Do you know what my first realization after I put "Chief" (... Architect/Technology Officer) in my job position on LinkedIn was? That I have so many new friends ... Nearly immediately, I started getting tons of messages from various altruistic salespeople who apparently wanted only two things in the world - to end all wars and to help my business with whatever their company was selling at the moment:

  1. 250 kg of PHP software developer resources from Fareastland
  2. reduction of printing costs
  3. replacement of fiber network infrastructure (that I didn't have)
  4. random online service XYZ that operates in the ABC industry

All those friendly people were promptly jumping into action by sending me PDF leaflets with offers, asking for a call "this week" - and only a few referred to me as "Dear {first_name}". Obviously, the majority of them were just desperate spammers going gung-ho with the "spray & pray" tactics. But some represented companies that offer online services we COULD be using (as we've either relied on their direct competition or had something custom-built instead) or even WERE already using (so they were up for cross-sell or up-sell).

Fairly & evenly, they have all immediately landed in the spam box. Why so? As a punishment for not understanding how the sale of technical online products (for engineering folks) works. This post is about the points they were all missing. You may find it interesting if you're:

  • in (pre-)sales position yourself
  • in a product organization that builds stuff for other engineering (/tech-savvy) organizations

Let's sync the clocks. It's the 2020s.

Albeit my first leadership position was more than a couple of years ago, not that much has changed when it comes to offering online services since then - the standard is well known:

  1. Folks expect self-service, integration & automation: they register on their own, onboard on their own (using intuitive tutorials), and plug in their payment option of choice - also on their own. Everything else is too much of the fuss & scales poorly from the operational perspective (for both sides).
  2. Pricing is expected to be standardized, simple & (typically) tiered. There's no space for a rate adjustment, except if you represent a huge enterprise (negotiation) or some promotional codes are floating around.
  3. The access to educational materials (tutorials, samples, docs, walkthroughs, sandboxes, ...) is open & free of charge. In most cases, you can try the product out before paying a single penny - as a part of the trial or demo.

Such a model suits both the sellers (less expensive, manual work) and the buyers (faster & more convenient access, onboarding at their own pace) - good products seem to be able "to sell themselves". And you're not gonna get custom pricing anyway. So why would I waste time talking to salespeople? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Let me quote Naval Ravikant here:

"You're doing sales because you failed at marketing. You're doing marketing because you failed at product."

Who's buying (in tech)?

The honest answer is "it depends", but in all my cases since 2018 (product organizations, where technology is an enabler of end-user value), there was one single answer: the main decision influencers are always the ones who are, in the end, using the technology. Engineers.

Why so?

  1. They are the best at assessing the (technical) product. And typically - they like doing that. For some: it's one of the main motivations for their job (working with top-notch tools that boost their productivity).
  2. They are the ones who are expected to take accountability for the final outcome of their work. This accountability comes with certain autonomy - e.g., picking tools to do the job.
  3. I know some things have changed recently (threat of AI, layoffs, issue of over-hiring), but it's still the employee's market in Tech - the CEO who picks the tech stack for her/his staff is playing a risky game.

So what's specific about this (buying) audience?

  1. Software products (typically) have low inertia when it comes to giving them a try. It means that bullshit (of over-selling) has a short expiration date ...
  2. A relatively large part of the software developers' community (when compared to other communities) is actually passionate about their work. Or in other work - their work is also (to some degree) their hobby. They express this passion in community work (e.g., Open Source), blogging, or experimenting. Credible opinions shared that way influence their peers, creating trends, hypes & affecting the views of others.
  3. The number of software developers (as a profession) may not be super-impressive (when compared to other industries), but one thing we can say for sure is that these folks know how to use the Internet for communication. How & where to publish, but also how &  where to search for relevant information - they rarely need assistance, especially from "friendly" sales folk.

So what?

Sorry for over-generalizing (a bit), but if you want to change/affect the opinions of developers, you need to be good at their sh*t. And speak their language ("engineerese", instead of "pee-ahr-ish" or "marketingian"). And show something practical that proves your claims (bold statements on the slides do not work ...).

Value proposition?

Hey, but they didn't just jump out of the blue (those sales folk) - they had something tangible to offer me, right?

"Yes", "no", and "it doesn't matter".

Why "yes"? The ones that have done some homework (prep):

  • ... offered to bring in some knowledge (of their experts) - to brainstorm/review/consult whatever I want
  • ... were open to discussing future collaboration options (e.g., joint marketing or sharing their know-how) - no commitments, of course ...
  • ... hinted they have knowledge that could be useful for us (because they have collaborated with cohorts of similar companies in the past)

Why "no"? Because they come from different companies with different agendas and their own goals to be met. It is clear that their main priority is TO SELL, so their suggestions/recommendations are not credible (as they are motivated by factors not necessarily aligned with ours). In the shortest possible words: no (their) skin in the (our) game.

And why "it doesn't matter"? Because the only thing that is never in shortage in any organization is "stuff to do". People are super-good at generating potential ideas for their activities & making themselves occupied. The tricky part is to pick your battles wisely & prioritize highest what could really bring you the most value.

So yes, the salesperson may come up with an offer for a new service X that will do pretty much the same as the (already in-use) service Y does. And X may be indeed NN% cheaper, or NN% faster, or NN% whatever - however ...

  1. You won't know NN until you actually migrate :)
  2. Optimizing something that is not essential for your value proposition / competitive advantage / or (in a more extreme case) survival is most likely a waste of time & effort. And with absolute certainty - loss of focus & at least part of your momentum.

How to sell to technical folks (then)?

That question screams for a standalone article. If you enjoyed this blog post, share your feedback in the comments below - that will encourage me to create a follow-up to answer it.

To be continued?

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