Dealing with the sales team

Reps frequently over-commit to what your development team can deliver, and in some extreme cases even lie to customers about product functionality. And when it all falls apart, the fingers invariably point back to development.
Written by Will Kelly, Contributor on
Reps frequently over-commit to what your development team can deliver, and in some extreme cases even lie to customers about product functionality. And when it all falls apart, the fingers invariably point back to development.

Here are five best practices you can advocate for your sales counterparts that may prevent those e-mail salvos from firing.

Make sales responsible for product specifications and milestones
Sales and product marketing teams often fail to take responsibility for developing and maintaining product specifications and development milestones. Such bad planning can easily drive a project to disarray, often leaving developers holding the bag.

Product specifications and milestones should be jointly developed and managed by a cross-functional team that represents development, sales, marketing, customer care, and other groups involved in product launches. Peer pressure from a group of stakeholders, rather than a single stakeholder, makes it more difficult for one group to disregard specifications and milestones.

Avoid the “Rambo” sales call
Sales reps are notorious for going on solo “Rambo” sales calls and returning with a lot of “customer feedback” demanding that features be added immediately to get the customer’s interest. The lone salesperson succumbs to client pressure, where multiple salespersons can provide some policy checks and balances.

This is often a symptom of an inept sales team that can’t sell an existing, solid product; reps focus on the needs of one potential customer and disregard the needs of the market. Such “one-off” development deals are more taxing in dev time and resources.

When developing an external product, sales, marketing, and development can generate a list of potential customers to chart out interest in the product. A policy of no solo sales calls to major clients also helps keep the sales message on track.

Don’t sell false promises
Promising to deliver features that are not in the product functional specs and road map sours even the best customer relationship and internal company relationships.

If a feature is out of spec or not on the road map, the sales team needs to back away from the opportunity and bring it back to the product manager and development teams. If it is on the road map, reps should be comfortable making commitments to the customer.

Don’t commit dev resources to customisations
Committing to overcustomisation and one-off solutions also risks your team’s credibility.

An acknowledged product road map, signed-off requirements, and a published development schedule with management approval should be enough to prevent too many commitments to customisations and one-off features.

Add-ons are usually the domain of professional services groups and consultants. If your company is not in the business of consulting on its applications, then it’s usually prudent to bring in partners or third parties to do the customisations, if the project scope and budget allow. It’s your client’s money, after all.

Let developers educate the sales team
Not knowing your customers is the sales version of developing in a vacuum. Prospecting new customers, and even unsuccessful sales calls, can yield invaluable information about market conditions and customer trends. A good salesperson should be out of the office prospecting for new business.

Share industry and market information with salespeople, and bring them along to seminars. Remember, though, that the culture of your company’s sales organisation will drive how the sales team gets to know your company’s clients.

You may even want to send some of the dev team members along on a sales call. Kevin Hoisington, a sales and marketing consultant who works with wireless industry clients, has seen developers have positive roles on sales calls.

“Senior developers or development management provide some key face time in sales calls, where they help build technical and organisational credibility with a customer,” Hoisington said. “Generally, customers love to meet the development team. It gives them a feeling of being connected to the product or technology they are investing in.”

Keep talking
Sales is an important conduit for collecting customer information. However, this conduit must be integrated into a cross-functional team with the goal of launching a product that’s both attractive to customers and has a positive bottom line for your company. Keep communications open with sales, but don’t be afraid to draw the line when unreasonable customer demands threaten the health of a project.

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