No salespeople, just forward deployed engineers

Your next sales star?

I just read an article about a fascinating Silicon Valley company called Palantir, which is in the business of mining huge data sets, primarily for national security clients. If you recall the 9/11 Commission Report, which found that many of the clues about the terrorist plot were missed because of a failure to “connect the dots”, Palantir designs the systems to connect the dots, and apparently they are very good at it. As the article relates, a Special Forces member stationed in Afghanistan said “It’s like plugging into the Matrix. The first time I saw it, I was like, ‘Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.’”

There are a number of interesting practices the company follows, but the one I want to focus on is their approach to selling. They don’t use traditional salespeople. Instead, they have what they call forward deployed engineers, “the sometimes awkward computer scientists most companies will avoid putting in front of customers.”

If you’ve ever seen Dilbert’s take on the relationship between engineers and salespeople, you’ll know exactly why companies avoid putting them in front of customers.

Yet Palantir’s theory is that engineers will always tell the truth about their product, warts and all; they know how to solve problems, and they build credibility over time. And it seems to work for them.

Imagine that: honesty, problem solving, and trust as the keys to sales success. Who would ever have thought of that?

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