CXO

The struggle within: Sales vs. Tech

Tech teams often get the short shrift in sales-oriented companies, but what can you do about it? Read this worst-case scenario and share your opinion.


William T. Kelly’s article, “The odd couple: Working with the sales team,” painfully recalled my experiences at one company that really could have benefited from his advice—if I’d thought they’d have listened. Any business that sells software should recognize the cooperative balance that exists between the completely different personality types of tech teams and sales teams, but unfortunately all companies have a “prime directive” that dictates how much merit will be placed on a department’s contributions.

Mission statement
It all boils down to the mission statement—if it includes key words like ”provide,” “distribute,” ”supply,” or ”market” without including their counterparts “create,” ”develop,” or ”ensure,” it’s time for techs to run screaming into the night. That may be somewhat glib, but it’s true that, while companies that are technology-based have a vested interest in placating their development teams, other industries that produce software are much more focused on their sales staff.

Take, for example, one company at which I consulted for a brief period of time. This was in a “click-and-mortar” industry, with a heavy focus on marketing and sales. “Without the sales staff,” upper management argued, “there would be no company. However, we survived in the past without IT.” This was during a presentation at a company-wide meeting. Over a quarter of the staff, some 35 people, worked in the technology department. Obviously, there was a tremendous bias towards those individuals who worked directly with the client—to the point that the development teams weren’t even consulted about such “trivial” matters as turnaround times and feasibility.

The company’s goal was to give clients what they wanted, not to give them a good solution. After that meeting, it became increasingly clear to me why less than 10 percent of the IT staff were actual employees. We were all consultants, and not one technical person had worked there for more than a year.

Acceptable risk
As horrid as it sounds, this company tolerated the effects a sales-driven mentality had on the IT department as an acceptable risk. Techies don’t talk to the clients; therefore, they are interchangeable. Sales people, on the other hand, build relationships—they provide a familiar face and can span multiple software solutions. Because of their “upbringing” in marketing, upper management didn’t see that software solutions could span multiple relationships just as easily.

In fact, upper management created an entire tier in their IT department to handle problems caused by a sales-dominated mentality. That’s where I came in. We had no project managers, no QA team, and no documentation—literally none of the concepts behind successful solutions. Along with two others in this role, I was there to take what the sales staff called, “specifications” and “make them happen”—within the dictated deadline, no less.

It seemed like everyone I worked with was disgruntled. Information flowed only in one direction, and that direction was downhill. I spent all day, every day, “protecting” the developers from what I heard called the “sales-force cubicle beasts.”

What can you do?
Having previously consulted in an analysis capacity at a respectable number of companies, including several on the Fortune 500 list, I felt it was my duty to both the developers and the company to attempt to fix the situation. I proceeded with my consulting firm’s blessings, but any request involving the sales team was shut down as a “waste of their time.” Apparently, developers never stuck around for long anyway, so why bother putting processes in place that would need to be rebuilt over and over with each new wave of employees?

I didn’t get the reception I expected from the head of Sales or the head of IT, so I went for the source. During lunch meetings and discussions with the CEO, CFO, and owner of the company, I outlined the cost-effectiveness of cooperation and the grave toll of dysfunction. I proposed cross training, processes, and other new tactics. I could save them money. They listened, considered what I had to say, and rejected it outright. As soon as they realized it meant the sales staff would have to make changes along with IT, no amount of money was worth it.

What would you recommend?
Read the discussion attached to “The Odd Couple: Working with the sales team” article, and then post your suggestions for improving cooperation between departments.

I realize this is pretty much the worst situation I’ve ever witnessed when it comes to interdepartmental cooperation—and I’ve seen some bad ones. What could I do? Feeling like I was betraying my peers, I recommended outsourcing all IT development work. In my opinion, the company didn’t deserve an IT department. Unfortunately, they had tried that in the past, and no vendor would work with them for more than one project.

Stumped
As it seemed to have been happening for years, eventually I saw all of the IT employees quit or get fired, and almost all of the consultants leave. Finally, the analyst tier was done away with, and I left with it—leaving the fresh blood to fend for itself. Is there a solution here, or is this really a case where a company’s foundation is too strongly entrenched in a sales-driven environment to change?

Are you struggling?
What are your experiences in trying to form cooperative efforts between Sales and Tech? Post your comments in the discussion below, or send us an e-mail.

 

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