The 3 Reasons Why Engineers Should Learn How to Sell

December 4, 2015
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I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.

Steve Jobs said that 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until decades later with the rise of the Internet and massive success of companies like Google, Facebook and Uber, that coding truly became “cool.” Today, seemingly everyone wants to learn how to code.

The increased interest in obtaining basic engineering skills is great for innovation and the economy. However, as more sales and marketing pros are learning the basics of coding, more engineers need to learn the basics of sales, especially if they are building a startup. Here’s why:

  1. Selling requires empathy. As engineers, we’re constantly trying to get inside the heads of our customers and prospects to understand their problems and challenges. But most of the time, this information often comes to us second hand, passed on as feedback from sales reps, support reps or account managers. If engineers were selling, we’d hear these pain and objections first-hand. This is the closest we can get to actually being in our customers’ shoes. Think about how having that perspective might change what gets prioritized at your next product roadmap meeting.
  2. Selling = direct feedback. Selling places you right smack in the middle of the feedback loop. Non-technical sales people will never truly understand every detail of the problem our customers are facing with the product. While they might be great at finding customer pain, it can be hard to articulate what’s actually wrong with the product. Engineers have to understand every detail of the problem, how the product works and it’s limitations. If engineers simply rely on that information transfer, they end up wasting a lot of time as key information will undoubtedly be missing. It will take much longer to truly understand how our customers might be struggling or getting hung up on certain elements of our product. Engineers value efficiency, so we should spend more time with our customers, as well as with our sales and support teams and help the whole company become successful.
  3. Selling gets you past specs. I’ve seen too many engineers fail to understand that a technically superior product made through sound technical decisions doesn’t always translate into sales. Learning how to sell will help you understand how to build a product that customers will love, regardless of what the tech stack might look like behind the scenes. Building a successful company is not about creating a product that is technically superior — it’s about understanding a customer’s pain.

Having engineers sell — especially in the early days — sets the tone for the rest of your company to be truly customer-driven. As my co-founder David Cancel says, “every company in the world will tell you they are customer-driven. They’ll believe in the principle. They’ll have framed posters on the wall about it. ‘Solve for The Customer.’ But none of that means anything unless you actually make the structural decisions to ensure it.”

Elias Torres is founder and CTO at Driftt. Prior to Driftt, he was VP of Engineering at HubSpot and founder/CTO at Performable (acquired by HUBS in 2011). We believe that marketing to customers — not strangers — is the future of marketing, and it’s our goal to help modern companies transform the relationships that they have with their customers. Get our product and growth marketing tips right to your inbox once a week.