In the world of technology products companies, one cannot say that opposites attract. Though business and engineering teams solve related problems, they often clash because they approach the business from diverse angles.
I often speak with sales professionals that see technology-myopic engineers as a source of disappointment for their customers.
I also regularly work with software engineers who complain that business demands force them to abandon good engineering practices in favor of quick fixes.
What both sales and engineering professionals can miss, however, is that both sides are focused on solving a problem for customers.
As a professional who has worked both sides of this picture, I appreciate companies that help both groups to see how their roles complement each other.
From the Business Side
The business side can see software engineering practices as dilatory, overly complex, cost prohibitive, and, most importantly, as risk from which they have to protect their prospects and customers.
Sometimes, they are correct. I worked with a team that spent years developing a product that went through multiple rewrites, several major technology changes, and ultimately never delivered.
Engineering’s obsession with creating the perfectly built product was partially responsible for causing the company not to deliver anything within the window during which the best business opportunity existed.
At the same time, sales had gone ahead and closed deals–in good faith, but by making promises to customers that the company ultimately could not keep.
Though the result was not pretty, I have also seen sales teams cause equally disappointing results.
From the Engineering Side
The engineering side can see business demands as evil, unempathic, lacking any serious future-oriented perspective, and, most importantly, as risk from which they have to protect their work and their people.
I have seen situations where this is the case. One sales team I worked with wanted to take advantage of a significant market opportunity.
They demanded quick solutions from their engineering team, who had to abandon test-driven development, refactoring, patterns, and basic coding principles.
The codebases quickly became brittle and error-prone. Though engineering delivered a product (albeit late), the company was unable to upgrade their product to reflect changing customer expectations over time.
The company gradually lost business as they found themselves increasingly less able to convey value. Eventually they were no longer in a position to compete at all.
A Unified View
For the most part, we all have the same vision. We want products that work exceedingly well, delight out customers, and make an enormous impact in the markets we care about.
It is true that some engineers, particularly junior-level ones, can get excited about technology in its own right, at the expense of delivering what the customer wants.
It is also true that some sales professionals, particularly those newer in their selling careers, can overpromise in order to close deals, putting pressure on developers to quickly fill gaps between customer expectations and product offerings.
In my experience, however, most engineers and sales professionals recognize each other’s role in making their own professional existence possible.
It is difficult to sell a product that doesn’t exist, just as it is challenging to thrive on technologies no one wants.
The right approach involves balancing concerns by exposing sales and engineering to each other on a regular basis.
Through fostering a culture where sales and engineering professionals have a unified view of the business, the two groups can reach a place of empathy.
When they learn to appreciate the demands they each face, they can do a better job balancing the interests of the company, and ultimately, the customers.