Product Development Process Marty Cagan

Engineers and Sales People

Believe it or not, there are still people out there that think that a technology company is really about two types of people: engineers and sales people.  People to write the software, and people to go sell it.  Everyone else is overhead and at best a necessary evil.

If you work at an enterprise software company, you’re probably not surprised to hear this.  But surprising to me is that there are also leaders of consumer internet companies that think this as well (although not the leading consumer internet companies).  But every time I come across the random leader that expresses this viewpoint, I feel compelled to try to enlighten them.

Ironically the combination of sales people and engineers (even good sales and good engineers) is probably one of the surest paths to mediocrity or worse.  It almost always leads to specials, wasted release cycles, weak products, frustrated engineers, and especially unhappy customers.

Engineers are of course critical to the equation and that’s not the question here.  Sales people also have a clear role to play.

The point here is that your company needs people focused on coming up with successful products – especially defining and designing – and it won’t be coming from your sales people or the customers they talk to.  The engineers do play a key role in product discovery, but it’s typically more of a supporting role and not the leading role.  Your designers and product leaders play the leading roles here.

Moreover, in addition to missing the key role of product leaders and designers, execs that focus on only “engineers and sales people” are also missing the key contributions of people like strong project managers to velocity, strong QA and release management to test automation and hence velocity and quality, strong online marketing people to customer acquisition, and so on.

It really does take a team, and if you view everyone other than engineers and sales people as “overhead” then you won’t get the caliber of people you so desperately need and you will very likely doom your organization to failed products.