Here at The Receptionist, our team has years of cumulative experience working in the SaaS world — and we’ve all seen enough through the years to know that sales and product development teams in tech companies don’t always get along.
Resentment and frustration breed easily when teams are working under mismatched values or can’t communicate well across departments. That’s especially true for sales and engineering.
Missteps can happen on both sides. The engineering team can come up with a grand plan for the product without input from the sales team, which makes the product difficult to sell. Or, the sales team can demand new features by unrealistic deadlines in their pursuit of valuable clients, which puts the product team in an impossible position.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When sales and engineering teams work together well, the product and the customer experience are much better for it.
At The Receptionist, we’re intentional about building solid relationships among our employees in various roles, and that includes the sales and engineering teams. Here are a few ways we encourage these relationships to grow.
Start From a Place of Respect
Respect is one of our core values at The Receptionist, and it plays an especially important role in the dynamic between sales and engineering.
“Respect” comes down to using empathy, and to giving other people the benefit of the doubt. In the context of sales and engineering relationships, that generally means two things:
- The sales team has to trust and respect that the engineering team is working hard to build a quality product. The sales team must internalize the fact that they don’t personally know how the product is built, or the work it takes to keep it running. One example of respecting the programming team would be to avoid advocating for features that are not a part of the existing production schedule.
- The engineering team has to empathize with the obstacles that the sales team is up against when selling the product — even when those obstacles don’t affect programmers’ jobs directly. They need to respect the fact that the product must be easy to sell if it is to be successful. An example of respect in this regard would be carefully considering the objections that come up during the sales process as programmers prioritize what to build and fix.
Meet More Frequently (And In Person)
It’s hard to have a great working relationship in the absence of frank, one-on-one conversations and occasional in-person meetings.
At The Receptionist, our Director of Programming (DeLynn Berry) and Director of Sales (Tom Foster) meet every week.
During their weekly meeting, they go over their ideas and discuss objections that the sales staff is hearing and discuss how to respond. The programmers may need more information about a certain objection or feature request, for example, and send the sales team back with follow-up questions. Programmers may also be able to lend insight into why the program was built the way it is, which can lead to interesting or creative ways to respond to customer objections.
During these meetings, the production team can also make sure that the sales staff is clear on what the product can actually do. This reduces the odds of the sales team over-promising and under-delivering to clients.
Regardless of what’s actually discussed, meeting weekly face-to-face simply cultivates better working relationships. Thanks to these meetings, departments stay more in touch with what the others are working on and with their values and priorities.
As we mentioned in our podcast episode on our stance on working remotely, we don’t require the entire team to be in the office at all times. But we do all come into the office on certain days for meetings like this, and we think those meetings are extremely valuable.
Get Clear on Objectives
For true clarity across teams, you need more than just live conversations and meetings. You need metrics and documents that keep everyone on the same page.
At The Receptionist, we use a software program that’s dedicated to managing software feature requests and product feedback. Product Board accepts, sorts, categorizes, and ranks feature requests from clients. (A few other examples of programs that help tech teams build product roadmaps and collect feedback are Pendo and Aha!)
Using a software program to measure and track requests can help quantify all the thoughts, feelings, and suggestions that are made regarding how the product should change.
Regardless of the top-requested features at any given time, though, the potential benefits must outweigh the potential downsides of making the system more complicated or difficult to maintain.
No program can be everything to everyone. Most software programs benefit a lot from being simple and intuitive, and by focusing on what they do best. Weighing a software product down with features that aren’t essential for your target group of customers can ultimately make it harder for both sales and engineering to get their jobs done. When the sales team understands this, it can make conversations about new features more productive.
Always Focus on the Customer
In our view, the whole reason we exist as a company is to solve a problem for our customers.
Being a customer-focused company means that every debate between engineering and sales — from deciding on new software features to developing product roadmaps — comes back to what’s best for them. When your company is truly customer-focused, conflicts and arguments are less personal. Employees shouldn’t be advocating for their own interests, after all, but for the customers’ interests.
We think it’s more difficult to maintain great relationships between sales and engineering at revenue-driven companies. The objectives at those companies tend to be more focused on finding or impressing investors than on serving customers.Employees shouldn’t be advocating for their own interests, but for the customers’ interests. Click To Tweet
Consider this: At the Receptionist, we started breaking sales records after we hired our first Director of Sales. The product hadn’t changed much in that time, but we had started to double down on our focus on finding the right kind of customer.
We intensified our search for the kind of company that benefited the most from our software just as it was, and we started spending less energy pursuing customers who weren’t as good of a fit.
That lift in sales has given our team even more confidence that they can sell successfully as long as they continue to find the right type of businesses to work with. To that end, we’re focusing on developing solutions for industries that we’ve already found get enormous benefits from our software.
If you want to learn more about how The Receptionist handles company culture, check out The FABRIC PODCAST. To hear The Receptionist’s Director of Programming and Director of Sales discuss this issue live, check out this episode featuring DeLynn Berry and Tom Foster.
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