Engineering Teamwork Best Practices: How to Collaborate with Sales

August 19, 2020

Engineer-to-order companies profit when engineers get along with salespeople. Here's how to promote effective cross-team collaboration.

Engineering team members at custom-engineered product companies must evolve how they collaborate with sales teams in order to improve efficiency and create better products.

The success of engineer-to-order (ETO) companies is heavily dependent on engineering team members' ability to align with sales. When engineering and sales aren’t aligned as a whole team, it’s reflected in the company’s business outcomes and company culture.

Poorly-aligned ETO companies may experience these pain points:

  • More lost deals (decrease in win/loss percentage) because sales, engineering and operations waste a lot of time and can’t coordinate a response as fast as competitors
  • Lower customer satisfaction (fewer/smaller orders per customer, more customer support complaints) because they’ve lost confidence in the company’s ability to deliver
  • Decreasing project margins because of poorly coordinated quotes across sales, engineering, purchasing and finance team leaders
  • More delayed projects (or missed customer commitments) because of a lack of visibility across all projects and roadmaps
  • Too many or too few projects because members of the team lack visibility into overall pipeline and existing projects and work styles

Outcomes like these may seem inevitable when two departments have such vastly different workflows. In reality, there are steps toward effective teamwork that engineers and engineering leads can take to make working relationships with sales – as well as maintaining control of projects – much easier.

Improve team collaboration by uniting around a common goal

Tech-Clarity surveyed over 200 companies who manufacture custom-engineered products. 44 percent of respondents said that custom-engineered products helped improve their sales margins. 50 percent of respondents also reported higher sales volumes. These results don’t just happen — they’re the result of an organization's ability to align their teams and enhance collaboration across the entire team.

This only works when engineering stops seeing sales as “those people over there” and starts realizing that salespeople are key components of the process.

Incorrect quotes create more work for engineers.

In order for custom-engineered products to be profitable, engineers have to understand that sales is constantly under pressure from customers. As demand grows, salespeople are faced with balancing the management of increasing sales volume with providing quick and accurate quotes to potential clients. Their ability to achieve that balance directly impacts engineering success. Incorrect quotes create more work for engineers, which wastes their time. Wasted time means wasted resources, and that can make producing custom-engineered products more costly than it should be.

An effective team that's aligned focuses their collaborative efforts on a common goal of reducing silos and serving customers faster.

Step out of silos and learn the sales workflow

Respondents to the Tech-Clarity survey said most of their engineering customization happens during the customer inquiry and/or quote stage of the process. That means that engineering decisions are often made before that team ever touches a project. Because of this, engineers should have at least a basic understanding of their company’s sales cycle. It’s a great idea to have them shadow customer calls and view the process inside of the company’s CRM. This allows them to easily communicate with sales. Improved communication makes it easier to pitch ideas or features and get buy-in from the sales team.

Understanding the sales workflow improves communication and visibility between sales and engineering. Both are important when it comes to a company’s ability to speed up new product development and introduction (NPDI). Quicker NDPI means that the company can rapidly deploy updates and new products which have a direct impact on profitability. When engineers know what sales success looks like, they can better collaborate and ensure that the engineering team's capabilities are considered before projects reach them.

Get integrated in real-time with collaboration tools

Improving the alignment between engineering and sales doesn’t stop at a few team meetings or even establishing some empathy and understanding. While both are important, they mean very little if a company’s data and processes are disconnected. When there’s a disconnect with data and processes, the result is often wasted effort, confusion, and friction between teams. No one wins in that situation, and that’s why top-performing companies are more likely to have tightly integrated processes and data systems.

Top-performing companies have engineering teams that are well-connected with the product commercialization process. They’re 2.5 times more likely to have integrated processes for design and go to market preparation, which likely contributes to the speed of their NPDI process.

A large part of that process is engineering change management. Change management is easier with a centralized view of information that ties into a cohesive process. This allows all stakeholders to have a holistic understanding of what the change means for their part of the business. It works so well, in fact, that top performers are 79 percent more likely to have integrated data and processes for supporting engineering change management.

See more survey results here -->

Set firm boundaries around roadmap timelines

The ability to set healthy boundaries is a part of any good working relationship. The relationship between engineering and sales isn’t any different. When engineers understand the experiences of salespeople, know their processes, and utilize integrated systems, the outcome is increased visibility and more trust.

The ability to set healthy boundaries is a part of any good working relationship.

This results in better, more frequent team communication, which can be leveraged to set firm boundaries around engineering timelines. Those timelines mean that deadlines won’t sneak up on either team, and they help to maintain focus on delivering great products to customers.

Bringing engineering and sales together as a united, effective team is critical for custom-engineering companies. It can be a difficult team building process, but it’s not impossible. In fact, there’s a way to integrate team communication and improve cross-team collaboration while winning up to 15 percent more deals and reducing project delays by 40 percent.

Learn more about how work better, whether face-to-face or remote, as functional teams toward more successful collaboration.

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Erica Howard


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