Tuesday, 19 June 2007

"Engineers can't sell new technology"

Interviewing a potential CEO for one of the portfolio companies today was really thought provoking. He's run and grown technology companies and is a great engineer by heart, therefore I was really surprised when he told us that you "can't use engineers to sell new technology". My gut was screaming "no!", but on reflection I think maybe he had a really sound point. His argument seemed to come down to some prejudices about engineers which might have some grounding:

  • Bright sales people can communicate the product well enough for bright engineers at the customer company to work out how/where to apply it
  • Engineers have a tendency to dive too quickly into the details of the technology before really getting a good picture of the company's needs- so they don't give themselves the chance to listen properly
  • Sales people in the front line tend to be more reassuring to the non-technical contingent of the customers and send the right messages about the nature of the vendor
I think his bottom line was that this kind of thing can be a cause of delays in customer take up of the offering from a new technology vendor. I'm going to chew on this a little, but there may well be something behind this thesis; what do you think?

Further thought

On dicussion with a colleague, we wondered if perhaps the distinction is:
Technically capable customer looking to understand how he can use your technology/productSend a technically literate salesperson to first meeting
Technically ignorant customer looking for help understanding what he/she needsSend a sales engineer to first meeting
The other suggestion the candidate made which I'd wholeheartedly endorse is that for early stage tech companies you can always afford to send two people to the meeting- so that someone is always listening.