Part 1 of this series dealt with making selling acceptable by removing the “ick factor” about selling from the minds of engineers and technical staff. While that’s an essential start, it’s just as important to take the mystery out of the selling process for them. No one will enthusiastically jump into an activity that they don’t think they can succeed in. (In fact, I suspect that some of the high-minded criticism that engineers make about selling is meant to hide the fact that they’re afraid to try.)
There are three general points that will make selling more accessible and easier to grasp for technically-minded people who are new to it:
Sales is a process. While sales may not be as predictable as a physical system, in general all sales opportunities follow a pattern, in which specific inputs yield predictable outputs. The pattern is founded on how clients make decisions to invest in new solutions—they go through clear mental and organizational steps in becoming aware of needs, searching for solutions, deciding to act, etc. Processes can be codified, learned, and applied, and as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, engineers and technical staff are frequently in closer daily contact with the client and thus better positioned to participate early in the process.
The sales conversation is an extension of a problem-solving discussion. The first way to make selling accessible to engineers builds off the point made in part 1 of this series: selling is about solving problems for customers. Engineers are good at finding and solving problems, so it’s not a huge leap from what they’re already doing. They find problems by first, asking questions about what the client wants to achieve, and what’s working and what’s not; second, by diagnosing the problem and finally by recommending a solution. So far, that’s exactly what consultative salespeople do. Where they go further is in asking questions to bring out the cost or impact of the problem, which increases urgency to solve it, and in getting the client involved in suggesting the logical solution. This type of questioning, of course, is just another process that can be learned.
Sales is not just for extraverts. You don’t have to be loud, gregarious, and attention-seeking to succeed in sales. In fact, for complex systems sales too much extraversion can be a disadvantage. While being too introverted can definitely hurt, introverts tend to be better at asking questions, listening and analysis, and these are key skills for complex sales. I’ve written about this before, but soon-to-be-released research highlighted by Dan Pink in To Sell Is Human shows that actual sales performance (not just peer perceptions) is turned in by those who are in the middle of the scale—the ambiverts, if you will.
So far, we’ve talked about how to make selling acceptable, and if you provide training and guidance to your engineering staff in these sales processes, you will make selling accessible. The final step is to provide the environment and incentives to make it appealing, which is the topic for part 3.