Over the past several months, we've been expanding our marketing efforts to include developers and other techies.
One thing we've noticed is that these front-line folks don't want to talk. At all. They'd simply much rather explore and evaluate the solution by themselves, without any help from anyone else.
The logical/productivity-driven side of me is confused. When evaluating a non-commodity solution (especially one that's pretty new/different), not only does one often not know what questions to ask, but researching these questions will take a significant amount of time. It's much easier to talk to a salesperson, become educated about solution, ask a few questions, and if things seem like a good fit... further the discussion.
Executives and managers don't have this problem, and are happy to do incremental time investments. If they like what they see in 30 seconds, they'll give it 15 minutes. If they like what they hear, they'll give it an hour. Then they'll bring in other folks.
My question is... is this a messaging problem? Is there anything you think developer/techies could see (in an email, etc) to get them willing to talk on the phone? Why are they so unwilling to talk with another human being?
If you want to sell something to a hacker -- or to any coder, really -- provide the most exhaustive and accurate technical specs and a brief, concise bullet-point summary of the things you most want us to know about your product by email, along with a demonstration copy of your product, and then go away. Don't try to use sales tactics on us, ever: at best you'll look like an idiot, at worst, you'll convince the prospective client that you think he's an idiot.
If I can't get a price without talking to a sales person, I will not even consider a programming tool. Likewise I will not type my real phone number into a website if I think a sales person may start ringing me. I do have work to do after all... I have also too often seen sale people lie to possible customers about what software I am working on can do, so I don’t put any faith in anything a sales person tell me.
Also developers often hate sales people, as the sales person drives in the new car, while the developers has to sort unreasonable expectations the sales person has created in the customer’s mind! Why should someone trust your sales people, when they know what their own are like?
If I know a sale person was rewarded based on how happy new users of the product were after 6 months, rather the sales values, I may consider the sales person to be worth talking to.
All you have to do is spend 2 minutes talking to the cliche sales guy to discover the answer. Used car salesmen are of course the standard...
I have had far too many conversations with sales folks who know nothing about the product they are trying to sell. They promise the world, and know nothing about the details. Often this is a waste of time.
The tactics sales people typically use are a turnoff for many people with a brain.
Call the staff that interact with "techies" 'engineers' - and educate them about the product. Or give out the contact information to your upper level support or dev staff.
The problem is not your audience - it is your sales folks. Don't blame programmers or "techies" for this.
The bottom line is that it is typically a waste of time talking with non-tech folks when you are interested in the low level stuff.
Also - why do you care about talking to the developers? They are not the ones making the buy decisions, are they?
Sales people want to focus on the best aspects of their products and technical people need to deal with the worse. My favorite question to ask is, "What do your customers hate the most about your product?" I have to know if your Excel export function works with 2007. No salesperson wants to dwell on this stuff.
Most technical people didn't go into their field because they would rather chat about computers than work with them. Would you do a PowerPoint presentation to sell a carpenter a new hammer?
Technical people do not respect salespeople who often have low technical skills. It's just too hard to have a conversation and talk shop (Which is what technologists love talking about the most.). Technologist are also over-confident about their abilities and do not think they are not capable of figuring out your product on their own. If they can't, there must be something wrong with it ;)
Since executives and managers are the ones likely to write you the check, your marketing approach and materials are probably more geared towards them. And most executives and managers were former sales people. You want to attract the geeks you put someone on the cover who looks like an anime character and not a middle-aged male who looks like he forgot how to attach an email.
All answers above are good, but I'd like to provide another angle.
I've been in enough fast growing startups to notice a pattern. Tech startups usually start with one good sales guy (the CEO), and a team of techies forklifting the product that the sales guy/CEO is pushing. The founding CEO is usually tech/product savvy and can discuss aspects of the product in depth. The relationship between CEO and tech is great.
As the startups progresses the need for sales is after a while greater than the need for techies. So the sales team grows. The new sales guys are not as tech savvy.
But more importantly. As the sales team grows, the CEO involves himself more and more in the sales process. After all – it's what brings in the dollars. So the techies become distanced from the CEO. As fast at the techies feel alienated as fast they stop caring as much as before. The sales people sell stupid stuff that's hard to do, and the CEO seems to listen to them. They have meetings every day, while the CEO will come rally up the tech team once a month.
You have to work very, very hard at showing your techies how much you value them, their efforts and their input. And techies are usually not the forward, pushy type. So you'll also have to learn how techies talk. It's very subtle, and scientific. The nuances may be hard to spot. "That's hard" == that's impossible, and "That's interesting" == that's smart and cool.
At my current company, to avoid this specific problem, I've worked very hard to keep the tech team involved in as many aspects as possible, and brining them along at sales meetings, asking them for opinions, having regular meetings with them and the CEO etc. Once the alienation starts, you're usually in for a bumpy ride.
An old joke that I learned nearly 30 years ago still rings true.
Q. What's the difference between a software salesman and a used-car salesman?
A. The used-car salesman knows when he's lying.
Because more often than not salespeople just plain don't understand what developers need. My personal motto is that there are two types of people who think that a product is perfect. People who've never used the product before, and people trying to sell me a product. I also deeply distrust salespeople because bending the truth is usually encouraged in the profession. This list sums it up best though http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/it-strategy/2007/11/27/top-10-reasons-to-avoid-it-salespeople-39291079/
It's a common problem and one I come across quite often. Developers tend to like computers and will avoid face-to-face 'stuff' at all costs. Having said that, it is getting better and more people are coming into the workforce that see people skills as an asset.
Some people just like to code and it's as simple as that. They see everything outside of the 'code' as a task performed by someone else. To me this also explains why developers view their users with contempt rather than sit down with them and understand the problem. I tell my developers that their job is about solving peoples' problems, not crafting the perfect piece of code.
The solution to this is to find a developer who enjoys talking to people (they do exist!) and champion this person to come forward and take more responsibility and subject them to the wider process.
By the way, I am a developer and some of my comments here are sweeping generalisations, but the comments are based on my experience.
"non-commodity solution" is pretty vague, you know that programmers generally dislike ambiguity, right?
I assume you aren't asking them to evaluate pizza, but something like software. In which case, you are going about it the wrong way. They, in many cases, are specifically being paid to evaluate your product. If this is the case, being guided towards your best features by even a knowledgeable sales person is in conflict with their task -- to take an unbiased look at the product and report their opinion to their managers or whomever is responsible for purchasing.
Even if you are being genuinely helpful and honest, their first instinct will be NOT to trust you. Why should they? It is in your best interest to steer them away from the faults of your product and towards its' benefits. They know that, so in their mind why bother talking to someone who a) didn't actually make the product this has little insight into how it actually functions and b) will tell them anything they want to hear to make a sale?
If you truly want to SELL your product to software engineers, write clean code, do a great job on documentation, provide them with an easy way to evaluate your product, and give them a direct line to your engineers during the evaluation process.
Also, if your reputation isn't very good, don't even bother -- engineers tend to be pretty damn good with search engines and are likely to trust the aggregated views of their peers over a slick sales pitch.
Is there anything you thinkNo, no it's not about another human being, it's about unbearable irritation to talk with a salesman. 99% of the time they are horrible, have no clue about the thing they are trying to sell, can't understand technical stuff, and to be honest 50% of the time they are plain stupid and spamming people with marketing BS.
developer/techies could see (in an
email, etc) to get them willing to
talk on the phone? Why are they so
unwilling to talk with another human
There are exceptions but unfortunately generally this is the case, and as a technical person I (and many other technical people ) don't want to waste my valuable time to them.
It's because your salespeople aren't very good / aren't a good fit for the job you are asking them to do.
The first thing you need to know about sales is that the salesperson sells themself first, and the product second. One of the primary ways they do this is by establishing that they are like the prospect, and adopt a manner that suggests that it is socially or emotionally beneficial to the prospect to deal with the salesperson. You send an important business person (ostensibly) to sell to an important businessperson; you send a plumber to sell to a plumber; and you send an engineer to sell to an engineer.
Now, your salespeople are no doubt great at being important business people or mid-level managers. Maybe some of them can be plumbers if called upon. It sounds like none of them can pass for an engineer.
If you need to sell to engineers, hire an engineer.
As a developer turned business owner and sales person.
The key thing a techie wants, as expressed in the many other posts, is a discussion on their own level.
My success is that being a techie myself, I can present the facts, sit with another techie on the other side of the table and in a few short minutes, ideally with a white board, have sorted out all the hurdles and got to an understanding of what needs to be acheived and who is going to do it.
Now I have sales people, they are good at opening doors, talking the talk with other non-techies enough to qualify and setup a meeting ... but that is where I get them to stop ... Put me in the room, I can work out if its going to work (and I accept when, occasionally its not going to). My sales people do the introductions, they can wrap up at the end of the meeting and arrange the next steps ... but in the middle they have to shut up and let me or my guys talk.
Many years ago, when I was 19 and starting the company, I used to hire one of my clients. He was a marketing type, 50 years old, grey hair and could talk ... I used to hire him for an hour or two to front the meetings I had becasue it made everyone feel better that there was a 50 year old in charge rather than a 19 year old ... I would do the talking in the middle and solve the problem but all the decision makers in the room wouldn't have let me in there without him.
So to answer your question ... use the right tool for the job. See the other answers for what the right tool looks like and should focus on.
From a Techie and who was part of a product management team for a year:
"Generally" Techies are NOT very social mainly due sitting long hours in front of terminals as opposed to engaging people. Many of them think it is a waste of time to discuss something unless there is technical discussion/debates for them.
So next time, start your discussion by asking them "Which technology is better? Java or DotNet" and you will see they get engaged. And also remember you research, which technology the particular techie likes and you speak in favor of it.
If you think this is an exaggeration then do some research how sitting long hours in front of computers affects people's attitudes.
I think one thing that's been touched on above but not really highlighted is how precious techies are about their time. I and many techies I know hate interruption - support requests, meetings and talk about someone's new baby all irk them because they break their concentration. In an ideal world we'd take a task and lock ourselves in a room for a fortnight until it's finished. If a salesman wants to have a meeting or (worse) rings up with a sales call when they're in the middle of something, it's something they've got to stop for and work around. If techies are given something to evaluate for themselves they can take it away and explore in the odd spare half hour or even take it home to investigate in the evening.
Sales people by contrast seem to live in much shorter timeframes, a meeting or call is generally finished in a few hours at most, then they move on to the next item - they're happy to break from what they were doing because they saw someone they want to talk to.
But also a +1 on techies automatically assuming the worst of salespeople, they are often automatically tared with the brush of many bad experiences at the hands of poor salespeople.
it might be important to say that I (as a "techie") differentiate between them as 1) software engineers and 2) software developers. The software engineer only deals with how the bits should be directed over the AAA extension layer of the ATM protocol so that they would blaze through the network, while the software developer builds GUIs for the eye to see and the hand to touch. There is a difference. You would want the first category filled up with the geekiest of the geeks, while maintaining a decent level of people skills in the second category techies.
As for the actual question, I regard the sales guys as loosers at professional life, just put out there to nag us.
There is no morals whatsoever in trying to make me bear along with him and barging me into a bargain that I most often do not need to make. I want some product, I go after it; certainly I am not going to sit around for it to come to me. I want something new that could improve my business but can not identify it - I browse the internet for it. My google skills are as hone as their sale skills are.
Okay, there is no morals, but the guy has to make a living. What is he supposed to do ? He has no real training (read medical, engineering, plumbing, anything that the society actually has a real need for), so he does whatever unqualified stuff he can do. (marketing does require some sort of qualification, but it is not the same as sales. Sales only require flair). And no, he is not going to hump on some construction site, he feels he is too good for that. What if he read a few mind-trick and manipulation art books so he could sharpen his "people skills" and make something useful of himself ? And so he will do - useful for him, that is, not for me. But don't I need them for my business so I can also sell my stuff ? Yes I do. And the circle goes on looping...
My experience with sales people is that once you talk to them they automatically assume you are in the "sales funnel" and all they need to do is answer any objections you might have and you will eventually buy their product. It is too much pressure when maybe all you want to do is have a look at a tool that might be interesting, but you have no intention of buying.
They can become extremely annoyed when you refuse to buy from them, and the more you talk to them the greater their expectation of making a sale. It is easier not to get caught up in their sales process in the first place.
I'll probably get downvoted for this but, having been on both sides of this problem before, I think i can summarize it as 'developers think they know it all and they could recode your product in a week [plus or minus a few years].'
Are you truly communicating your solution's benefit to them? and not just listing features and advantages? If your product message is brilliantly clear and your UI helps them learn as they go (they hate asking people questions) you can sell to them.
Otherwise I'd suggest focusing on other decision makers who have been asking the developers for and have been waiting too long or have lost money/time/opportunities.
I'm afraid I can only offer insight as a person who is on the receiving end of sales pitches (and a "techie.") Probably much of what I'll say is echoed in other responses; it's unfortunate that this question best fits here on OnStartups instead of with the technical exchanges where you could actually ask the people who you're addressing this question to (with some exceptions, no doubt there are a number of technical people here too; just saying that casting the net over in the other silo's would yield more insight, most likely.)
In no particular order:
First, many technical people share personality quirks that could be classified as high-functioning Asperger's. That is, interacting with people tends to be frustrating and irritating. At best, it's emotionally draining. So technical people will avoid it.
Second, there's no CYA. Phone calls require taking notes, while emails and messages are self-documenting. I also prefer messages because I can refer back to them if I need to know something...reference numbers, names, links, things of that nature. I don't want to write stuff down.
Third, the call is putting a burden on me, when you're the one pushing a product. It's far harder for me to juggle multiple tasks when you're talking on the phone. I am expected to take notes on things. And chances are that I have zilch interest in your product when you call. You're supposed to be making me interested in it; I get that. It's your job as a sales person. But really, you're interrupted me when I could be working on a website update or getting backups done or any of a number of other tasks that actually have to get done when I don't feel like getting hearing a sales pitch on why your product is so great that I won't mind missing my fifteen minute lunch window. If I get your information via email or snazzy website, I can refer to it when I want to get to it; I have a few minutes, maybe I'll check it out.
Phone calls are interruptions. I remember reading somewhere that when you're doing a task that requires intense concentration (such as programmers that are "in the zone") it takes something like 15 minutes for them to get back into that mode after being interrupted by an unrelated task. Every time my phone rings I have to stop and figure out what I was doing before being interrupted. And that's annoying. If you want me to like you and your product, the annoying me is probably not a good tactic to use. "Now I'm ten minutes behind because of XYZ...thanks."
Fourth, sales people aren't technical. I don't need to know the stuff that impresses my users. Honest. The flashy talk? I don't want to hear it. As a matter of fact, the more buzzwords I hear ("It works with the Cloud! We're CLOUD based!") the more I believe you're covering for ignorance of what your product actually does. You're pandering to the wrong audience. As a "techie" I'm stuck having to actually run interference for supporting your software or product with the users, and for that I don't really care how whiz-bang the interface is, I need to know what the server requirements are and what kind of database it'll need and information of that nature. Sales people couldn't tell MongoDB from MySQL. And since I know that they usually are working to sell sell sell I know there are times where they'll gloss over details or outrightly make stuff up on the spot.
Going back to the Aspergian reference, I have little tolerance for BS. I don't need the song and dance, I need the bottom line.
Fifth, going again back to the Aspergian reference, sales is a social engineering gig. And if you know anything about that type of personality, the "engineering" personality I've heard it referred to, there's little room for outright social pleasantry. I don't need to know how nice your product is. I don't need the warm fuzzies. I distrust people trying to manipulate me emotionally to appeal to my sense of whether it's a good product or not, because the product should to some degree stand on its own. I'll use a product with crap marketing behind it if it means that it has good support and works well for the job at hand. We're practical, less emotional. So the more your product can stand on it's own, the less I have to do a song and dance with people that can't actually be in a position to help me, the better off you are.
Technical people tend to work off a meritocracy. Some stranger calling me up and telling me how wonderful their gadget or software is isn't going to tell me much. Why should I believe you? Why should I care? But when we see another sysadmin or programmer saying, "I've been using Blabberin' Blatherscythe for automating my server deployment, it ROCKS!" That piques my interest. That makes me Google for it and look for information on it; I absorb the information from the website, their demos on line, things like that. I don't need to hear the biased pitch from someone who puts me on the spot to make decisions right then and there, or is wasting my time. I can take in the information at my own pace at my own convenience while juggling other tasks that require attention. And more than that, I have had a peer talking about the product and liking it.
Conversely, news travels fast when a peer tries a product and says, "I worked for three days and couldn't get it configured to work properly...their support online was nonexistent, and an email to support never got a reply."
Blogs reviews, online support, the ability to get my own answers and have them handy for reference. That goes much farther than a marketing person reading a script to me. Technically minded people use technical methods of getting their product reviews and want products that market themselves.
The last thing I can think of off the top of my head is that sales people are rarely helpful. They call up, interrupt my work, try to get me to listen to a canned speech, and in the end they can't actually do anything for me unless it's part of their own workflow. The only time I know anyone here doesn't mind taking a call from a sales person is when that person is able to negotiate deals that substantially knocks off cost or is able to actually connect me to someone who can help with my problem. I don't need a sales person so much as I need a liaison. For example, we had an Apple rep that was a sales person, but when I needed to know something about authenticating the test Mac on our particular network, he turned around and connected me with an engineer that actually worked on that system. And he stuck around to know what was going on, so I wasn't just a number to him. I could email him when we needed something and he forwarded it to people that could help; so he spoke in the medium I wanted to speak in. Which in turn gave me a favorable impression of him and his company. And for the most part he knew his product; when he didn't, he admitted it and actually got my answers for me.
Train your sales people to know more about the product they're selling and to be honest with it. If you have limitations, admit it. I don't like being snowballed or lied to. Have your people know more than the buzzwords. And give them the authority to help me and be a little more of an assistant rather than just someone looking to make a sale.
If you want to ever encourage a technical person to talk to your company, make our lives easier. Stop trying to get me to conform to what makes you comfortable, and talk to me in the language I want to hear in the way I want to hear it. Appeal to my peers through blogs, free trials, demo videos, and online searches that will turn your product up when I Google for solutions to my problems. Ask yourself if your product, if left in an open show floor kiosk, would draw attention to itself and make me want to use it or know more about it. Oh, and make it not just user-appealing, but supportable for the tech people. If it's a PITA to troubleshoot and support you can bet I want nothing to do with your sales people.
When evaluating a non-commodity solution (especially one that's prettyThat's the wrong attitude, in my opinion. To me, it sounds like you're saying that "my product is so advanced that it solves problems you didn't know you had! You just don't know why it's so great!" If the product is supposed to solve my problem, I usually know I have a problem in the first place. I don't want to be interrupted to be told I have a problem I was completely unaware of, usually while I'm working on problems I am aware of and your sales call is interrupting. More than that this contradicts my experience with most salespeople...they don't know the answers to the questions I do have. Usually when it comes to becoming educated about why I absolutely need someone's product they mean that I need to hear the sales pitch...again, not what I need.
new/different), not only does one often not know what questions to
ask, but researching these questions will take a significant amount of
time. It's much easier to talk to a salesperson, become educated about
solution, ask a few questions, and if things seem like a good fit...
further the discussion.
In the end geeks are very practical-minded, while sales people appeal to the social engineering side. We view it as an imposition and annoyance to deal with these pitches. We need someone to cut to the chase, bottom line it, and trim all the frosting that makes the non-technical people drool and give us the cake that makes non-technical people glaze over. If your salespeople know more about Battlestar Galactica and Firefly than what a Snooki is you might be on the right track to studying this phenomena. :-)
What is the purpose of having the techie / coder at the meeting? Is it just a backup to ensure that the sales / marketing guy doesn't screw up on a feature set? If they are essentially the backstop to the conversation, its likely they won't participate.
If the tech / coder involvement was part of a sprint to determine whether a feature is truly needed, and getting outside the door to validate this hypothesis was the best course of action, I'd bet that they would be engaged - not only in picking the right person to talk to, but leading the questioning to come to a definitive answer.
Is this marketing / sales? in some companies yes, in others no. All depends on how you interact with / expand your customer base.
IMHO, Sales people and hackers are two very different people. I agree with HedgeMage for most of what he said. For most products and services, where technical specifications are crucial, its mostly useless to talk to sales people when it comes to hackers. But many times when am proposed for financial deals and investments, I do listen to sales people and give them enough time to explain.
I think a product should sell on its own. I my self don't like talking about products, I like to explore every aspect of a product on my own, in my own time first and then contact by mail if I need anything. I tend to speak to the phone only if I have to.