Communication between sales people and technical people can be difficult at times. This is because the sales people don’t always understand the technical details and would like the technical people to explain more of the fine detail to potential customers, but then the sales people find the technical people are not very good at communicating with customers.
What could be going on?
Could it be something to do with how the two groups think? This is unlikely because there is no one way of thinking that makes you a successful sales person. If you were to observe just a few successful sales people, you would see that there are successful sales people who are very process driven and who rely on a process to make their sales, and that there are other successful sales people who conduct sales via an application of patterns.
Yes, sales courses are about processes, but that is because it is much easier to teach a process than to teach recognition of patterns. Similarly, technical skills are often taught via processes, but a lot of good technical people actually rely on patterns. People who rely on patterns develop their own patterns and in some circumstances translate process to patterns.
It has been suggested that technical people are more detail focus and sales people are focused on the bigger picture. But this does not work either. Making a sale can depend on understanding details of the needs of a prospective customer in order to find a good solution for them from the products on offer.
In fact it could be argued that similar analytical and problem solving skills are needed for both sales and technical people.
Focus and interest?
Are the communication difficulties primarily because of differences in focus and interest?
Successful sales people are more focused on people. They sell benefits and values of the product or service to a customer. Sales people tend not to get engrossed in the detail of the product. Generally, they take on board the information they have been given about the product, without question. This works well if they have been given correct information about the product. A sales person who questioned the veracity of the information about a product would not last long in their job. Their job is to sell, not question.
If a sales person draws on ‘received wisdom’ or urban myths to help explain to a prospective customer, it doesn’t matter if this information is not true as long as the product or service does what the sales person says it will do. If they give incorrect information about the product and there is a mis-selling issue, nobody blames the sales person, but the manufacturer of the product or provider of the service.
In contrast, technical people do tend to be focused on what is true. They are more inclined to get irritated if a sales person does not get the details correct because in their eyes the sales person is giving out incorrect information.1 They could be horrified if the sales person uses information to sell the product that they know or suspect is false.
Technical people tend to be more interested in what their product does rather than the benefits and value to a customer. They will tend to not have first hand experience of the needs of customers. Some technical people are not particularly interested in finding out what customers need. Their interest is in the technical information and the problem solving process required to build and develop a product - something that neither the sales person nor the customer is generally interested in.
In contrast sales people are very interested in the benefits and value of the product to customers. All their analytical and problem solving solving skills are targeted towards interacting with potential customers, finding out what their needs are, managing expectations, and selling them a product or set of product that will best meet their needs.
Communication issues really do seem to stem from sales and technical people having fundamentally different focus and interests. Sales people are primarily interested in people and the benefits and value of the product to the customer. Technical people are more interested in their chosen area of technical expertise and in creating products. Neither finds what the other does interesting.
Can the gap be bridged?
We believe the gap can be bridged. We all experience this gap being bridged when sales people themselves use and maintain the product they are selling. For example, this happens in bicycle shops that are staffed by people who love to ride and maintain bicycles.
Sales people can help bridge the gab by endeavouring to be more careful in what they tell their customers. It would help if they could gain at least a working knowledge of technical aspects, even if they don’t fully understand it. This will help them relay what customers are saying to the technical people. The technical people can help to bridge the gap at their end by recognising that the sales people are unlikely to be interested in technical details or about how a particularly tricky issue was solved, but just need enough information to sound knowledgeable about the product - but not necessarily enough to satisfy a customer who wants to know all the details.
For example if a sales person is selling fresh produce it may be useful to know where it was grown and whether or not it is organic but they don’t need to know the details of how to grow it.
As always, if both parties do their best to understand where the other side is coming from and appreciate differences in interests (and possibly ways of thinking) it is generally easier to eke out a method of communication.
At Aspiedent, we specialise in working out what is causing communication problems, whether it stems from differences in thinking, differences in focus and interest, or something else. We enjoy solving these kinds of problems. Contact us if you would like to know more.
Point to note - in this blog post we are not suggesting sales people are deliberately using false information to sell products, we are simply using examples to be able to explore peoples knowledge of a product vs their particular role. ↩