How to get developers to adopt a “sales-first” mentality
Since the dawn of commerce, there’s always been a holy war between those who make the sausage and those who sling it. The makers think the slingers over-promise in search of commission; the slingers think the makers find ever more artful excuses for not building new features fast enough.
Both of course are dead wrong. This mutual distrust is usually caused by mutual misunderstanding. Low performing organizations let this divide fester; high performing organizations glue this gap shut by helping the entire company understand how nothing happens without great sales and nothing sells without great product.
From a development standpoint, this means turning your engineers maybe not fully into Super Salesman Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross but at least into fans of what Alec Baldwin’s character is trying to convey (minus the swear words). So without further ado, here are seven ways to instill a sales-first mentality within your software dev team:
1). Put the entire development team through a sales training workshop.
Most developers have never been exposed to the “other side of the house.” Thus, walk them through the sales process and show the challenges and pain points at each step along the journey. Once the dev team understands how hard it is to sell something they will become more collaborative in finding solutions that work for a prospective customer.
2). Have each developer lead or participate in a customer demo at least once per quarter.
Nothing creates understanding and appreciation faster than being in a live situation with a customer. But just doing it once is not enough — continual participation is needed so that developers can see a range of different perspectives and outcomes, and feel the stress of rapid fire questioning.
3). Celebrate sales wins together.
Place a large cowbell in the engineering department and ring the bell loudly when a sale is made (not kidding — we’ve seen this work wonders). This shared experience of winning will help developers feel a sense of ownership in the process.
4). Incentivize the development team with an annual reward for meeting or exceeding a sales target.
Though paying everyone a commission is not financially feasible, you can still reward the development team for hitting sales goals through sponsoring a team event (such as a paintball excursion) or through providing extra perks (such as free lunch for the team for a week) or simply by giving folks an extra day off. The point is that the dev team should receive at least something tangible from their efforts though it doesn’t need to be financially onerous. In other words, it’s the thought that counts…
5). Walk the “dev-sales” talk from the C-Suite.
Departmental leads take their cues from the folks at the top. If the executives aren’t spreading the gospel of “everyone is in sales” — and then duly spreading praise across the organization with each new sales success — then the departmental divide will quickly take hold again. The development team needs to feel that their efforts in driving company growth are both noticed and appreciated in the C-suite.
6). Focus on customer benefit metrics to eliminate a potential “build it and they will come” approach from developers.
Engineers love to build things — and often times they build things that they or their friends would want to have. But engineers aren’t always representative of the company’s target customer (i.e. the people that the sales folks need to go sell to!) thus creating a critical disconnect. To avoid this fate, create customer-benefit metrics that the product must deliver against (such as speed of downloads, number of orders delivered per day, amount of money that is saved, etc.) and let that be the north star the development team must build towards. Engineers are quantitative by nature: data is the antidote to any inherent bias they may have.
7). Show the dev team that the river runs both ways.
All great relationships depend on two active participants. So if you are going to have the dev team sit through sales training and participate in demos, then the sales team should sit in on the scrum cycle demos (which at many companies typically occur once or twice per month). This way the sales team can see and appreciate the work coming out of development, and the dev team can feel a greater sense of partnership.
And if all else fails, just put up a sign in the break room that says “your code will put exactly zero dents in the universe unless it can be sold.” That one almost always forces the sausage maker to put down the casing and listen…
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