Sales is the king! I used to hear this phrase all the time and ignored it as a conventional wisdom not applicable to the unconventional technology industry. Isn’t tech all about innovation and cool products? Don’t cool products sell by itself? Products that people line up to buy outside your stores or online. So engineers should be kings and not sales people. After a decade, I am proven wrong.
I am absolutely convinced that irrespective of the industry, sales is the lifeline of any business. Nobody cares how cool your product is if it doesn’t sell. A business is not a viable business if it doesn’t make money. We might consider Apple and Google as exceptions but really they are not. The fact that both are public companies and measured by their financial results speaks for itself. Google is widely known as an engineering centric company but the recent news of their head of engineering and head of sales making the most bonuses indicated the balance of power. We all know how much other software giants like Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP are driven by sales.
Ok, we know it’s all about sales, but what should we (non-sales) folks do? The lesson I learned is to align yourself with sales if you are not one of them. I am not suggesting being subservient to sales but having your actions help close the deals. It could be as simple as dropping a line about your competition or delivering a product demo, but make sure you are closely aligned with this function. There is a salesman inside all of us; unleash it to magnify your potential.
I spent the better part of my career in technology function, mostly developing software. It was exciting to write the most efficient program, design complex solutions, and manage large software projects. Even though I always thought of myself as more of a business person, I never paid much attention to the commercial side of technology. The techie inside had a simple business logic–customers will line up to buy the best software. Of course, I was entitled to be paid because I could write the best program irrespective of company’s performance. Then, I moved to presales and it changed everything!
Two years of selling complex software to fortune 1000 companies and working with sales and marketing was an eye-opening experience. The realization that it is not the best software but the best-positioned solution that sells was startling. Customers didn’t care much about algorithms in the software, but how would it solve their business problems and deliver value. Total cost of ownership, payback period and return on investment calculations didn’t factor in the most optimized program or complex design. While software features were important, it was relationships, sales presentations, product demos, and managing client expectations that were critical for a successful sale. Sales and marketing folks–often perceived as “more talk and less substance” were the front and center to close deals and bring money to keep the lights on.
I still believe that development is a very important function of a software business but now I also understand the importance of the commercial side. It doesn’t surprise me when a developer boasts of being the heart and soul of the business while thinking of sales and marketing as just the face. I was in the same boat a few years ago. It is easy for a techie to ignore the importance of sales and what it takes to acquire a client. Most software companies intentionally isolate R&D from business realities, thereby making it even more difficult for technologists to understand business realities. However, if you are a techie with entrepreneurial aspirations or an ambition to grow into senior management, then start learning about how your business sells and makes money. Your superior technical skills definitely make you indispensible for the company but your sales skills will grow you into top management ranks. A strong technical expertise coupled with great business skills is a potent combination. Remember, it is money that makes the world go and your career.