I started out in business selling development services. OK, so that’s hugely glorified. I was a teenager desperate to get my driver’s license in Germany where that is a costly process (lots of mandatory lessons). So I figured out how to make money programming custom applications for people, including a driving school. Ever since then I have had a love/hate relationship with sales.
The hate portion is easy to understand for any engineer. The things you have to do in selling run counter to a lot of things you care about as an engineer. For instance, you need to spend a lot of time explaining stuff to people that should be, well, obvious. And most importantly, time spent selling is not time spent creating. The same reasons for hating sales seem to apply to product and design folks.
But I also love sales and not just because it helped pay for my driver’s license. People paying for your product is what enables you to grow your business without giving up (more) equity. And selling is what provides critical feedback about what you should build, making your product better. If you have the right kind of product or service (one with network effects), then selling has the additional benefit of making the product/service better for everyone. Finally, selling is about educating users who otherwise wouldn’t know how or why to use the product or service.
Unfortunately, I see all too many product and/or engineering led organizations that are in thrall to their hate or disdain or at a minimum personal dislike for sales (and by extension sales people). That’s highly unfortunate because it dramatically reduces the overall chances of success for these organizations. And one of the grand ironies is that many of these organizations think that they are in some way emulating Google, which has somehow managed to create a myth that Google got big without sales (nothing could be further from the truth). A similar myth seems to be in the making about Facebook.
Incidentally, I don’t mean sales here just as in having sales people. I also mean selling as in convincing endusers explicitly of the value of a product (ok, so technically that’s marketing but it has many of the same aspects). I haven’t figured out yet how to help people to learn to love sales. But maybe a starting point will be to point at how important selling has been to the success of companies such as Google. And of course selling has been critical to the company currently so beloved by many engineers, designers and product folks alike: Apple.