How Salespeople Can Get Along with Software Developers. From Both Sides of the Table.


It was midnight at the office on a Monday. Even though the newest version of Call of Duty had just come out, nobody would’ve thought they were going to be there until 4 AM.

One was the Rainmaker, who hit 350% of his quota in October. Aggressive, direct, strategic. He’s Anthony, our first sales professional.

The other was our technical lead. Brilliant, methodical, and a bit nerdy- but responsible for our code base.

The developer and the salesperson got along just like brothers, even while burning the midnight oil. And that makes for a super productive work environment.

But sadly, this isn’t the case in many most software companies. Tales of the divide between developers and sales are as old as Hewlett & Packard’s garage quarrels.

In the new era where software is eating the world, salespeople need to be just like Anthony.

Here are a few tips on how salespeople can get along with developers:

1. Seek Understanding

The old Stephen Covey quote of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” applies perfectly in this scenario.

There are a lot of things going on under the hood in a developer’s environment, most of which salespeople just don’t understand.

Ask the right questions, and ask them until you understand the answers. When you do, you’ll be able to see the method behind their madness, and hopefully where they’re headed with the product.

2. Take a Genuine Interest in What They Do, How They Do It, and Why They Do It

If you want to move the needle on your business, you certainly want to understand the product.

The best way to do that is to dig in and talk to its creators. Show them that you’re not just there to sell and make money, you’re there to change the industry.

3. Find Common Ground: Passions / Interests / Motivators / Hobbies

If you look long enough, you can find something similar to nearly everyone.

This is a relationship that’s surely worth your time. If you can establish just a few items in common and build off of them, you’ll be on the right track. Eat lunch together, talk over a beer, or just take a few minutes to chat. It’s important to get to know all of the other people who make your business tick.

4. Describe “What,” Not “How”

Creating a product is hard. Particularly when it’s software.

Not because of the code, but because of the gap between what you want, what is possible, and what is done.

Think about it in terms of a user story. If a prospect says, “I want to do X so that…” – understanding the “so that” goal helps the developer weigh the pros and cons of different implementations. The point is, don’t describe what is easy vs. what is hard. It’s often deceiving. The developers will let you know what they can and can’t do.

5. Ask LOTS of Questions

Make sure questions flow both ways.

Ask about big picture, ask about details, ask about risks, and ask about deliverables. The goal is to try to get in sync with the “how” described above. How are they approaching the problem, what size pieces are they breaking it into, what pieces are they worried about, when should you check back in, how can you help.

You may have described the big end goal, but there are a thousand (literally) of micro decisions along the path that need to be in alignment.

We talked with our good friend Scott Voigt who has been straddling the gap between developer and sales professional for years. He shared that salespeople need to understand that software development is way less predictable than sales…and many of them just don’t understand that. They are used to working in a world where deal cycles are relatively predictable.
But in software, it’s different.

Salespeople: don’t ask software engineers for delivery dates.

Or, if you do, don’t be sad when they whiff.

Imagine trying to predict a close date for a deal where you haven’t met any of the decision makers.

As a salesperson, you should have the ability to adapt to the person you’re talking to. If you can’t that, then just fake it until you make it.

SalesLoft CEO, Kyle Porter. Circle Kyle on Google+!
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One Response to “How Salespeople Can Get Along with Software Developers. From Both Sides of the Table.”

  1. Dan Michael November 21, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Very interesting read! I’ve long had friends on both sides of this aisle. There has long been an undertone of, “Those guys (developers) take too long to deliver” and “Those guys (sales reps) will say the software does anything on the planet and expect us to deliver it”.

    From a sales reps perspective we should take every line item on a roadmap and add a quarter…that’s what I generally do. Then my customers are excited when we over deliver (even if that is actually the expected delivery date). A developers job is hard, and unlike erecting a building, where you can drive by and see progress, their work exists largely in a black box…we need to adapt our expectations to that.

    From a developers perspective they need to realize that the rep has his ear to the needs of the customer, and THAT is what drives the roadmap … not what they may think is cool. Shiny buttons are great, but if they’re not delivering needed business value they may as well not exist.

    Genius happens in organizations where the dev guys and the sales / presales engineering guys are friends and tied at the hip…

    Great post Kyle, keep em’ coming!


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