverted, but being newlywed with a wife who couldn't work (visa), a mortgage, and a commission plan really made me learn to sell. The really good salespeople aren't deceptive, and I luckily learned from them.

Also: if you're at a good company the engineers don't scorn the sales people (instead: "you guys bring in the money that pays our salaries") and the sales folks actually sell the product to people who will benefit from it.

I've always tried to sit in on a few sales calls at any place I've worked and have encouraged people working for me to do the same. It's valuable to see your products from the Sales team and customer perspective. The surprising thing I've observed is how great sales people spend most of the call listening to problems, not offering solutions.

I always have every member of the exec team attend a sales call per quarter. Yep, even the CFO. Amazing the impact it has on the staff meetings, much less the decisions made.

Amen. If everyone at the org can't describe at least one type of customer for the product, in detail, then there's something wrong.

And this definitely includes software engineers.

Ding-ding-ding. That's the secret.

That’s right. We like to say “professionals ask questions, amateurs make statements.”

The “sales process” is just a series of questions. The close is the natural ending to a great presentation.

The life of an engineer is a life if sacrifice and 7 days a week work for five days pay. Often you never have a partner so you're the most highly taxed people in the country especially in California. While you often work triple time you're rarely if ever paid for overtime it's taken for granted that you're not ever compensated for 3/4 of the hours you work. Nothing can happen without you but sales people get a piece if the business they get normal business hours and can have a life and a family don't learn to code learn to sell this is terrific advice. At least you get commission and not worthless options in exchange for living off half the sleep a normal worker gets and continuous change and upheaval so you never get to have a life outside of work. Also continual layoffs and churn and then extra taxation when you are unemployed all told the life of an engineer is like the life of the slaves who row the cars on the Viking ship lol.

Your situation sounds shitty. It shouldn't be that way; I hope you're able to find time to step back over the holidays. A company shouldn't treat you like that, perhaps another one would be better.

Sales is no picnic though. I know it looks like a bunch of high-fiving frat boys talking sports metaphors and rarely coming to work, but the reality is very, very tough. Different challenges to engineering, for sure, but very real challenges and in some ways more acute.

In sales you're directly responsible for the money the company brings in. You have a number over your head. You are _gone_ the second you miss it. If you don't make your number, other people can lose their jobs too.

There are no breaks, no rest, no pause for enjoying the satisfaction in a job well done. If you think sales people don't work evenings and weekends you are out of your mind - when else do you get time to write proposals and draft contracts? When do you travel? You can't take a client, who you might not even like, for dinner during the 9-5 day.

You are on call all the time; the second an on-site engineer says something stupid to a client you are called, you have to deal with it, smooth it over, fix the damage to the relationship.

And turning the master build red doesn't even come close to a fraction of a hint of the stress that comes when you're close to losing a vital client and you've got the owners of the company breathing down your neck. Relationships aren't like code: once broken, you can't git reset and try again. And it takes so little to torpedo a major client.

> when else do you get time to write proposals and draft contracts?

Depending on the industry, sales people aren't the ones to do these tasks. There's other people that do this for them (nor should they, most of the time, based on stories I've heard from my girlfriend, who is a proposal manager. She constantly has to fix and unbreak and un-ugly whatever they do send her).

In fact for the companies she works it sounds like sales people live pretty cushy lives. Although the commissions the salespeople get for winning a single client's business can be as much as half a million dollars (and their bosses would treat them like ambassadors with diplomatic immunity that could do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted as long as they got a win every once in awhile. Meanwhile she had a large role in winning the business as well but only got a slightly better than a writer's salary for it.

In smaller companies I don't doubt sales people might have to handle proposals and contracts, but it's not really their core competency.

It's kind of like an engineer that also does graphic design. They exist, but it's not really something most engineers should be doing.

I agree it's industry by industry. Your girlfriend's experience is at another end of the scale from mine. Every enterprise software company I've ever worked at, sales has both written and presented proposals. There's very deep subject matter expertise required to do so and I can't think of any occasion when sales didn't own that entire aspect of work. These were 50-1,000 employee firms selling complex . More established companies had standardized contracts and larger legal teams so less for sales to do; smaller ones were more bespoke and in those cases sales was heavily involved.

(One particularly memorable job had me finding clients, pitching ideas, writing proposals, negotiating and closing the deal, drafting and negotiating contracts, and then managing the actual project itself for $1m+ fixed price bespoke software consulting engagements. I'd have sold organs to have someone like your girlfriend on the team.)

I'm fortunate to have done both engineering and sales in my career. I'd like to say it's given me sympathy for both sides; mostly I've always just wished I was doing the other role at any given time :)

Do not accept this as the status quo.

It sounds like you live in California? If you're a decent software engineer in any major city in California, you are one of the luckiest people who has ever lived. You have your choice of employers paying you six figures to sit at a desk and push buttons 40 hours per week.

If you're overworked and underpaid to the point that what I just said sounds crazy, it sounds like you need a new job, immediately. There are better options out there, don't settle if you're miserable.

Some of the other points you mentioned sound like you might want to speak to a professional therapist. There's no shame in that (I've done it before and will again) and it can really help you work through some issues.

Good luck!

Despite my rebuttal to the GP stating single people in California are the most taxed in the country, Californians do have a downright oppressive tax structure for upper-middle class high income individuals. Couple that with high cost of living and federal taxes and it's hard to have the same quality of life in San Jose that you can have in Atlanta or Columbus or Minneapolis on half the income or less (and you'll make much more than half!).

Not to discount the benefits of living in Silicon Valley. If you love the atmosphere and everything then it's probably the right place, and that's worth a certain amount of money. But just looking at the numbers in a spreadsheet it's objectively better to live in a small-to-medium sized city (or even rural area if you can find the work!) if you're looking at take-home pay, savings rate, retirement savings, etc unless you're in a very well-compensated role in one of a few very select corporations.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of high taxes, and I completely agree on upper middle class levels of taxation. The percentage level that a coastal professional making $300k pays is ridiculous, especially in comparison with what some billionaire in Texas is paying. And it's about to get even worse. But I digress.

I lived in SF and NYC and eventually found my way to Nashville, partly for low taxes. However, I'll be moving back to NYC, because despite the ridiculous levels of taxation, I just can't help myself and I'm fortunate to be able to afford it. I'm always looking for ways to manage my tax burden though.

Culture has a whole lot to do with it.

I was from the Bay, and moved to Reno. I really miss Asian food and Asian people.

Heck, I was even thinking of going to conversation clubs at UNR just so I could hear Chinese spoken again, and maybe eat some dumplings.

Why don't you leave then? There are jobs everywhere.

Even in the smallest town in middle on nowhere (say Montana) you can find a job. It might not be a perfect fit for your skills, but you can find one. There are thousands of small towns scattered across the US with some little company that makes something obscure but essential to society. Example: you probably never think about sewage pumps (not the treatment plant, just the pumps by the side of the road) - they are essential to society though and somebody needs to write the software that controls them. Why not you?

Of course moving implys a lot of changes. You can't go to a Broadway show (you live in California so you can't anyway - which is why I use this example), the community musical in the next town it pretty good though and the fact that they are not on the level of Broadway makes them fun in a different way. Or maybe you can find a different activity to fill your life with once you limit yourself to 9-5 plus the 15 minute walk each way to the other side of town to get home.

Of course there is nothing wrong with Montreal that the other poster mentioned. It is a nice city if you decide that a city life is for you. Of course it is in Canada which might be a negative for you, but you can still choose from any of several hundred cities scattered around the country. Nothing wrong with any of them either. All have specific advantages and disadvantages.

>(say Montana)

While most of what you say is true - that there really are jobs everywhere - Montana is actually tough. I really want to move to Montana and have seriously struggled finding something to fit my skills.

The alternative plan is to figure out a remote gig and then truly live wherever you want

sofi.com - they’re hiring a lot of technical roles in Helena.

Hey, I actually built a data controller (H/W & S/W) for a pump station when I was between jobs :-)

This is truth. Common stock is worthless. Most engineers don't know how to say no. Often they are overworked and told to be grateful that they make 5-10x more than a low-skilled worker. They are often unattractive men, rarely popular in life, and told that they are privileged by the rest of society.

We are in an industry that is growing exponentially in value, yet pay seems to continue to grow linearly. Meanwhile extremely talented engineers often work for manipulative non-coding managers. I see it all the time.

The best part is though, you can do anything you want to once you figure out that you make the decisions in your life and get over your fear of failure. Stop asking for permission. You also have to be very strict about committing to anything. Make 'no' your default answer. You have the talent, you set the rules. Have a meeting you hate? Stop going. Don't like waking up in the morning? Stop doing it. Want to work from home but your company doesn't allow it? Do it anyway.

Additionally, my advice if you are single and feel this way - quit your job, live on savings, try to make products or otherwise hack your income in a way that serves you in 2-5 years and beyond. It's a simple maximization function that any engineer can figure out - and once you do you'll be shocked at how little any company pays.

Seinfeld didn't have to keep making tv shows. Software should be the same way. Follow your passions and create a hit. If you don't know what your passion is, spend a year or two discovering them. Life is only short if you never actually live it.

I've been/seen both sides of the coin. It's not quite that black and white in most of the organizations I've seen. Sales is pretty rough, it's a lot of slog through lead after lead. There's a fair bit of creative writing and targeting, generating social media buzz, networking at industry events and building product presence organically, as well as of course handling potential leads directly.

It can sometimes feel like you're chasing your tail and there can be many, many days or weeks even of drought where you've got little in actual sales to show for all your work. That's pretty demoralizing and whilst engineering can be similar (think failed or canned projects) the highs and lows of engineering don't even compare.

They're both very tough gigs and both involve long hours, but as some of the posters below are suggesting you might be in a poor job situation yourself. Engineering roles don't have to be like the life you're describing.

I don't know where you work, but here (Montreal) it is seen poorly to work outside of the 9 to 5 range. Even in California, there is no doubt you can find 9-5 jobs where you can chill in the weekends. Work/Life balance is important. Also, if you work for worthless options, nothing is stopping you from switching jobs/asking for a different comp

Not to derail the discussion but what is the job market like in Montreal?

On the employer side: Pretty tight, hard to find talent. On the employee side: It's good. Salary are OK considering the decent cost of living. The AI boom is helping bringing more options for smart and qualified people.

Feel free to email me if you have more questions, know some companies that are looking ;)

it's awesome. everyone I know has a good job, without really searching

Your life must be very sad! Hope you get better soon ;)

It sounds aweful but I'm talking advantage of the relatively awesome access to information we have today to slowly get myself into indie hacking and building my own products for a particular niche I have found. That means even more work but eventually that may pay off with real freedom. Know when you can launch your own product with so little overhead it behooves you to learn to sell even if it means no free time at all until you can launch that could lead to quite a lot more free time in the future.

> 7 days a week work for five days pay

Only if you let it. I can count on one hand the numbers of times I've worked on a weekend, and a small fraction of those were not worked into a flex/comp schedule. Maybe 2 in my entire life.

> Often you never have a partner so you're the most highly taxed people in the country especially in California

Most people get married, so "often" is just wrong. And my wife makes almost exactly what I make (has always been within 5% or so because she gets consistent raises and I job hop a lot). Our take-home went down after we got married. And California is #6[0] so there are 5 states with a total population of over 50 million people (2010 census)[1] with a higher average state+local tax burden. That's close to 1/6 of the country.

> While you often work triple time you're rarely if ever paid for overtime it's taken for granted that you're not ever compensated for 3/4 of the hours you work.

In what job are you "often" working 120 hours a week? Hyperbole aside, in what job (that isn't very well compensated) are you often working 70-80?

And software developers are by definition exempt from overtime. It's not some scam that we don't get paid OT. There are many, many, many software dev jobs that are 40.0 hours a week and not a minute more. There are many that aren't. It's a choice which one you have.

> extra taxation when you are unemployed

What is this referring to?

> the life of an engineer is like the life of the slaves who row the [oars] on the Viking ship

Not really.

In case it's not obvious I think the above post is a gross oversimplification and exaggeration of one person's extremely atypical shitty experience.

[0] https://taxfoundation.org/state-local-tax-burden-rankings-fy...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territ...

Man, sounds like you need a new job.

> The life of an engineer is a life if sacrifice and 7 days a week work for five days pay

No, _your_ life as an engineer is a life of sacrifice. I work four days a week, from 07:00 to 15:30, and then head home to my family.

Boohoo, you're one of the most highly taxed people... aka you make a lot of money? You know how lucky we are to get to do what we love and get paid heaps for it?

Honestly there are plenty of software engineering jobs (in the Bay Area and out) that pay you six figures to work 9-5. Your experience isn't the norm. Go join a big company if you want comfortable. Then your equity will actually be worth something too, one less thing for you to complain about.

Nobody is "lucky" to be working long hours. No matter how much they love what they're doing.

An engineer making $150k working 60 hour weeks is making $5/hr less than an engineer earning $100k working 36 hour weeks. The latter is literally earning more _for their time_ working half as much for 2/3 the salary.

The hourly rate of an engineer earning $250k for 60 hour weeks is the same as an engineer earning $150k for 36 hour weeks.

The difference of 14 hours a week is 30 1/3 days/year. Some folks are willing to trade an extra month of their time per year from the prime years of their life for money, but not me. It should be a choice, not an expectation.

Maybe your perspective is different because you're a founder, but I get the feeling I wouldn't want to work for your company.

Yeah your math totally makes sense. I just disagree with the premise:

> The life of an engineer is a life if sacrifice and 7 days a week work for five days pay.

This just isn't true. Maybe at certain startups, but it's your choice to work there. As a (qualified) software engineer, you're blessed with thousands of options, many extremely comfortable. Flexible hours, free food, great pay, no dress code.

When so many people are struggling just to make ends meet, I have very, very little sympathy for someone in shams' situation. Just get a new job.

No dress code is now a perk? Yikes.

Considering hundreds of millions of people don't get that luxury, yes?

I'm not a founder but agree with a13n. Working long hours is not the norm for software development. I live in a city 99% of the people here have never heard of, working 40.0 hours a week (not 36, which seems like an odd number to pick), and I'd need to make $330k in San Francisco to have the same standard of living.

There are plenty of very well compensated 40-hour-a-week software development jobs available.

Usually the time you need to book is lower than the full 40 hour week, I have to book 37 even if I'm pulling 60 or 30.

I think you do have to acknowledge the point that engineers are sometimes thought of as commodities and the business often don't realize the effects of their requests on the engineering team. Management is always very quantitatively focused and its hard to justify a lot of the yak shaving that needs to be done . This leads to poorer quality code or engineers working extra hours so they don't end up swimming in shit every day.

Of course if you are in those situations, just leave, we're in high enough demand right now. Only in a recession should you worry about those qualms.

I wasn't disagreeing with him saying it's not the norm, I'm disagreeing with his suggestion to the parent to basically 'suck it up, princess'.

36 accounts for time spent eating lunch and taking breaks. It's a good target. It also handles common schedules some folks have of 4x9 and 3x12.

i'd like to hear about this city

Any small city with computers, honestly. There are tens of thousands of senior developers, architects, programmer analysts etc that are making $100k or $125k or more in cities you've never heard of with a cost of living that is a small fraction of Silicon Valley. Yes, you're going to find a lot of .Net and Java work, but there's more cutting edge stuff as well (and plenty of the .Net and Java developers I know love talking about Vue or React or anything else tech).

But you need to be okay living in a city nobody's ever heard of, working for a company nobody's ever heard of, and not changing the world. But honestly 99.9% of the people working 80 hour weeks in VC funded start-ups writing the next big CRUD app aren't going to change the world either, and they're paying $3500/mo to rent a 1-bedroom while people in these small cities are paying $1k/mo for a 2-bedroom mortgage a 10 minute commute from their office.

Pick one. There are thousands across the country!

When I cofounded my first startup, I had to participate in the sales calls (most of them). It was a very illuminating experience. Now, in my second one, I often lead the charge.

As an engineer, you start to understand why sales people overcommit, oversell, and overpromise. Why they can't produce a sale. It's not always their fault. But the good ones normally know what works and what doesn't. A good sales person:

* knows or takes time to learn the product to the point of a junior techie

* tries hard to work in tandem with the techies

* is NOT a frat boy / girl, but knows to talk to people of all walks of life, and in today's globalised world, of all backgrounds

* has the character to say "no" when it's better to walk away

* is at least in their late 30s or older

* a great listener trying to solve the customer's problem, not push a new shiny toy

* mature enough to lead a company.

While over-selling, "make-a-buck-now-lose-everything-later" idiots prevail, sales jobs are tough. It is hard for us engineers to grasp sometimes what is means to have your compensation ALWAYS be tied to some figures - so-called "performance", which is a combination of your ability to convince, the market, and the products you are selling. Imagine that, as an engineer, you'd get a deduction for every bug the customer discovers; feels different, doesn't it?

For a great fictional portrayal of a (pre-tech but enterprise) sales person's life, watch "The Big Kahuna".

One of my first jobs out of college was software sales. Really opened my eyes to the absurdity of that industry.

Very wolf of wallstreeet-esque. The tech was mostly repackaged opensource software with a nicer UI and the senior sales guys were doing copious drugs and bringing down like six figure commissions on multi-million dollar contracts. They hired an army of associates to generate leads and then swooped in to grab the commission. The play was to cold call the shit of company, weasel you way into a decision maker's schedule, and basically roll the dice they might buy your software because they needed to check a box - it barely mattered what the thing actually did and beyond a well rehearsed script no one understood even the basics of the technology/problem space. It was also very feast or famine - a few made absurd cash but most lived on a precarious edge where they felt they might be fired at any moment.

Understanding this is how the world actually works was a valuable education. I do feel with the rise of 'big tech' things have improved a bit and there is a renewed interest in approaching business problems with data and something that approximates a pseudo objective science-like process. But barely.

The rise of big tech is basically a market response to decision-makers who acted like you observed. When you've got a bunch of executives who will drop millions of dollars on open-source software because they needed to check a box, that's a huge economic inefficiency waiting to be arbitraged away. What "big tech" founder/CEOs did was say "Well, I understand the technology, I can learn the domain knowledge more easily than these buffoons can learn the technology, how would I build a company from the ground up to compete directly with them and steal all their customers rather than playing the sales game?"

And with a suitably driven, intelligent, and business-savvy founder, it works [1]. The whole "software is eating the world" philosophy is based on the idea that it's better to go radically vertical and bring technology straight to the consumer rather than deal with the inefficiencies of enterprise sales.

[1] Kind of. The key here is "suitably driven, intelligent, and business savvy founder." Most technologists are not such - they not only don't know the domain, they don't care enough about it to learn. So there's been a bit of a pullback to traditional enterprise sales for SaaS businesses in the last couple years; many of the consumer markets that have not yet been revolutionized by big tech have pretty thorny barriers to entry that no technologist has yet found their way around.

Well articulated nostrademons, feel free to email me of ideas that you think are suitable low-hanging fruit but still not tackled by the tech community at large.

How do you have such insight? If you can produce such insight so easily, surely you must be a very successful investor? This is such a strong perspective it seems.

I've done okay. :-)

> I do feel with the rise of 'big tech' things have improved a bit

Haha. I'm a technical salesperson that is the black sheep of my sales org. Things are worse now.

> Haha. I'm a technical salesperson that is the black sheep of my sales org. Things are worse now.

Besides that, how is life at Oracle?

Worked at Oracle for years, the sales cowboys of IT for better or worse.

Sales has improved a lot. A lot of the younger people coming in are much more moral than previous generations.

A lot of sales has moved to inside sales as opposed to field sales. Not quite as fun sometimes, but easier on people’s families and schedules, less abuse of expense accounts, going to strip clubs, etc. Also so much of what inside sales does is recorded, there is the possibility of much more accountability (e.g. harder to lie to customers).

Sales has improved a lot, but I think we’ve traded that for declines in the morals and increases in the absurdity of marketing. Everything from false claims / fake news to serious privacy concerns.

In terms of cinematic comparisons, your story brings to mind "Glengarry Glen Ross".

This is the world in which we live. A very select few feast while the rest fight over table scraps.

And then we argue over those table scraps while those who feast couldn't care less.

I imagined this as a dramatic voice-over sequence in some movie having a montage about said actions.

> It doesn’t matter how brilliant your software engineering is if no one buys it.

That goes both ways. The problems arise when sales start dictating how engineers do their work. The point is you need _both_, and they each need to respect the others work... unless you want to run a company like orcale and milk products into destruction, but then as we know - oracle doesn't invest in the future of their products.

Not a perfect metaphor, because the tasks are so different, but it's kind of like a coach and a GM in football. If they're not on the same page, they make each other look worse.

perhaps not but:

> If they're not on the same page, they make each other look worse

This is right, engineers need to understand the problems that their end users have and of those problems those that severely affect sales should be considered carefully...

however what seems to happen more often is sales or management end up dictating the solution to a problem... but software solutions are software engineers jobs.

This happens to me so commonly but thankfully I do not work in a company with a rigid hierarchy, which means rather than being forced to blindly follow a request I go and find out the context that this request originated from, understand the problem and then propose a suitable solution - everyone is _always_ happier. But this requires autonomy and respect from all members, something that rigid hierarchies appear to sometimes oppress (but then I've only ever been a lucky observer of such institutions so maybe i'm wrong).

That sounds very annoying, and I infer that some people have it even worse. What efforts do you see upper management making to bring the two sides together? I notice that as I get to know someone better, I can understand our differences by understanding the ways in which we process information differently. Of course there will be exceptions, but sales people and engineers (beyond their tasks/goals being different) have different strengths and weaknesses as people and processors; sometimes the differences aren't better or worse - just different. Day-to-day, how often do sales people and engineers problem solve together?

> I notice that as I get to know someone better, I can understand our differences by understanding the ways in which we process information differently. Of course there will be exceptions, but sales people and engineers (beyond their tasks/goals being different) have different strengths and weaknesses as people and processors...]

In my small experience I actually find the "role" to be the overriding factor in determining how an individual processes information, because their "problem" defines their perspective.

> how often do sales people and engineers problem solve together?

I'm breaking definitions here a bit because in the context I am drawing upon sales are not a generic salesman, but someone who has a deep understanding of the fairly niche and complex activity the customers are doing, actually they are scientists, but not coders, so I suppose that is quite unlike the ordinary salesman to be fair ... but In this context I find that first recognising our quite different perspectives and then trying to make each other understand our different perspective allows us to extract the relevant understanding from each other to converge on a reasonable solution (or not, sometimes once you both understand the problem better from both ends you realise it's actually something else entirely, or that attempting a solution would be a fools errand).

I find this extra step invaluable because I have more empathy with the real problem using their expert knowledge of the customer and activity, and they have empathy with the potential technical challenges at hand, and as a result are more willing to accept alternatives in the knowledge of the real technical cost. I can't say how applicable it would be to collaborating with a more generic sales department though.

It doesn't really matter who instigates that mixing of perspectives, but I find as a coder I have a tendency to zoom in and out of contexts more to better understand a problem... it's not much of a step to keep zooming out / panning until you can start digging into the perspectives of your peers.

Just don't be one of the salespeople that promises the client a feature that doesn't exist, then returns to the team after making the sale and says "You have to build this now." F--- that noise.

Thats why its good for a salesrep to be technical and understand the product and how much work it would take for feature X. If the potential sale is worth the extra eng work then, hell yeah, go ahead and promise the feature.

My last company did that to close some multi-million dollar deals and only took a quarter to build.

I literally just did exactly that half an hour ago.

Of course, it's my company and I'm both the salesperson and engineer, but sometimes you have to sell shit that doesn't exist yet.

I think the issue he's talking about is more along the lines of "hey we promised X _and_ that we could deliver it in Y" when Y is an unreasonable amount of time. Situations like that almost always lead to death marches in my experience.

hopefully you will never see the the salesperson charging into the engineer meeting yelling "I promised the customer 6 months ago that we would ship this feature in 3 months, where the hell is it" at a sea of faces that had clearly never heard of any such thing.

As a sales leader and consultant, I kept being asked to offer weekly personalized sales coaching for technical founders. I launched it a few weeks ago and so far it's been pretty great for both parties.

Being able to sit down on a weekly basis to game plan the sales approach, go over calls, and hold them accountable has been immeasurable.

p.s. if anyone is interested - I'm in the process of launching a "Selling 101" online course for founders to cover the fundamentals of sales (finding leads, cold calling, performing demonstrations, closing deals, etc).

Not sure you saw the 2017 First Round State of Venture survey [6] results, but anxiety over hiring sales staff has become the No. 1 priority for startup founders (was tech staff). I think you're on to something... assuming you focus on startups, maybe Pre-A round?

[6] http://stateofstartups.firstround.com/2017/#introduction

Yeah, was definitely interesting to see that. That's exactly the intended focus. Essentially a crash course for tech founders to start selling in their early days.

Let me know when you have more info about that "Selling 101" online course. I'm interested.

Sounds good. Do you want to email me? It's in my bio. Couldn't find yours.

I assume you will advertise on your website?

Yes! Did you subscribe? If so, you'll definitely be notified.

Does anyone have any book suggestions for an engineer who wants to learn sales / convincing people?

Do you recommend doing trial by fire and getting a sales job?

I've realized that I am good at the technicals but terrible at selling why people should do what I say.

Steli Efti published a bunch of practical articles online (free!) that I found really easy to understand:






This net of articles (a bit of a rabbit hole!) is sprinkled with videos of Steli, so you can gauge the energy level and sales delivery too. I found this to be useful as well, something hard to pick up from a book.

First, read Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people.” Don’t let the cheesy title turn you off. The book is tremendous and a fun read and has been a literal best seller continuously since it was written more than 50 years ago.

I re-read (re-listen-to) this book every 3 or so months. Every time I do, I find myself thinking "why did it take me so long to go through this book again?"

It's an incredible help, especially in a profession that's stereotypically short on interpersonal skills. It's too easy for me to convince myself that those skills matter less. This book always reminds me how important it is to not always be blunt. Honest is great, blunt is not always helpful.

>First, read Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people.”

Already done. I am currently reading "7 Habits of Highly Effective People". How to Win Friends majorly influenced me already.

Do you believe the methods explained in How to Win Friends are sufficient? They have absolutely helped already but I am not sure if it is just a matter continuing to apply or if there is another that could help level me up more.

EDIT: Also on the reading list is Purple Cow by Seth Godin. I've heard good things about it and the first ~20 pages were pretty good.

After starting with Dale Carnegie’s book I’d move to something more about the storytelling aspects so you can construct your pitches well in addition to interacting well.

I don’t have a “great” book to recommend there, but an example that pops to mind might be Say it in six[0]. This sort of book tends to be more formulaic, less universal, and every book advocates a completely different formula so you need to find the approach and style that works for you. That said, understanding that a pitch is a structured story and thinking about how to structure them is incredibly valuable.

Simon Sinek’s Ted talk[1] is also really fun and well worth watching (and worth deconstructing how he makes his pitch about how to make pitches), but it’s more about high level consumer brand design than the inside the company project pitching like I think you’re asking about.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1629833.Say_It_in_Six

[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_insp...

Spin Selling by Neil Rackham presents a useful theoretical framework for selling


There are many sales books that present scripts, in general I think they are useful to read for generating ideas, I would suggest never using a script that doesn't feel comfortable for you to say, I would suggest also thinking about fitting any script you use back into the larger theoretical framework from the above book

personally, I like the scripts presented in Stephen Schiffman's books, https://www.amazon.com/Stephan-Schiffman/e/B001H9PRO2/ref=sr...

mainly on the ground that none of them make me cringe to say (specifically the '250 sales questions' and the 'Cold Calling' books), what makes you cringe is likely to be a little different from what makes me cringe, so your mileage will probably vary

there are a lot of books in this general genre, check out https://www.amazon.com/Brian-Tracy/e/B001H6OMRI/ref=sr_ntt_s... and https://www.amazon.com/Zig-Ziglar/e/B000AP7VIY/ref=sr_ntt_sr...

I do think these books present lots of good material for brainstorming, but some percentage of both these books I couldn't say to someone without cringing (I would suggest listening to that voice in your head, if it'd make you cringe, it's likely to make whoever you're saying it to cringe as well)


fwiw, these books tend to be exceptionally easy reads, so I suggest checking them out, taking what you find useful, and leaving what you don't

I would highly recommend "Sales EQ" by Jeb Blount as a first sales book - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XFBMZVC/. Does a very god job of outlining the psychology of selling, the psychology of buying, and what needs to go into a successful sales process (without laying out a prescriptive program). Conversational writing style, very rich in information. It will be very useful in improving "non-sales" selling aka presenting, convincing colleagues of things, etc

Though things like New Strategic Sales and Spin Selling are useful, they are not good beginner books - they are technical approaches to developing enterprise sales process, and primarily targeted at professionals in sales management. As a less than exact analogy, Sales EQ is much more like SICP, while Spin selling is like an O'Reilly language reference. I know non-programmers that have gotten a lot out of SICP as the only cs book they have read

You can focus on improving your sales skills within your own job; all jobs require some degree of "sales skills", as it really boils down to communication.

Maybe observe how effective you are in convincing your colleagues of the merits of your ideas, or getting to be involved in projects youre interested in, etc. Observe when a conversation doesnt go as youd hoped, and think about why. Find a colleague you think does a good job of this and learn from her / him. Make it a goal to focus on listening as much as possible. Read books, then identify tactics youd like to try, and try them out at work in a comfortable setting

If you have time, you can create a side project and try selling that. Doesnt even have to be a real business or something youd want to pursue, just make something you think people could want, find the ppl who might want it, ask about their needs, and see if you can position your product to meet their needs

I would recommend against doing a trial by fire sales job(unless its a move inside of a software organization you're already a part of).

Because the types of sales jobs that hire people without sales experience are usually

- low touch, so less applicable to good sales jobs

- low pay

- long hours

- shitty

Instead I'd recommend moving towards sales slowly leveraging your dev experience. Find salesman in your org, and convince them you'd be helpful to have along to help them sell. This should be pretty easy, honestly most sales people want to say "And here's Susie, she's a really smart developer on our team and she'll be able to answer or find the answer to any of your technical questions."

If this doesn't work look for jobs marked "Sales Engineer". Or alternatively you could join a large consulting organization. By it's very nature consulting is half sales/half dev.

"You Can Negotiate Anything" by Herb Cohen. While not a sales book per se (like the title implies, it's about negotiating) it gets you into the "sales" mindset. The sales mindset is about figuring out what matters most to the other party, and how you can provide it to them at minimal cost to yourself. Put like that it sounds very abstract and obvious but the book has a number of amusing anecdotes to illustrate these ideas.

I was in sales for 10+ years, now am a dev. Best sales book I ever read was New Sales Simplified. Really breaks down the sales process.

Second this

Here is the best place to start. Not a book on sales. A book on how to craft a message that will be heard by your audience.


Short and sweet.

The Dale Carnegie company runs a sales course (IIRC it's 8 weeks, one night per week) which I found enormously valuable.

Apart from learning skills and heuristics, one thing that was quite eye opening was the range of other students. I remember (this was decades ago) a couple of kids around 20 with a T shirt stand on the beach (avg sale <$20, average sale time a minute), someone who sold home security systems for ADT (consumer sale of a couple of hundred bucks, leads from a lead service and cold calls) and someone who sold chip manufacturing equipment (average order in 10s of millions, sales cycle over two years).

Sales is not "convincing" people. A sale is when the products, goods, or services you represent fill a need. Listening and asking open ended questions help the sales person determine that need.

And then lie about their ability to fill it.

Don't read the Dale Carnegie book, read "SPIN Selling" by Neil Rackham and the book "Getting to NO" <- best book on negotiation I've ever read.

Do you mean "Getting to YES" ?

"Getting to NO" is a book about breaking habits.

I totally borked the title. This is the book I was thinking of: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014DUR7L2

"Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win when the Stakes are High" by Jeff Thull. When selling enterprise software, you have to convince many decision makers, there is often no point person to sell to. You may not know some of them even exist until its too late. One needs a process to organize such sales undertaking. This book talks about it.

The Way of the Wolf by Jordan Belfort (the wolf of wall street).

Jordan has a lot youtube clips with his live seminars of upto 10 episodes - 90 minutes each.

Disclaimer: Not in sales, but have great sense of appreciation for rain-makers.

I really liked Pitch Anything. Good actionable advice in it but I also found a lot of the neuroeconomics discussed in the book very interesting. Helped me in other areas too.

Listen to the Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy. Best sales training I've material I've seen. There's a book too but skip that and get the CD set.

I'm launching an online course that tackles this issue soon, feel free to email me for more info!

As an engineer coming into sales I found the thing I love about sales is that it is problem solving. If you can get in the door the main thing is you are solving a problem for your prospective client. That is no different from engineering you are interfacing with people instead of computers.

There are some great books on sales and why sales gets a bad rap is most sales people don’t seem to have read those books. I now have a critical eye for sales stuff like you can have for code and just see how bad most sales are done.

Yep agree 100%. It's amazing how bad the general standards are in sales. A lot of people cargo culting off sales as portrayed in the movies and doing the opposite of what they should. Maybe it should be taught in schools.

Love to hear which sales books you consider great

- The challenger sale - Snap selling - Little red book of selling - Spin selling - thinking fast and slow

All of these are of the mindset of help your customer first and foremost, the sale is a secondary effect of the helping. And given my nature that has made sales a lot easier since I’m not an extroverted manipulator, I’m an introverted problem solver.


If anyone is interested I did a recent interview on CEO Library[0] where I dropped a bunch of book recommendations on selling products, services and yourself.

I personally sell online video training courses for developers so it's something I've been hyper focused on for the last 2 years. During that time about 20,000 people have signed up to at least 1 of my paid courses.

I think becoming slightly better at selling has also made me a much better programmer, because your mindset shifts entirely. It's not just about naming things too. It's easier to see the bigger picture on something. It helps scope the entire project.

[0]: https://www.theceolibrary.com/nick-janetakis-2771.html

I agree with the author of the article that sales is important to any organization. It's a chicken and egg game between engineering and sales. No sales means no customer but no engineer means no product. I feel like sales gets a bad rep from engineering because whenever we do projects, it feels like we do the work and they get the glory and money (which may or may not be true). The worse is when a company cuts out engineers from the decision process for project requirements. We end up being liable to lucrative claims that other make.

That being said, I absolutely DISAGREE that everyone should get some hands-on sales experience. Just like how not everyone is suited for engineering, not everyone is suited for sales. The author comes from a product management role so I would guess s/he is more extroverted than most engineers. I have met many design engineers that are ridiculously introverted. However, that's the beautiful thing about engineering. It doesn't matter. If you can design something that solves the customers problem, then you are doing a good job. A good manager would make sure a good design engineer get's shielded from the political bs. Unfortunately, the engineering culture is turning into a culture where we promote those with charisma rather than a good designing skillset.

Many of the best sales people are introverted. It can be a very strong advantage when you need to ask insightful questions, actively listen, and project integrity. Strong extroverts can be very weak in those areas and many would kill for that last superpower in particular. Having done both roles I have no doubt that every engineer would benefit from learning about sales and having some practise in it. Regardless of whether they pursue it as a career, it is incredibly widely applicable in many areas of life, from selling your ideas, to getting jobs, to dating. If someone really sucks at it, they will benefit immeasurably throughout their life from being slightly less bad. They are basically handicapped without being aware of it.

> It doesn’t matter how brilliant your software engineering is if no one buys it.

Right, because so many people buy Facebook products, or Twitter, or Google...

Many, if not most, software products don't sell anything. While there are tons of problems with getting 100% of your revenue from ads, the fact remains that many companies don't have anything to sell to their consumers.

Of course, you have to make a good, sticky product, and so there is marketing involved... just not the sort of 1930s handshake-and-a-smile that this article seems to be describing.

That said, my own experience is biased (I currently work for a non-profit!), and so the snarkiness of this reply probably isn't warranted. Surely for many places, sales experience is valuable... but I certainly wouldn't rank it higher over software development, at least not with the places I've worked at.

Finding companies that this article doesn't apply to doesn't invalidate the article. Everything has to be taken in context. You can apply your own layer of analysis and contextualize it differently. For e.g. Having a hygienic and safe place to work is critical because if an employee doesn't feel safe at work, they won't be able to work as effectively, or stress causes lower productivity, etc, etc.

The primary, unchanging goal of any business anywhere is to stay in business. Sales bring in cash, and cash is king. Nothing else will keep you in business other than cash. All of those companies you mentioned were financed by burning through millions of dollars of somebody else's money. That is not the majority of companies. IMHO, the article makes a lot of sense. I'd rank software development either equal or below sales too. YMMV.

Google revenue: 89b in 2016

Facebook revenue: 28b in 2016

More than 30k of Google's 80k employees on LinkedIn have titles including either "Sales" or "Account" (Account Executive, Account Manager, etc.). For Facebook it's 9k out of 26k.

Facebook and google both sell user attention to advertisers. Exxon deploys vast engineering resources to extract and collect oil, but it would be weird to say that because they don't receive payment from their wells and refineries that they don't make sales

Yes, ad sales finance the products. But most of the products are not sold. A product/content creator doesn't need to do sales, if they are willing sign up for whatever the ad business is offering ($X CPI, user activity data, etc). Only one side of a transaction needs to sell. The other can simply choose to accept an offer.

A lot of people do buy facebook and google products. Adwords is a product.

I am not familiar with the sales process for google and fb ads, but id imagine, at least in the early days, that there was some handshaking etc involved before people really understood the value of advertising on those platforms

That statement really only applies in the consumer space. Businesses pay for software all of the time and a decent sales team is critical to any B2B software.

We spend several hundreds of dollars a day on Facebook ads and know of many companies spending thousands or tens of thousands a day. that's what FB is selling, isn't it?

On a side note, do people have good resources on how to learn 'sales' as a software engineer?

I know how to sell myself and concepts pretty well inside the organization. Getting money from customers is a while different ball game

My counter argument is I’ve tried to take this advice multiple times in my life and each time came to the (re)conclusion that I will never be able to think of it as anything but lying and manufactured conflict. Some of us just don’t have brains that allow for that kind of thinking, at least not without severe anxiety and discomfort.

I can’t sell. I’ll never be able to sell. I think that makes me feel like a more honest person. I’m okay with that trade off.

Sales is about discovering what people's real problems are and helping them find a solution. It's the polar opposite of inauthenticity, but there are an awful lot of clueless salespeople who are trying to live up to the stereotype they've seen in movies and which you are talking about. It's a strange job because in some ways it's like being a counsellor, but at the same time a ruthless numbers game (for the salesperson) and therefore very stressful for them.

It may be that you haven't come across a mental model that makes sense to you. There are honest sales people, even ones selling used cars.

Zig Ziglar's Secrets of Closing the Sale is a good model for thinking about sales.

Outbound sales is a very good way to gain insights into the needs of your potential customers (What are you missing, are messing bad etc.). I can really recommend creating a culture where the Sales team has a good way to report their findings. They are the first line of (new) customer interactions.

The article makes some valid points, but sales/marketing is just not for me.

I understand how important it is for my product, but I just don't enjoy it, and would rather pay someone else to do it for me.

Essentially, I would need a Jobs for my Woz, if I can ever aspire to be a Woz. :)

I used to have this same idea. I changed it when I looked into the costs of outsourcing sales vs outsourcing dev. Market rates are around 80:20 sales vs dev when outsourcing. That should tell you something about where money is made and where you may not want to limit your involvement. Funny you mention Jobs and Woz...

> Casting a wide net is simply part of the game, of course, but wasting your prospect’s time is bad selling. Every good sales professional knows this, which is why the best ones put in the time, effort and attention to detail to make their pitches – even the opening ones – as tailored and relevant as possible.

The book "High Probability Selling" by Jacques Werth offers some good solutions to approaching sales with the intent of quickly connecting your product to the customers who want or need it most.

That's pretty good. Unfortunately, the word 'salesman' is source of shivers for most of engineers. I had to develop some of those skills, and I've got say that was difficult but since you are required to improve your soft skills, that might become leverage even on your technical day-to-day tasks: it makes you more empathetic to other people.

> I find it remarkable how little the tech world talks about software sales, given how central it is to everything we do. Sales is the whole reason we build anything; it’s how we assign value to what we do.

Nope, not for consumer products. SF doesn't talk about sales because consumer products don't need sales at first.

> consumer products don't need sales


Sales(money) is the blood of Any business. (Here I include Anything i.e. charities).

name one consumer sales startup other than Amazon

This sounds interesting in theory. As an engineer starting out, where would you specifically go to start on a sales career? I just looked at Craigslist and the ads look really sketchy. I'm thinking to come in and interview for am engineering role and then say, you know I was thinking..

> Sales is the whole reason we build anything; it’s how we assign value to what we do.

What a sad sad statement.


I'm curious how the author thinks of marketing vs sales. And is sales as important in companies where the product is cheaper, like a $10-$20/month subscription, or is marketing more important in that scenario.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a good book or an audio/video course on sales for beginners? I'd like to learn this skill in 2018...

I'll be launching mine shortly - I can let you know when it's live if you'd like.


Bill Baren has some things

s/sales/marketing every point stays valid

tl;dr - Most of the article tries to justify why it's important to Learn to sell.

Actionable guidance:

"cold calling, sending tons of emails, doing prospect/company research and developing cold leads into warm ones"

and get a job in sales ("role", "experience", "career").

My personal project is a Chinese learning page.


I tried sending hundreds of emails, researching all the Chinese language centres in Taiwan to find contact email addresses for the department, and sometimes even the direct email addresses for the tutors. I wrote a short email explaining what my program does, and how it's helping me learn.

Nobody replied.

I made a YouTube video as an example of what it can do. I posted on Facebook, where my 3900 friends (who I all met face to face) mostly ignored it (29 likes).

I submitted it as a Show HN. Nobody up-voted it.


Can anybody give more helpful instructions?

I'm using Pingtype to read the Bible and song lyrics all the time, and my Chinese is improving - after failing with 9 other methods before.


I really get discouraged by the lack of interest though, and the "trial by fire" of being ignored by the world is really depressing. For me there's no "uncertainty being on a quota compensation plan" - I would certainly be broke.

Hi Peter, this might sound harsh, but first of all

1.- Get a domain.com to look more professional otherwise if I see "GitHub.io" looks like a code repository Pick a better name for your product. Right now it doesn't mean anything (i.e. dropbox reminds people of storage, submittable.com also sounds like form management, hope you get the idea)

2.- Look at well designed websites (i.e Invision, xero.com, mint.com. stripe.com) and notice the difference.

3.- Copy. There's zero copy. Check mailchimp.com for great voice and tone.

4.- No Pricing info, policy, FAQ, etc.

5.- A short 1-2 minutes explainer Video (optional)

6.- Look at well done explainer videos

7.- The landing page doesn't necessarily have to be all flashy, check this one for a simple one: https://visualping.io

8.- Important: Get feedback from people, I've used this: https://userinput.io/

9.- Also, forget HN, PH, etc., go after offline people or try more creative ways to reach people directly.

1., 4., and 8. - it's free. There is no pricing, no income to pay for a domain or paid feedback.

2. It will load slower, and not work on all platforms.

3. You're supposed to copy-paste. There's lots of examples in the blog or other links from the headings.

5. and 6. Example video to inspire me?

7. That's useful, thank you. What if the landing page is a subpage? e.g. The blog.

9. My girlfriend already told me I talk too much about it in real life that it's making people not want to talk to me.

By copy, I think he meant the writing of the page, copywriting. Please pursue the below links, you may find them helpful. I also recommend redesigning the site to be little more visually appealing.




I know what copy is. Google Translate doesn't have any copy either, and they serve 200 million people daily.

This is a tool, not a cover letter for a business.

man you're destined for failure. you ask for advice and someone actually takes time to give you very good advice and you not only once but twice behave defensively. I'm in the same position as you and I'm going to implement literally every single thing sogen recommended because I don't care about being wrong I care about succeeding.

10.- validate first (ie Buffer, Zapier)

7.- sogen, I am one of the founders of visualping and super-proud of the mention :)

Great service man, so simple to get started :D

Speaking only of the Facebook point, I'd bet quite a bit of money no more than 100-200 of your friends have any idea you posted that or ever saw it. It's been 5 years or more since you could be guaranteed your friends would see something you posted on FB.

I'm not the target market and I don't have any idea how to use your tool. The UI reminds me of old grayscale Mac OS. Salespeople are (usually, I'm stereotyping) 'dressed to impress'. Maybe you should put a tie on your project.

What colour should the tie be, and where?

Seriously. Do you want orange buttons? Specific, actionable feedback, please!

Do you want him to write the code for you too?

It looks like an app from the 90's. There is zero design. If you want people to use it, you have to sell them on the idea of WHY and HOW they'll benefit. If you aren't willing to do that, then you've already lost.

I've written about my experience in the blog. Why and how will you benefit? You won't, because you're not trying to learn Chinese.

"There's zero design" - you just said "You're ugly". What is ugly? Should I lose weight? Plastic surgery? Wear different clothes? Tell me what to fix and I can try! But insults get nowhere.

I also think it's very ironic to criticise my design decision on Hacker News. Is there any "copy" here? Design? It's functional. I like the style of HN. But it sure doesn't follow your "best practices" of design.

re the cold call/mail outreach -

1. You need to be contacting individuals not generic addresses or gatekeepers ('people buy from people')

2. You need to be explaining the value to them or people like them that they can identify with in terms of shared problems (i.e. in the same line of work), not how it helped you. So for example, if you can get the first customer in any way (maybe a friend or freebie), you can make a case study to send to similar people.

3. You need to contact people with a mix of phone and personalised email 8-10 times until you get a meaningful conversation, which should be in person if possible. Everybody is firefighting and you will be astonished how many come back to you on the 6th time thanking you for persisting and reminding them. You will need to learn about objection handling as well (loads of articles here - http://blog.close.io/manage-any-sales-objection-successfully).

Sales is very hard work, but getting results is very rewarding.

This is really good stuff.


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