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Ask Slashdot: Compensating Technical People For Contributing to Sales? 331

Posted by timothy
from the better-snacks-and-more-espresso dept.
cloud-yay writes "I work for an IT consulting firm and recently I've been tasked with heading up our engineering consulting team — which without the fancy corporate speak means that we're trying to empower our engineering team to think a little like sales people instead of being purely service orientated. To clarify, our technical people are viewed by our customers as trusted advisors and when they see a opportunity for a complementary sale/network refresh/project they often involve our sales team, however when the customer sees the sales people, they always clam up because they're 'sales people' and customers think they are just interested in alleviating them of their money! I'm interested in what the Slashdot community thinks of how we should remunerate engineering teams for this 'sales' work (which would cost us commission to sales people anyway) but in a way that doesn't foster any animosity between sales and tech staff because in the end sales people live and die on commission. Has anyone worked in this environment anywhere and what works/doesn't work in your experience?"
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Ask Slashdot: Compensating Technical People For Contributing to Sales?

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  • Give your outside sales reps something like 20% commission, have a few engineers that work as inside sales reps (ie they are the main point of contact for clients) for like 10-15%, and then give your engineering teams 5% as a whole for all inside sales.
    • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:32PM (#36343580)

      If you give away 40% of revenue in commissions you'll be out of business faster thank you can say "stupid idea". Sales commissions are usually single digit percentages. Even software companies don't earn margins high enough to justify the kinds of margins you are proposing. Manufacturing companies gross margins are normally much less than 40% and that is before any SG&A or interest or taxes.

      • Depends on what you are selling.

        Commish on mausoleum crypts/bronze coffins is about 40%.

        Admittedly that is an edge case. Whole life insurance is almost as bad.

    • by JMJimmy (2036122) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:09PM (#36343814)

      It's not about the % - the idea is ass backwards!

      Instead of turning your highly skilled techs into sales people spend the money training your sales people to understand the tech. They don't need to understand the minutia but they should understand it well enough to be able to converse with a tech. Rather than having them hand off a client from one person to the next have your sale's guy be the primary and only contact point. They should never need to consult with the technicians as to how/whether something can be done rather only be able to understand and communicate exactly what the client needs.

      • by NeoMorphy (576507) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#36344288)

        I've seen this tried before and it turns out that it's a lot easier to teach sales skills to a techie than to teach techie skills to a sales person.

        If you try and teach a sales person "enough to be able to converse with a tech", you'll only extend by minutes the time it takes for the techie to blow past their knowledge base.

        Also, it might seem like it would be hard to find a techie to touch sales positions, and not that many like it, but the same problem occurs when trying to get them to be a manager. If you offer enough money some will go for it.

        • by cshark (673578)

          It really depends.
          In some fields, there's just no choice about it. Like selling websites or custom software. If you don't teach your sales guys to basic restraints they're working with, they're going to promise to do things that can't be done, bid the wrong numbers, or do very stupid things like guaranteeing results on highly competitive keywords in seo projects. The approach I've found works the best is to actually sit in on some of these sales meetings, and train the sales guys to say what I say, do what

      • by Digicaf (48857)

        Not a great idea. I spent five years working post-sales in that environment.

        The problem is that the sales people typically aren't motivated and view learning the technical details mostly as a waste of time. So they don't learn it as well as they should. Also, since they've been "trained", an engineer isn't as likely to be assigned to the sales person for the engagement. What you end up with is usually a sales person who thinks they understand the details.

        The end result is that the post-sales engineer who ge

      • by dwandy (907337)
        If you can get around these three small problems, your plan is otherwise sound:
        [X] spend money
        [X] training
        [X] (sales people) understanding tech
      • by msobkow (48369)

        The technical teams already have their hands full supporting your systems and customers. Asking them to learn about pricing models and sales techniques will alienate and piss off a lot of them. If a techie wanted to be a sales person, they'd have signed up as a sales rep.

        Your sales team, on the other hand, should be trained in the technology they're selling so they can answer customer questions. It's called "knowing your product." And if you don't know you're product, you aren't a good sales rep, just

      • by gtall (79522)

        The author said that customers were turned off as soon as they were passed to a salesdroid. Making salesdroids techno-proficient won't change that.

        Also, salesdroids are in sales because they like sales and generally dislike (and even look down on) engineering. Every time engineering comes in and saves their ass because they sold some frankensystem, they learn that (1) a frankensale is a sale, (2) engineering MUST save their ass. Making them techno-proficient will only make them realize how much farther they

  • It doesn't work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmauro (32523) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:20PM (#36343464)

    When you change the incentives of engineers to be the compensate them the same as you would a sales person. The engineers become sales people pretty quickly. It's just human nature.

    The opposite is also true by the way, if you change a sales person's salary to the same as engineers they're change into engineers pretty quickly. Incentives matter.

    • Re:It doesn't work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrEricSir (398214) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:21PM (#36343480) Homepage

      When your sales people barely know how to turn on a computer and your engineering people are too socially inept to carry out a conversation, the danger is quite minimal.

      • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:54PM (#36343712)

        ... and your engineering people are too socially inept to carry out a conversation ...

        Okay, now from TFA.

        To clarify, our technical people are viewed by our customers as trusted advisors ...

        So, the "socially inept" engineers somehow manage to convince the customers that they (the engineers) are trustworthy.

        While the socially skilled sales people are unable to do this.

        I question your definition because it seems to be the opposite. At least in the case presented in TFA.

        I'd look at the root cause of why the customers seem to trust the engineers more than the sales people.

        • by Jon_E (148226) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:19PM (#36343874)

          It has to do with honesty and the perception that the person you're talking to has your best interest at heart. People are generally pretty good at smelling a rat, and if your engineer is in the same boat as your customer - then there's a trust that's there that's generally pretty easy to work with. The problem breaks down if the engineer or sales person doesn't have a broader view of the coming problems, or architecture changes that might be necessary as this typically comes from pure experience.

          Working for a large consulting arm of a large (now mostly defunct) technical company .. we really turned a corner when we convinced our mgmt that it was bad practice to always have to recommend our companies products - particularly when there were better products out there .. this also enabled us to work more closely with the backline engineers to either make things better, or eliminate dead weight. Honesty can go a long way in developing trust, and can help you either really believe in your product or take you to the place where you can help others understand what needs to be done for customers to believe in your product.

        • I'd look at the root cause of why the customers seem to trust the engineers more than the sales people.

          I would say this is pretty easy for most businesses.

          Sales people are leeches for your money, and will do anything to get it, including lying about features and capability.

          Engineers, especially those that work on customer support, are working with the customer to fix issues and get things accomplished. I can't say there is a better way to gain your customer's trust than to get stuff done for them. In fact if a company has a reputation of getting things done fast and efficiently, customers will be willing to

        • Having been both "sales" and "technical", I wouldn't want a "sales" person anywhere near recommending "technical" bits. Period.

          My suggestion is to transition certain technical people to transfer into "technical sales", showing that they are from the technical side. My suggestion is for someone who's done technology for at least ten years, and knows general needs and can coordinate with the real technical people and put together a complete proposal that technical people can present together with the Technica

        • by dwandy (907337)

          So, the "socially inept" engineers somehow manage to convince the customers that they (the engineers) are trustworthy.

          I've seen numerous people associate "socially inept/awkward" as meaning "technically savvy"; it seems that much like eye-glasses have been stereotyped as meaning "smart" it seems that all Asperger's syndrome sufferers are all technical whiz-kids. I worked with a guy who was pretty average in IT, but had a very difficult time communicating, and was odd when he did: everyone insisted he was s

      • by matunos (1587263)
        Exactly, because your consulting firm will be out of business anyway.
      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        But when that isn't the case, the results are worthwhile. I work for a small manufacturer/direct seller and my duties cover both managing IT and marketing. From photography, to naming products, to deciding on the OS for the servers (Linux, obviously), and final decision on the ecommerce sites. Because we are a dot.com, this works very well, and I can see where some integration would be a very good thing for a very large company. The two ARE related, in that this affects how every single customer will se

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      Also remember, most companies see sales guys as their lifeblood and engineers as a financial liability.

      • Also remember, most companies see sales guys as their lifeblood and engineers as a financial liability.

        This goes doubly for software and systems engineers working in IT. I can remember a meeting where management brought the entire IT staff into a big conference room and lectured us about being inefficient. Their reasoning: "You people are 20 percent of our workforce but make 50 percent of our payroll!". No kidding, considering most of the other jobs in the company were either senior management or phone monkeys without a high-school diploma.

        At least if you are working at company who's primary product is softw

    • Exactly. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:31PM (#36343576)

      If you pay engineers a commission that a salesperson would have otherwise gotten, you have put them in direct competition with each other. That will foster animosity.

      If you put in blanket rules like 'all engineers always get 20% commissions of inside sales' the salespeople will feel like someone else is caching in on their hard work, and in cases where the engineer won the sale entirely by himself, he will feel like someone cashed in on 80% of his pay. Neither person will feel like this evens out, even if it does.

      Pay engineers to be engineers and pay salespeople to be salespeople. If both do their jobs right, you don't need to blur the distinctions in order to profit.

      If you want an edge, here is what you should do: Train your sales people to be (or seem) trustworthy, to be (or seem) technically competent, and above all to regularly put effort into really understanding their clients' needs (or at least seem to). How much the client trusts the salesman is the #1 contributor to a sale. That directly addresses the root cause of the problem you are trying to solve. Also, allow salespeople to recommend engineers for bonuses based on sales assistance, and actually pay attention to the recommendations. That could help a bit too without creating animosity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Our best salesman also happens to the the only one who volunteered to spend time in the repair department with the technicians, actually helping to fix the products and learn their limitations.
      • Re:Exactly. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:32PM (#36343960)

        Our company uses an internal billing mechanism. Each sales person is allotted (x) hours of engineering time a month. Engineers are expected to perform (y) hours of consults with sales as part of their normal job (x and y are different because we have more sales people than engineers). Anything above (y) is considered bonus pay for the engineer and he earns extra pay at a relatively high hourly rate. The bonus pay comes directly from the sales person's commission. All engineering consults must be scheduled in advance through the project manager, to keep sales from killing our internal development timelines.

        It works for us. Engineers get a chance to see the sales process, see what customers are doing with the product or what problem they want the product to solve, and a chance to earn extra pay. Engineers that have good social skills get requested by sales more often than others. The project manager is available to control the impact on our development. Sales people see the cost of having engineers on the call and thus are encouraged to keep it to a minimum or learn the technical details themselves.

      • by dcollins (135727)

        "How much the client trusts the salesman is the #1 contributor to a sale."

        I highly fucking doubt that. I would think that at least "meets an operating requirement" would be higher on the list.

    • Trusted Advisors (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:57PM (#36343738) Journal

      If this fellows customers get wind of their "trusted advisors" getting kickbacks for making sales, they'll be a lot less trusted.

      If the OP wishes to compensate his engineers for their time, that's all well and good. But they need to be compensated whether they make a sale or not. Anything less is a conflict of interest for an engineer who is used to operating based on facts.

    • by Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:20PM (#36343878)

      if you change a sales person's salary to the same as engineers they're change into engineers pretty quickly

      Wow! Just think, we can completely eliminate engineering schools - just capture sales guys, stick them in a cubicle, pay them a crappy salary and bazinga - engineers!

  • Translation Time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:21PM (#36343474) Journal
    I'm going to paraphrase your submission. I apologize ahead of time for being a blunt sarcastic asshole but this should be an indicator to you that I'm one of your "trusted technical people" that will tell the customer the true PROS and CONS of everything even when it means my company takes a fiscal loss.

    I work for an IT consulting firm and recently I've been tasked with heading up our engineering consulting team — which without the fancy corporate speak means that we're trying to empower our engineering team to think a little like sales people instead of being purely service orientated.

    Translation: We're asking our developers to wear more and more hats and now we're asking them to sell the product because our customer listens to them.

    To clarify, our technical people are viewed by our customers as trusted advisors and when they see a opportunity for a complementary sale/network refresh/project they often involve our sales team, however when the customer sees the sales people, they always clam up because they're 'sales people' and customers think they are just interested in alleviating them of their money!

    Translation: I hate it when my customer is smart. They're supposed to be stupid and buy whatever we tell them to. Now I've realized that prior deals have built cracks in the trust between our sales team and them so now we have to try to leverage our technical team as salesmen. Sure, it will destroy their credibility after a few deals but we have to make every bit of profit off our customer until we don't have any.

    I'm interested in what the Slashdot community thinks of how we should remunerate engineering teams for this 'sales' work (which would cost us commission to sales people anyway) but in a way that doesn't foster any animosity between sales and tech staff because in the end sales people live and die on commission.

    Translation: There seems to be some credibility we can capitalize on yet, what's the fastest way to do that?

    Has anyone worked in this environment anywhere and what works/doesn't work in your experience?

    Your technical team is doing you a favor and they sound like they're managing to stay technical. The phrase "technically correct" might seem foreign to you as you're probably used to dealing with "fiscally correct" more often than not.

    My suggestion is to leave your technical team intact and trusted by your customer and don't try to turn your entire company into a sales team like Microsoft. Here's a helpful hint: your technical team will inadvertently become your sales team when what you are leading them to do for your customer is truly innovative and inventive and maybe even a little bit risky. Don't ask how you can turn your technical people into salesmen, ask how you can change yourself and your company's vision so your technical people can't help but logically be salesmen. If your technical team starts sounding like salesmen, your customer will simply stop listening to them and trusting them. You practically answer your own question and would come to the same conclusions were it not for profit margin motivations!

    • by yuhong (1378501)

      Yea, what do you mean by "thinking like sales people"? FYI, when I read about sales people being money motivated, I knew something was fundamentally flawed.

    • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:29PM (#36343544)

      What they should do is find out why their sales guys have no credibility and aren't trusted. Chances are, it's because they're like a lot of sales people that end up pissing engineering people off. What they're doing here is saying "our sales guys are fucking us over, so how can we not blame our sales guys while making our engineers pick up the slack?".

      Chances are, the sales guys are the typical "promise the customer all sorts of shit and let the engineers be the ones to uncomfortably explain six months down the road that the product doesn't do seven of the forty two things that the sales person claimed it did".

    • by sgt scrub (869860)

      I'm confused why this response isn't +5 informative yet.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        ...too many offended 'non-technical' types.

        The fact that these technical folks are not acting like salesmen is precisely why they are trusted. You will crassly exploit that trust only at your own peril.

        • by nomadic (141991)
          The fact that these technical folks are not acting like salesmen is precisely why they are trusted. You will crassly exploit that trust only at your own peril.

          A lot of people in both groups tend to lie. A sales guy will lie to get a sale so he can make money. An engineer will lie to avoid blame for a technical issue so he can safeguard his job and his reputation. A customer shouldn't trust either.
    • by Co0Ps (1539395) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:19PM (#36343870)

      Sorry, I understand what you're saying and why, but you're wrong on so many levels. I'm an experienced programmer/software architect and entrepreneur. Sales is a vital part of a company and I'm sorry that many technical people appreciate that more. They have an incredibly difficult task - selling is not about "telling people what they need", what sales actually do is to create buyers and this is incredibly complex stuff that requires understanding of decision making, the potential customer (their needs, pain and organization) and the technical details of the product or service you offer.

      ...but this should be an indicator to you that I'm one of your "trusted technical people" that will tell the customer the true PROS and CONS of everything even when it means my company takes a fiscal loss.

      A good sales person wouldn't risk loosing credibility by withholding critical information or lying. This is not what sales people do. You need to understand that making a deal is not about presenting the features and non-features of your product/service and waiting for him to say "yes" or "no". Decision making is much, much more complex than that, especially in large deals.

      In a well functioning company sales and development work closely together as they both have crucial information that the other department needs. The salespeople usually have in-depth market knowledge like not yet addressed customer pain/requirements that the developers could utilize to improve the product/service and thereby sales. You need to understand that the goal of the company is to sell more and the better the developers understands sales and their situation (the tighter they are connected) the better they can understand the selling process and the potential clients and thereby improve sales. Likewise - if sales can understand the technical details of the product better - they address the needs of the potential clients better in the vision they give them of the solution - increasing sales.

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday June 05, 2011 @03:09PM (#36344196) Homepage Journal

        You need to understand that companies don't have goals. The goal of whoever is controlling the board is what is relevant. If their goal is to milk the company for short-term gain then salespeople need to lie. If their goal is to keep the company continually producing profit for years then they need to tell the truth. If the only goal is to "sell more" then someone is seriously fucking stupid because "profit more" is what we really want. Selling more is a means to an end, not an end itself.

        • by Co0Ps (1539395)

          I'm not sure that you really understand the basics of how companies in a standard market economy work. Companies absolutely have goals. The implicit goal is of course to make profit and they also have other broad visions and mission statements. Here is the Coca Cola Company's mission statement [thecoca-colacompany.com] for example. The boards function not to "milk the company for short-term gain" as you describe it but their purpose is the exact opposite - to set up long-term goals for the company and make sure those are maintained.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        A good sales person wouldn't risk loosing credibility by withholding critical information or lying. This is not what sales people do. You need to understand that making a deal is not about presenting the features and non-features of your product/service and waiting for him to say "yes" or "no". Decision making is much, much more complex than that, especially in large deals.

        Maybe your "software entrepreneur" business is so small it doesn't happen to you, but every large company I've seen the sales organization is about two things, finding as many things the customer could possibly want and then pushing whatever product the company has in that area. If they need an invoicing system, by gods you'll sell them your invoicing system. In larger systems even the consultants have trouble keeping up with all the modules and what they do, the sales people get a few powerpoint presentati

      • by dcollins (135727)

        "A good sales person wouldn't risk loosing credibility by withholding critical information or lying. This is not what sales people do."

        Holy fucking shit is that not true.

  • Value Added Advice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hinesbrad (1923872) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:21PM (#36343476)
    Sales comes from a genuine need. Your perspective clearly indicates you think this is product pushing - and value added sales isn't product pushing. If your customer needs an external hard drive RAID array for backups of mission critical data, would benefit from a hosted solution, or would obtain other value from a software upgrade, SELL IT. Your salary doesn't fall from the sky. It takes a team of people bringing customers in and generating revenue to pay you. You should share in the challenge of keeping the enterprise afloat if you expect to be compensated for what you do.
  • by Sgs-Cruz (526085) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:22PM (#36343486) Homepage Journal

    So you want your engineers to stop acting purely as trusted advisors, and start thinking more about how they might push your own companies products. That seems like a good way to have your clients stop trusting your engineers. If your product is the best for the job, they should already be advising the clients to use it.

    I mean, it's a tough economy, you gotta do what you gotta do. But still, I'm not sure you're going to get a lot of good advice on here.

  • At least senior engineers? And they have less education and get free lunches, drinks, and travel, too? I'm aghast! The world turned upside down!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      You notice that engineers are never the ones being sent by the company on a two week annual retreat to a tropical resort to celebrate and reward having done their job while the sales guys put in weeks of extra long days, nights, and weekends to make important milestones.

    • To earn respect from the top brass (and the associated high paycheck) in many companies, you need to be directly involved in a) generating revenue, or b) cutting costs. a) Means you're in Sales; b) means you're probably middle management. Oh, and according to managers, engineering is most definitely not directly involved in generating revenue. They "make the product which Sales sells", or "just work the hours we bill for thanks to Sales". If an engineer helps close a deal or comes up with a way to slash
  • The most effective way to incentivize your employees is to have good management which is capable of recognizing not only quantitative contributions to the bottom line, but qualitative contributions, and who consistently rewards such contributions - ideally with a relatively short feedback loop. Companies where the employees can trust management to treat them fairly find the employees pretty well motivated.

    Regrettably, many companies don't meet the prerequisite of having good management, so the point may

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:26PM (#36343516)

    Our entire sales staff consists of engineers. You know the type - got good grades in college, yes, but the social type of engineer, not the introverted perfectionists.

    It seems to work. Yes they work on commission, but customers don't see them as know-nothing idiots. They all worked their way to a sales position by going through application support, so every one of them has the ability to help the customers troubleshoot problems, figure out solutions to new applications, and competently demo equipment.

    It sounds like your company probably hired extroverted non-technical people for sales and introverted, detail-oriented people for R&D. Now it wants to take those R&D engineers and turn them into half sales people. That's going to fail. Hire the right people from the start and you'll find success.

    If you insist on putting the wrong type of people in sales support roles, make sure there is a technically competent person to interface for them. A technical business analyst / technical marketing person can keep your non-social engineers from interacting directly with customers for the social feel-good stuff while allowing communication to flow unhindered for technical matters.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:26PM (#36343518) Homepage

    Ok, let's say that by some piece of luck your engineers become sales people. Good sales people, even.

    Now they look around and realize something -- they don't need you. In fact, they don't need anyone else, because they can do the R&D *and* the sales.

    If they don't have the power to fire all of you, they certainly have the power to take your customer list and leave to start their own company.

  • by naz404 (1282810) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:28PM (#36343538) Homepage
    You need to form a team of these guys. They're called Sales Engineers [wikipedia.org]. They're hybrids who are extremely technical and knowledgable people who are part of the sales teams.

    They often come from engineering backgrounds and cross over to the sales team and are hybrids of the two critters you are discussing.

    Maybe you can ask management to tack on "sales engineer" to the titles of some of your engineering guys and have them actively help out in sales (and get appropriately compensated). Their roles are extremely important as sometimes sales/marketing only people are not equipped to handle extremely technical questions about tech products and software solutions.
    • by Jon_E (148226)

      Of course .. Because every office needs a Tom Smykowski [imdb.com]

    • by bogaboga (793279)

      The trouble is they might have to fire some of them. Some folks are just not good at selling. They need to hire sales men with an atttude like that of a used car salesman.

      These salesmen employ tricks like lowballing, timing and cheap financing etc.

  • by Deorus (811828) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:29PM (#36343552)

    Is to be allowed to work with the technologies that I want and implement all the features that I deem necessary. In essence, GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY, allow me to ENJOY DOING MY JOB and I'll make it epic! There's only so much money can buy!

    • Beautifully put, sir!

      And nothing makes me chew and spit out a salesman more than the classic "...but the customer is spending $1,000,000 with us so I need it this week rather than next week like you promised."

      This is the point at which I inform the salesman that I can no longer work on his project as he has just personally insulted me by accusing me of not already working at full speed to get the thing working because, in his words, my work speed is directly proportional to the amount of money the customer

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:31PM (#36343572)

    All of the big technical companies like HP, IBM, etc do what you are talking about, it's often referred to as "pre-sales technical engineering." It usually consists of engineers who have some development/support duties but are also made available to sales staff to bring in to their clients when the clients have a need but aren't necessarily sure as to what exactly are the technical solutions to that need.

    For the most part those guys are salaried, just like all of the other engineers. I bet they get more bonuses though and I am also sure that different corps handle their compensation differently, there probably are some who get commission too. But, in the long-run paying them commission would probably undermine the customer's trust in their impartiality.

  • Dilbert potential (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hubie (108345) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:36PM (#36343612)
    This sounds like it has potential for Scott Adams to get a good number of strips out of this.
  • So your customers think salespeople are there only to sell them things they may not need, and your sales people live and die by commission?

    Surely there's your problem.

    If you're paying for sales, surely whoever makes the sale should make the money. And if you're paying people to sell, who then cannot sell because they have no neutrality, why not rethink your compensation structure?

    • by paiute (550198) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:18PM (#36343858)

      So your customers think salespeople are there only to sell them things they may not need, and your sales people live and die by commission?

      Surely there's your problem.

      If you're paying for sales, surely whoever makes the sale should make the money. And if you're paying people to sell, who then cannot sell because they have no neutrality, why not rethink your compensation structure?

      Making salespeople live by commissions is an outdated business model. It makes savvy customers react just the way described. Is this guy looking out for my interests or his bank account?

      You don't want your company lumped in with car salesmen in customer's heads.

  • by Rantastic (583764) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:37PM (#36343622) Journal

    ...or sometimes a Solution Architect.

    Most big tech companies (think SAP, Oracle, IBM, Red Hat) have a specific role for this. It is someone who could be an engineer but is specifically assigned to the sales process. Once the sales person has found the lead, the SE works with the customer to identify their needs and how best to meet them with the company's products. The sales person writes the deal and handles all the "sales" stuff.

    Oh, and the SE gets a set percentage of the commission.

    • by lennier1 (264730)

      Sales people who actually know what the fuck they're talking about???

      • Don't laugh. The company I currently work for is filled with Sales Engineers, most who have Engineering degrees and professional designations (P.Eng in Canada, P.E. in the US, etc.)

        If selling product was the core focus of the company, our sales force would be nothing more than a bunch of trained monkeys with product catalogs, whereas our trained monkeys can solve differential equations as well.

        It's a good role. They have the engineering know-how to solve problems, understand issues that the customer is faci

  • by bwcbwc (601780) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:41PM (#36343640)

    And they used to exist in a lot of industrial marketing lines. A good idea that got chopped by short-term management philosophies directed toward wall street performance. Basically, it's an engineer that promotes sales of the product by facilitating its use, suggesting good applications, etc.

    As far as compensating? They are part of the sales staff. Maybe geared more towards salary and less toward commission, because their role is more directed toward long-term market growth than the main sales force, but yes they should be compensated for scoring the big deals too.

  • Perhaps? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Swaziboy (1457667) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:45PM (#36343656)
    In an attempt to actually answer the extremely good question as opposed to some of the perfectly good personal opinions: As some of the comments have alluded to you are referring to Pre-sales Engineers who are this lovely breed of technically savvy, personable (mostly) and engaging characters who can articulate a technical message, marry it to a business requirement/message and do it convincingly. I have been working in this capacity for 6+ years now and have been through many iterations of compensation, some of which were better than others. They were: 1. Per-sale based compensation - not so good as you're eating into the sales person's comp, and they don't like it. It also incentivises you to act more and more like a sales person. Not so good either. 2. Qualified pre-sales visits compensation - generally "how many pre-sales calls did you make". The goal is to measure the ability to generate new business. Not so good, as it's very difficult to quantify and track, and the general pattern of behaviour is to just have stacks of meetings without providing any quality. 3. Quarterly/Annual Revenue based - this has been the most successful in my experience. Success is measured on overall revenue generation of the sales organization (of which this kind of person is a part of) rather than individual sales based commission. Commission is generally a fixed amount per-quarter based on attaining revenue figures or % growth thereof over previous years/periods. This is good as it tends to remove the person a step or two back from chasing individual sales, and then bickering over the commission for each one. The fixed comission amount (say 15% of gross annually or something) coupled with the quarterly revenue targets creates a more team based focus for everyone to assist in the success of the venture. As for the trusted advisor vs. sales debate - the sad truth is that no matter who you are, if you're asked to sell a single product/suite (instead of solutions) you're going to lose a little bit of your trusted advisor status as you're only pushing that single product rather than considering the larger picture/industry solutions. I hope this helps, PM me if you'd like to discuss further as I have had exposure to a fair bit of this type of situation and may (or may not!) shed some light to help you come up with something that works for your company.
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:56PM (#36343726)

    ...merely to see that look on your once-smug face when you wrap that commission-funded Porsche of yours round the nearest lamp-post after one too many bottles of Pinot Grigot at your expenses-funded lunches.

    Here's how it should work:

    1. You tell me what you need and when you need it by.

    2. I laugh in your face and tell you what you really need and when you can have it by.

    3. You get two phone calls or two emails to me between now and the deadline to ask me "How's it going?" Any more than that and I get 10% of your commission for each additional call or email over the limit.

    4. You are a salesman, you deal with persuasion and lies. I am a techician, I deal with reality and fact. So don't try to get all technical on me because you read 5 pages of the product manual.

    5. When it's ready, I will call you and you can have it. It will leave my lab working but if it's broke when it gets to site, you lose 10% of your commission immediately plus 10% for each 4-hour period I have to spend on making it work again.

    That's it. Simple.

  • by mzito (5482) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:57PM (#36343732) Homepage

    In a former life, I ran the technical sales organization for a company I started with some friends, and later sold to a much larger organization. So I've seen a couple of different models for how to do this.

    The first question is - how are your sales people currently compensated? If they're compensated with a straight percentage commission, or something similar like a sliding percentage based on quota achievement, then the easiest thing to do is to also give your consulting engineers a straight commission on add-on deals that they are involved in. That percentage is typically a fraction of what the sales person makes - for example, if your sales people get 10% commission, then the technical presales folks get between 1-3%. It's critical to understand that the sales person also needs to get their commission, and the SE/presales guy is getting his cut almost like a bonus for bringing the opportunity to the sales person's attention.

    This can get tricky, though, because what happens if you have multiple engineers working on one account? You can't very well pay every presales guy who touches every account 1-3%, as your margins will go to hell. In those cases, if you want to keep doing straight percentage, you need to divide it up account by account as opportunities roll in.

    The other way to handle that situation is to have revenue targets, and to pay people a bonus based on their achievment, along with a personal target. So, perhaps across all the engineers, they have a target to generate $1m in revenue worth of add-on business in a quarter. If they get that target, each engineer gets $10k as a bonus, plus a variable amount based on their personal contributions. This can cause hard feelings sometimes because it involves passing judgement on people's contributions, but may be more sustainable, and also helps align the presales person with the overall goals.

    Which brings me to the last point - impartiality. It's true that sales people are often incentivized to sell things that the customer doesn't need, or at inflated prices, because of their commission structure. However, engineers tend not to think that way, partially because as a percentage of their income, commission represents a dramatically lower amount compared to a sales person, and partially because they understand that if they help sell something the customer really doesn't need, they're going to be the ones who have to implement it or help fix the situation once it's screwed up. Also, if you set the revenue targets to be communal, it helps encourage people to think about the business as a whole, instead of closing one gigantic deal.

    Hope this helps.

  • Sales people (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:58PM (#36343742)

    in the end sales people live and die on commission

    And you wonder why your customers don't like your sales people?

    Instead of trying to work around a problem, why not solve it. Pay your sales people properly, and they might start listening to customers instead of trying to make every sale they can (without the customers interests in mind).

    When we have customers approach us, we set them up with a technologist: they gather all the details from what the customer needs without trying to sell them anything. the technologist hands the details off to a sales person, who themselves MUST be familiar with the products/services the company sells, who contacts the customer with some ideas of what might help them.

    Commissions are for people who don't know the value of what they're selling.

  • ..."Our customers trust our technical people because they aren't part of sales. How can we change that?"

  • Some people will tell you the simplest answer is don't push your technical staff to be sales people, and there is some merit to this. I've worked in a lot of different "technical" environments, and I could count the number of technical support or engineering staff that "liked" sales on a single hand. But business is business, and if you can make more money, that only ensures their jobs stay secure. Engineers may not recognize this as a valid argument though. They will counter with "us being able to do our j

  • Hmm, I had no idea that Michael Scott was a slashdotter.

  • Rather than sales I'd suggest some kind of participation in profits. Perhaps x% of profit above $x is divvied up amongst staff in proportion to their salaries + commission for the year.

    It should be clear to engineering staff that when they "make a sale" it's appreciated and noted, a slight nudge forward to promotion maybe, but I really don't think it should be a focus for them.

    Trust with customers is important, particularly for repeat business. Your engineers have it, your sales staff do not, and your respo

  • Try thinking about where do your salespeople's work ends and when should other client-facing people be the main interface between client and company. Agree on a deadline and ensure the client relationship is "owned" in a way that complies with that deadline. I think it's important to ensure that commission is paid a fairly long time after the actual contract signature, so that salespeople are kept honest. On the other hand, I think it's important that account managers and support are given sales targets to

  • When I call my major vendors, I have a single main sales contact. This person is usually pretty darn smart about what people need and want. When we get to some details that he/she can't answer, they set up a conference with a technical lead (who may or may not also be in sales). While this conference occurs, I can tell that the primary salesman is taking hardcore notes and prepping up so he doesn't have to waste the engineer's time again on this particular subject. I've watched a good amount of these sa

  • by PotatoHead (12771)

    Yes I have, and I do.

    I am currently a VP of pre-sales, which is basically the technical role you are describing. Our people do services, and help with sales.

    One good comp is to give the technical folks a bonus when sales hits their number for the quarter. This can be cheaper than just comping them straight off the deal they contributed to, and it's very effective as sales will often consult with them often, on lots of deals, which is difficult to track and quantify. You don't want to discourage that beha

    • that breed of tech person, who has sales skills.

      They are fairly rare. I found out I am one of them. After jumping careers a few times to avoid outsource waves, I find pre-sales type work a lot of fun. I do more generalist type work now, though I still do direct project implementation work too. The most rewarding, and difficult part happens to be the project planning where sales has sold something, and the customer expectations need to be managed. Often, these two are different, despite work to get agre

  • by DF5JT (589002) <slashdot@bloatware.de> on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:19PM (#36343868) Homepage
    Any salesman will be happy to share a commission with you, provided you actually sell something. However, from your description I can only see that you are reacting to a specific customer's wish to purchase something. Neither have you actively made the customer come to a decision to purchase something from your company, nor have you done anything with regard to the administrative side of sales.

    In short: You have done what you are already paid to do, nothing more. Had you done anything less, you would have actively hurt the company that pays you to do your job.

    I am head of sales for a software company and I expect support in sales from our engineers. That is covered by their salary. My base salary, however, is a lot less than theirs and I actually take financial risks to be compensated only when I or my sales team do well. You, on the other hand, want a commission on top of a risk-free salary and in that case I would either demand a cut in your salary if you ask for a commission, or I would tell you to be happy with what you earn.

    You can't have both.

    However, if you feel comfortable in dealing with a customer and if you are willing to put some effort into learning all the soft skills necessary to be a good sales rep, you will probably be an enrichment to both the sales and the technical department. Few sales people do actually understand deeply technical stuff and can rarely transport customers' technical input to the engineers.

    Someone who speaks both languages is a valuable asset and I would immediately hire you and make sure you make lots of money.
  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @02:30PM (#36343948) Homepage

    Get ready to fucking fail. Your customers will start looking at your competition. Short term gains will be up, but long-term, you're fucked.

    Why do you think the salesmen are mistrusted and the engineers are trusted? Ever bother thinking of that? It's probably due to salesmen lying only slightly less than politicians for their bread and butter, and engineers being about as factually oriented as you can get. Sales types are hated by engineers for this very reason: sales will commit engineers to one lie after another without second thoughts, making things difficult. It's just a lie to the salesman, but it's actually something the engineer has to perform.

    Furthermore, competent 'engineers' don't need to be told to "upsell" products. They'll recommend the most technically appropriate (per their knowledge/experience/etc.) product to the customer. This is not only why they are called engineers, it's why they are trusted. If you try that to try and 'improve the bottom line' you're a fool and don't understand your customers or your employees.

    Furthermore, the competent engineers will become disatisfied with falsifying things or pushing products, and look elsewhere. I've seen it happen. If they don't become dissatisfied and look elsewhere directly, they're going to start asking for larger and larger raises because they dislike the work. I've seen it happen time and time again.

    On the other hand... getting rid of sales outright might improve the bottom line, as well. It really depends on what you'll be having the engineers do. (Broadly speaking your requirements do not sound that broad.) Overall, I'd say axing 'sales' is a good idea. Keep marketing, kill sales.

  • i don't understand why sales people need commissions in order to do a good job. how about giving them stock options or bonuses just like everyone else?

    surely a work force that's interested in furthering the interests of the company as a whole is better for the company than one that's only interested in their own well-being?

    if you're getting a commission then you're less likely to be a team player, less likely to find innovative ways to collaborate with your colleagues, less likely to benefit the company.

  • Pay your engineers a salary, make customer consultations one of the goals and factors for career advancement and raises.

    If you want to give them a percentage cut, give them shares in the company, so their incentive is to benefit the company, not just wring dollars out of customers.

  • I used to head up product and pre-sales in a company that we were trying to turn around. The way we got around the issue was that sales people had commission for each and every sale but for engineers, that was scoffed upon. So we increased the overall bonus bucket and made 30% of bonus of engineers and 50% for pre-sales engineers (Who also used to get commission for sales, but not as high as sales people) dependent on overall annual sales. The bonus was paid every 6 months so we could tweak it as we needed

  • As a 'consulting' firm, your product is (or should be) the expertise of your engineering staff. Your sales staff should be out beating the brush for new customers or work. Once that contact has been made, engineering steps in to deliver the product, so to speak. Engineering staff should be paid their salary, which is based on your hourly consulting rate.

    If you are selling some other product or service, and not an engineering service itself, then contact between your sales staff and engineering may be optio

  • I know it's a little unfair to lay it out like this, but it sounds like:
    Customers hate and distrust sales people. Customers like and trust tech people. So we want to turn the people they like into the people they don't like."

    This seems like a dangerous direction for your company.
  • The answer should yes if your efforts directly contributed to the sale of a product. If the decision to go with a product was based on your efforts, you should absolutely get compensated for it.
  • by PNutts (199112) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @03:06PM (#36344182)

    "...without the fancy corporate speak... ...empower... ...service orientated. ...trusted advisors... ...opportunity for a complementary... ...remunerate...

    Thank you for not saying "synergy". It's Sunday and I have too much to do today to pull out my phone and start playing Angry Birds while nodding thoughtfully.

  • You need to sit back and look at your language, and what it says about what you're trying to do.

    You have a team that's trusted by customers, and you want to *empower* *them* to think like salespeople? When your corporate culture has produced salespeople so lacking in integrity that your own customer base has come to the conclusion that those salespeople are only interested in "alleviating them of their money"?

    Your technical team is working *fine*. Don't break it.

    Your sales team sounds dysfunctional and bro

  • I was working technical support for a small software company in Oregon and I had a knack for selling some of the more complex (and expensive) features in our apps. One day I asked for part of that commission and the sales guy got really pissed. Well that was the last call I ever helped their entire dept with.

  • The solution is not to turn your consultants in to sales people, or to attempt to coerce them into becoming an extension of sales.

    As others have pointed out, this is how it works everywhere in the industry.

    If you are a product company, and you have a consulting staff, you don't "pollute" them by having them also overtly serve the sales organization, you use them as your "feet on the ground" to gather intel about what is going on inside the customer account and to help you figure out how to best align your (

  • Tom Smykowski: Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the *&^%(@# customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?
  • by frisket (149522)
    I was in that position in the early 80s, tech eng support for what was then called a "bureau operation" (online timeshared services). We — and the sales team — were regarded by the clients in exactly the two ways you describe, Our solution was that a tech eng whose effort led to a sale was rewarded by the sales person direct, and the onus and amount were left to the sales person. While this has its risks, it was a relatively small operation (a couple of hundred people in one building), so everyo
  • you're halfway to sales already. :)

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