Custom-engineered product companies have a unique opportunity for growth. They also face a unique challenge when it comes to the need for in house collaboration. The key to a successful engineered-to-order product is alignment between sales and engineering. When both teams understand the desired outcome and their role in achieving that outcome, it’s easier to manage a project from start to finish. Everything starts with your sales team.
The sales team is on the front line, and it’s their job to convince potential customers that the company can meet their needs. However, their desire to close a deal can lead to a less-than-perfect customer experience if what they promise is out of scope with the capabilities of engineering teams.
This is why it’s critical that sales teams evolve how they communicate and collaborate with engineering teams — beyond merely relying on sales engineers to do the go-between work for them.
Here are four things your sales team needs to change when working with engineers.
Take the time to create the right roadmap
Your sales team is likely the first interaction a customer has with your company. They set the tone in terms of what a customer expects from their experience. This means it is important that they provide the customer with an accurate quote, not just providing a quote that will make the sale.
An accurate quote may take more time since it requires due diligence to guarantee that the proposed project is feasible for the quoted amount and sales process time frame. The best way for sales to achieve this is to actively discuss the proposed deal with operations and engineering. It’s an act of balancing speed and accuracy, but it greatly improves the customer experience.
Happy customers are important, but they aren’t the only ones who benefit from accurate quotes. Your engineering team also benefits, since they aren’t faced with the additional work. This means that they can focus on their existing projects without worrying about fixing an issue caused by sales. Wasting less time can reduce costs and positively impact your profits.
Set expectations for product features and requests
It’s important for your sales reps to have a basic understanding of what your engineering team can do. This reduces the likelihood that they’ll overpromise when making a sale and helps them set realistic expectations with new customers. Setting those realistic expectations greatly contributes to building trust with the customer. Someone who trusts your company is more likely to become a repeat customer. Setting realistic expectations also goes a long way when it comes to building the relationship between your sales (sometimes sales engineering) and engineering teams.
Sales and engineering team members can and should complement each other even though they engage in different parts of the product development process and customer journey.
When expectations are set, everyone wins.
Realistic expectations are vital, but they aren’t always the final answer. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking the right questions, and a sales rep with technical expertise and an understanding of what’s possible is better equipped to do that. In turn, an engineer may be more willing to consider alternative possibilities if they know that sales hasn’t made any promises on their behalf. When expectations are set, everyone wins.
Don’t work in isolation (or rely solely on sales engineers)
Collaboration is a major factor in the success of an engineer-to-order company. Sales and engineering teams don’t perform in a vacuum, so it’s important that they don’t work in isolation from one another. When teams do operate in isolation, their work and the resulting company culture often reflects this. They don’t consult or consider each other when making decisions which can result in a poor work environment, wasted time and lost profits.
Occasionally at larger companies, product managers and sales engineers are hired to solve this common silo issue. Though the roles they play are invaluable, your company's product will improve if sales and engineering alignment is owned by everyone involved in the product lifecycle, and not just one smaller product team or role.
Sales should understand how the engineering team works and who can help if they have questions, and engineering should know the same information for sales. This may be easier said than done if the two teams don’t work in the same space, but it’s worth the effort. When you remove that sense of separation and isolation you create an opening for positive interactions and collaboration.
Communicate throughout the sales cycle on a shared platform
Removing teams from their departmental vacuum, providing clarity around engineering capabilities, and making sure quotes are correct are all important steps in improving the alignment of your teams. It’s difficult to succeed at these steps if there’s a breakdown in your collaboration and communication process.
There are a number of ways for teams to communicate and collaborate. Companies often use more than one service for communication and find this method doesn’t work well due to the high-touch nature of their operations. Using multiple services means that there’s no one place for everyone to view all of the relevant information.
Using a shared platform helps to ensure that your teams are able to successfully take the steps above and communicate in an efficient manner. Better communication, coupled with team alignment, can result in happier customers, happier employees and better profits.