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Develop your sales IQ

2nd of May, 2017

Many of the open source technologies that developers love are funded through the efforts of sales teams at open source companies. Sales teams work hard and they absolutely deserve more credit for moving the open source community forward. Everyone from a Junior Developer to the CEO of a large enterprise should have a keen sense of how their efforts fit into the goals of their business, and sales is the cornerstone of business.

A big part of my role at Lightbend was supporting the Lightbend sales team. Every single sales meeting that I participated in over the years was critical training for starting a business. Not only did those experiences better teach me how to define the business value of technology, but they gave me a better understanding of the entire open source software industry in general. If you don’t have any hands-on sales experience, I highly recommend spending a few years in a sales engineer role before attempting to start your own business.

There’s no way to read about sales to understand how it works; you have to get out on the road and embrace the grind. You can’t teach what it’s like to go to sales meetings all day, then present at a Meetup, then drive overnight from Houston to Dallas through a rainstorm with someone who can barely see at night (Powell, I love you, but holy hell you need glasses). A sales meeting in open source software is vastly different than a sales meeting in insurance; it might involve walking into an unfamiliar building to have 30 strangers waiting for you, and within a few minutes you’re in front of them on a whiteboard to dive into the deepest bits of an architectural approach or programming language.

Sales encompasses every aspect of building positive business relationships, from technical excellence like presenting a detailed delivery plan, to logistics like ordering lunch. Positive relationships are not forged on dollars and cents, they only develop when people are able to achieve mutual goals together in a caring and trustworthy way. Anyone who thinks sales is only about hustling deals is doing business with the wrong companies.