Selling is one of the activities that I often find engineers shy away the most from. Yet, it is likely one of the most under-rating and important activities an engineering leader can do. I intentionally try and spend 20% of my time working with Qumulo’s sales teams to help sell our products. There are many reasons why I think this activity is vital to any engineering leader, which I will cover in this post.
As an engineer working on various products, I had the (naive) impression that whatever I build will be magically sold. I mean, the product is so good it will naturally sell itself. There’s a definite sense of pride behind this assumption as well as a tad of naïveté.
Most products, especially enterprise software ones, do not sell themselves. Finding out how your product is sold and why customers buy it helps engineering leaders in several ways. The most important in my opinion is developing customer empathy. As a leader you will understand why customers buy your product and how they use it. Odds are you don’t win every deal and often times customers end up choosing a competitor’s product. Losing offers its own set of valuable lessons. It helps you understand and see your products gaps and rough edges. The data and insight you get from trying to sell your product is invaluable, especially when you relay it all back to your engineering teams.
Wait, isn’t what I just described what Product Management ought to be doing? That’s correct, however, my view is customer empathy is a skill that has to permeate throughout every function in a company. Knowing what matters to your customers and how to make them more successful should never be just confined to the PM org — it’s everybody’s job to know and enable that. In fact, at Qumulo we encourage engineers to go on sales-calls with our sales organization, specifically to develop that muscle and also to help win deals, which might hinge on engineering related concerns.
Have you ever wondered how your product is sold? Or how did you sales team find customers? Or how long did is your sales cycle? The world of selling is often times shrouded in mystery to most engineers — myself included. My first impression about how sales operated was likely influenced by the clip below from Glengarry Glen Ross.
Selling is a hard job. Your sales and marketing teams have to find customers (lead generation), they have to qualify these leads (probability that leads will buy) and then your sales teams have to prosecute these qualified leads in order to try and sell them your product. That will typically require pitching the product, demo-ing, a free trial, finding out how your product fits into the customers IT environment (especially for enterprise products), RFPs, conditional purchase orders and much more. Seeing that selling motion in person is eye opening. It will help you appreciate what it takes to sell your product.
Conversely, your sales team might learn from you how the product that they sell is built. Design, refactoring, testing, resourcing, prioritization, CI/CD, UI/UX and more are likely topics your sales team has little to no knowledge about. Yet, they are critical to the development of a product.
By collaborating with your sales team you will both learn from one another, demystify how each function operates and help bridge gaps between sales and engineering. Having a healthy relationship between sales and engineering is critical to your company’s success.
When I go out on sales calls, I am not there just to listen to what prospective customers have to say about the product, I am also there to try and sell it. That might require demo-ing the product, pitching it to customers and answering technical questions about it. The soft skills — public speaking, storytelling and thinking fast on your feet — are ones that will help you in many other aspects of your career. One area I benefited from immensely from interacting with my sales team is in recruiting. Recruiting is selling someone a job vs a product! Ditto for fund-raising for your next startup. That’s also selling.
I hope I encouraged you to try and leave your office and join your sales team on selling your product. It’s a great experience. I will cover what to do (and not!) when you are on sales call in my next blog post.