It’s important for development managers to have an understanding of both sales and development because of the close, symbiotic relationship between the two in creating products that meet customers’ expectations. Keeping developers focused on coding while helping the sales team build product demos and provide technical expertise on customer calls is a balancing act. By giving your developers a feel for the needs and duties of your company’s sales organization, you’ll help your team develop products that meet customers’ needs and help salespeople become more knowledgeable about the products they sell.

Steve Wooley, vice president of sales for MagicSoft, a video voice-over IP company, illustrates the manager’s role in the relationship between sales and development: “Without engendering an understanding of the practical implementation of a company’s products, even the most talented product or development manager will not get the maximum creativity from his development team. Sparking this creativity, and channeling it toward a better product, is essential to the sales process.”

Here are some tips for managing the relationship between your development and sales teams:

Tip 1: Develop a relationship with your counterpart in the sales group
Developing a formal or even informal working relationship with a sales manager can give you another set of eyes and ears as a development manager. The eyes of sales can peer into the future strategies, product plans, and technology trends that you may not see while working within a development organization. In turn, you can offer your counterpart a realistic view of development timelines, technological capabilities, and related issues.

Tip 2: Never make jokes about sales in front of your team
A manager sets the tone for working with sales. Whether that attitude is positive or negative, your staff will pick it up. Making light of the sales team will send the wrong message.

As a development manager, setting a positive example for dealing with sales helps you, your team, and the company by bolstering one of your company’s chief customer-relations elements.

While misunderstandings and conflict do arise between sales and development organizations within companies, these issues should be resolved at the management level. Sarcasm among the development team is inappropriate and counterproductive.

Tip 3: Educate sales about product development
Helping your company’s sales team become technically fluent in the products you develop can help them focus their efforts on sales and prospecting new leads. In addition, a sales staff that is comfortable with the technology they’re selling will gain the confidence of their customers.

If your company develops particularly complex technologies, then it benefits you to get your team involved in the sales training process to:

  • Stave off poor and inaccurate representations about the technological capabilities of the product you are developing.
  • Give the sales team better technological and architectural perspectives on the products they sell.

Tip 4: Communicate regularly with sales
Regular communications with the sales team can take many forms, such as:

  • Including interested sales management and staff on internal product development mailing lists.
  • Insisting on sales team representation as part of a cross-functional development team.
  • Using the sales team as a requirements analysis tool by formally or informally polling existing and potential clients about their requirements for products in your technological market space.

Tip 5: Participate in sales calls
Participating in sales calls is educational and beneficial for you as the development manager, as well as for the developer who accompanies the sales call, the sales person, and the prospective customer.

While some developers won’t be at their best in a sales call situation, involving developers in the sales process helps your team in the following ways:

  • It gives you another set of eyes and ears into how your product is being sold and implemented out in the market.
  • It leads to better insight into the customers who use your company’s products, bypassing the filtering of the sales team or upper management.
  • It helps build technical credibility for your company’s products and solutions.
  • It provides a technological reality check for prospective customers and the sales team. It also helps them offer the best possible technical advice on the implementation and use of your company’s product.

Dipping your toe into the sales process
Development teams can’t operate in a vacuum. Providing technical support to the sales process benefits the development team, the sales team, and the entire company by positioning your development team as a valuable resource that contributes to revenue, by educating different teams on each other’s methods and goals, and by helping deliver the best possible product and service to the customer.