This article seems to be one big exercise in "false dichotomy" - the world is EITHER "sales guys are always right" or "engineers are always right"; the world is EITHER "engineers need sales guys more" or vice versa; the world is EITHER "the sales guy is right about feature x" or "the engineer is right about feature x".
Startups and customer development (a la Steve Blank or PG) is messy by nature. That's the whole art of a startup - balancing your own vision for the technology with the market demand and other forces. Both hands are needed to wash each other.
So even a small startup should have a robust Product Management function/group/team that has a leg both in the Customer's world and the Engineer's world.
What's odd about this post is that the company is apparently targeted at Product Managers... but reads like its from a world in which the brilliant-and-precious engineers only ever deal directly with horrible sales ogres. If I was a product manager in the market for a tool like this, I would hope my software vendor had a more nuanced view of how customer/technology teams should interact.
I don't think the article is setting up a dichotomy at all - there is no "sales" or "engineers" there. It is more about the mismatch in communication that often happens between sales and engineering teams (and ones in bigger companies at that). Each team is trying to get the other to do what they want.
Good points, and thanks for the other link. I'd disagree that it gives much (any?) actionable advice to real sales people since it's such a caricature-driven piece.
It's anecdotal, but of the dozen sales and product guys I've worked with or managed maybe one (the worst one?) truly fits one of the caricatures. It's picking on easy stereotypes (cocky sales guy, excitable PM).
I also think it offers some wrong advice - e.g. it's not the salesperson job to vet a new potential feature across a whole market segment. But that's a different discussion..
I get it now - their brand is about being aggressively pro-engineer, and they're making tools for disgruntled engineers that have bad sales teams and/or bad product managers.
Perfect articles for that audience - just not for me. :)
If salespeople are worth their salt and working for a software company, this isn't "newfound understanding".
On the contrary, they've learned the hard way never to count on a deal closing because of a particular feature and never to promise something will be coming in the next cycle if they've got to deal with that customer again. They're well aware prospective customers might have reasons for not buying other than feature requests because their job performance is as dependent on being able to identify what customers actually mean as developers' performance is dependent on ability to write code.
If they're worth their salt they're not skewed by optimism around one deal (unless they're in really high-ticket sales, in which case they've probably got dedicated engineers allocated to that deal anyway) and having talked to far more clients and prospective clients than all the engineers and product managers put together are probably actually in a far better position to prioritise features in terms of potential revenue to be earned/lost by the company. Needless to say, the engineers and PM have far more grasp of the difficulty of implementing the feature. That's why they need to compare notes.
> However, the reality is that sales needs engineering more than engineering needs sales. Sales people come and go but engineers build what matters.
and then sales people make it possible to make money off of that thing...? I'm not seeing how engineering doesn't need sales just as much. It's as if the author just said:
>~ However, the reality is that farmers need well diggers more than well diggers need farmers. Well diggers come and go but farmers grow what matters.
No farmers: everybody starves. No well diggers: everybody dies of thirst. Acting like one is 'more essential' is the wrong distinction to make. (How about: cost to replace, return on investment, comparative advantage?)
So funny! I came in here to post the same thing. Or at least that quote stuck out at me. I really don't like these kind of articles on HN because they feed into the paranoia some developers have. As hard as it is to fathom both sides need each other pretty much equally to maintain long term success.
Same here. Earlier in my career I had that same sort of "we don't need no stinkin' sales-people" mindset, but once I started a startup and really started focusing on what it takes to sell something, I started to see things a bit differently. I've gained a new-found appreciation for the value of good sales-people, and I've always learned a lot about why bad sales-people are so damned annoying.
FWIW, for anybody coming from an engineering background, who is interested in learning sales, I'm a big fan of the book Mastering The Complex Sale by Jeff Thull. His approach is based on NOT doing the stereotypical "bad salesperson" stuff and actually having intense focus on delivering real value to customers.
We think that the traditional enterprise sales model is dead. And we don't necessarily think that your analogy is always true – see self-pick farms where end users come and choose the produce that they want. There are numerous examples of this as well now in the world of software — see Atlassian, 37signals, Palantir as good examples. Maybe it's just that we should not think about these disciplines so differently. We could probably all agree on that.
Self pick farms are in a different business - they sell people (usually families with kids) the opportunity to spend a day outside pretending to be a farmer, they aren't a substitute for agriculture. They're amusement parks, not functional agriculture. It's like saying the restaurant business is dead because there are cooking classes.
The enterprise sales model is still alive and kicking for big contracts, especially in large organizations (enterprises). It just doesn't apply to products that are so cheap that procurement departments don't pay attention to them. Atlassian and Palantir both have sales forces, even if it's not what they call it - even Fog Creek, which was a sort of anti-Atlassian for a long time, has a sales force.
When customers write BIG checks, they want someone on the other end to answer questions, help them find the right solution, and assuage their fears.
If you have money and resources, sure perhaps the sales cycle in Enterprise is dead. The part I think is missing from this article is that rarely are systems this simple. Most Enterprise level systems require some sort of "integration" where there are several moving parts. A good salesmen is able to pitch why your product, or company can perform this. Perhaps Atlassian has enough momentum now to not need a salesforce, but what about smaller companies that are trying to get customers? How do you convince them to buy a product that is still in development? Your article speaks to features specifically-- I've seen first hand a good sales person can portray a positive story that makes users gloss over missing "must-haves" and trust your team can deliver these as part of a project.
The whole Palantir no sales people mantra is kind of not true. You don't sell 7 or 8 figure deals without a sales cycle/process.
Also, yes, there are some businesses where aggressive sales aren't that important. But most companies want to move up into the larger deal size at some point...at which point you definitely need a sales person. So let's cut the BS about sales people being less or more important than any other function in the company. It's so tiring.
What Palantir is doing (at least in the way they talk about it publicly) seems to be more about the mentality than anything else. If you consider that everyone in the company who touches the customer is responsible for selling then you can change the culture of how you sell.
For example, I see customer support as the most important aspect of sales now for SaaS companies. It is likely to be the first, and one of the most common, touch points for any customer. So getting the customer support team to realize they are selling too is crucial to success.
Once upon a time I was a pretty hardcore salesperson. Now I just yell at people until they buy things, but I digress...
The key to being successful as a salesperson is the same as the keys to being successful in life:
* Be Humble
* Be Understanding
* Be Patient but with clear deadlines
I see salespeople brag, I see folks explaining why the client is wrong, and I see plenty of phony patience but what I rarely see is kindness. You know what always worked for me? "How was your weekend?"
Most salespeople want to rattle off a feature list until they're blue in the face, the best ones only ever say what matters. The best ones don't waste your time by making sure they don't waste their time. How do you wrap up a meeting? Is it 'call me when you're ready?' or is it 'This is what I can do for your business and I think it has real benefit. Would a week be alright for you to evaluate this technology?'. Is it rude to put a timelimit? Actually, it's quite the opposite. Open-ended sales cycles are terrible; endless calls and avoidance, it just isn't fun. The polite thing to do is to bring the relationship to a head; it's hard but it's the right thing to do. Even if you don't win the deal, you'll walk away with class, and in a year you just might come back and win (hardly a rare occurrence in sales).
Most people are bad at sales because they dislike confrontation, but sales is hardly a confrontation if you set expectations correctly. The problem arises when people conceal that they're in sales, or that they have timelines, or that they want to do business with you. Get all that crap out in the open immediately and you'll waste a lot less time.
Here are two pieces of advice I've learned over the years that I've found invaluable in technical sales:
* Don't ever talk about engineering timelines with customers. If it's not released it doesn't exist.
* The only features you need to build are the ones your customers are screaming for; never listen to a salesperson, listen to their customers. Make the salespeople bring you customer examples. Sell something people want.
Edit: I should note that setting expectations is also important for Engineers, but I tend to think of software development as being like a large cooperative painting. If you want it to be beautiful it's done when it's done. There's definitely some accountability on the development side and I don't mean to minimize it but it's important to understand mutual respect. If you have one takeaway from any of my posts on HN it's that you should treat everyone with respect whenever possible.
to me the article is rather narrow-sighted rant of an engineer with presumed inner-thoughts and inner-workings of a typical sales guy. Interestingly, the same argument could be said by a sales guy to an engineer that even if you do your magic your work will be worthless if you don't know how to sell, which is one of the most repeated-to-the-point-of-truism at HN: let people know what you're doing and why it's important.
I agree with the first paragraph where a sales person needs to know more about engineering than he presumably does. The other part which I would like to add is that an engineer (or a competent one, at least) needs to know how his product is sold, marketed, and presented as a sold commodity.
Am I the only one to read the typical stereotype of arrogant prig engineer characteristic between the line? A kind which a sales person would think of.
I thought the same thing as I started reading through the article - this attitude is endemic to anyone who thinks that what they do is the most important function and that the business couldn't survive without them.
The truth is that you need all parts of the business to succeed, working well together.
That said, I think there are stages in the progression. In the beginning, you can't sell anything if you don't have a product. But once you have a reasonably good product, you need good marketing and sales to have people become aware of it.
I worked closely with the marketing department in my last job and it definitely made me see how big an impact a good team can have. They did a lot of creative work to sell the product.
The thing that stuck out for me, is that the mentions of product managers is almost non existent. Beyond calling out "reality" that most product managers hate sales (really?).
A strong product manager is qualifying the product requests, is pushing a roadmap that's opaque where it needs to be, is making judgement calls on revenue vs. "win the customer" probability, (in some firms, work with marketing to) is preparing white papers on what is possible with the product, and often ends up recording demo videos, or writing demo scripts for pitches that show what is possible.
If anyone but a small percentage of the most senior engineers, has spoken to sales - you're probably doing it wrong.
I've worked with some excellent, and some terrible, product managers, as a developer, team lead, delivery lead, and as pre-sales. The worst think their job is all about features, and a great product, but completely miss the product <-> market fit, rarely talk to customers, and have an attitude towards sales that is not productive.
My observation on sales in general, and this applies especially to software:
- If you can only sell when your product has every feature, and the cheapest price, then you're not really selling. You're taking orders.
- The sales job creates value by convincing customers to pay up for added value in the product, or accept less value (or benefits or features) if they want to pay less.
- There are two types of salespeople who find a way to add a lot of value.
1 - Those who are in so deep with their customers that they are almost indistinguishable from their own employees. You know you have it when they're invited to join their customer's company softball team, or the customer's security guard waves them through with a smile. The insight they bring back is priceless, and they allow you to preempt most competition.
2 - Those who are fully knowledgable and networked within their company, and can efficiently bring the full power of the organization to bear on the customer problems, making credible promises to the client.
Either 1 or 2 can add a lot of value. It's 1 in 1000 that has both, so that's too much to ask for. The author of the article seems to be asking for #2. I'd suggest that #1 is incredibly valuable too.
I can pretty much guarantee the author doesn't know what sales people actually do. Assumptions lacking experience makes this article a waste of time. I'd suggest he tries to figure out how hard it is to get someone to actually talk on the phone, much less make a large purchase, and he would change his tone.
What engineers generally don't understand is how hard it is to get people interested, qualify out prospects who are a waste of time, make your stuff a top priority, and most importantly build trust. Engineers only see a very small part of sales. Unfortunately what they see is the gaps in the product, and the customer's requirements that may not match theirs. Most people hate sales, keep that in mind when you consider how hard of a job it is. With biases like this, it is a miracle a sales team can deliver.
Ha! the irony here is just too much. The author of the post is not an engineer, and just spent the last two months talking to more than a hundred customers during our private beta (and loved it).
I am not the author of the post, but I am an engineer, and I've worked with sales teams ranging from large enterprise sales, to SaaS inside sales, and I know just like you that it is hard, hard, hard. But I also know, just like the author of the post, that everyone trying to close a deal thinks that their deal is the only one the matters. Getting to club, or meeting your quota is a strong motivator - and one that many engineering teams are oblivious too. I would imagine that many line engineers don't even realize what a big part of a typical salesperson's compensation is performance based.
I read this mostly as "sales guy, stop being like all the other sales guys, none of you ever get it! You lazy asses! Do your job, which, by the way, includes making our lives in product management and engineering easier".
Sales has (a lot) more than it's fair share of dominant, persistent and driven people. They ask for a lot. Not because they are lazy, but because they've found they often get it. If you can't deal with that, maybe you shouldn't be a product manager.
A good product manager understands sales is pushing a boulder up a mountain. They should be patient and supporting. Good ones will direct a sales guy to an existing road map, the feature request/voting process, the exceptions process (for huge deals) for getting features into the next release (which usually means "bring more money to the table"), pre-recorded sessions with other customers/prospects that explain what the product can do in that area (often the sales guys didn't know). All product managers, good or bad, should be protecting the engineers from the worst offenders, and sharing the successes of all sales with their developers. We like to know when you win with our products.