Anything for Sales: Engineering and Sales call it a Truce

Sales professionals often tend to believe that Engineers are magicians. Okay maybe not at all times, only while they’re selling! They make promises and then expect their engineering team to magically knit those features into the product with a stroke of their wand, wait, a click of the mouse would be more apt here (Can’t imagine a developer holding a wand.) Having said that, I also do understand the pressure that sales people deal with and their need to commit.

In this article I’d shed light on an aspect of sales that I’ve witnessed over the course of my career. I’d often seen sales professionals oversell the product and make promises based on the product roadmap. Now imagine running a medium-sized product company with ten sales guys, all of whom are over-committing. Now imagine the kind of pressure it puts on the product team. To make matters worse, the engineering team could be low on bandwidth. Wouldn’t this quite obviously impact the product roadmap? So, in this article, I’d like to share a few insights that would make the process of selling easier, while not affecting the product roadmap.

Are you Selling what they Need or What They Want?

I think the first most important step for a salesperson is to understand a customer’s requirement. This can be tricky because many-a-times customers aren’t good at explaining what they want. They might say one thing but could be implying something else altogether. However, this is where a smart sales person would do his bit of probing. He’d probe to the point where he’s achieved clarity on the customer’s wants and needs.

There was once a case where my sales team had made a specific-feature commitment to a potential client. The client however refused to close the sale without speaking to me. Here was the challenge- my product didn’t have the feature at that point and I as a Director could not conceal that information. However, after talking to the client, I realized that although he wanted that specific feature, he did not need it. This is where I turned things around and offered him exactly what suited his needs as opposed to his wants. This way I closed the sale without making any false commitments.

There will also be times when after comparing the customer’s needs with the solution you have in hand, you’ll realize that few of their needs can be accomplished through customization. The important aspect about customization is communicating the correct ETA to the client, while also discussing it internally with your team to understand whether its making sense or not.

Water Can Take the Shape of the Container. Can a Software do it too?

Most enterprise products are not generic so there is always some sort of customization that is needed. Sales professionals often misunderstand this and adopt an ‘everything is possible through customization’ attitude. Instead of understanding what can and cannot be achieved through customization, they make big promises to the client without even consulting their engineering team. Sales professionals need to first understand that there are two scenarios in customization. One where only a 10-20% tweak is required, which is usually always the case and can be accomplished easily and two where a functionality has to be built from scratch. Basically, they need to understand that not everything can be customized!

Are you Selling the Product OR its Roadmap?

To bring the client onboard, many-a-times a salesperson would end up making promises that the product doesn’t deliver “YET.” This isn’t a blatant lie, they’re basically selling the product roadmap. They’re probably hoping that by the time the sale is closed, the product will have all the features the customer wants. In this case, all I’d like to say is that accept the “IS” and not the “COULD BE.” That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t convey the client’s demands to your development team and start working on getting those features, all I am saying is that communicate this to your client.

At Qualitia, my team has been through the same and with a lot of efforts of aligning and re-aligning, we’ve managed to strike a balance. The above-mentioned pointers have worked for us and I hope they work for you too. If there are practices you’ve been following at your organization that have worked for you, feel free to share them!

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