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EG97: Why software engineers make great sales people

Written by Emanuel Martonca
on May 4, 2023

Some owners and managers in software services companies are afraid of selling.

They are afraid they will not be good at it.

Or they are afraid they will be considered sales people, which is a dirty word for many.

I believe the opposite is true.

When it comes to selling software services, an engineering mindset and a technical background are good predictors of success.

Services vs products

Our collective mental picture of what a salesperson does is heavily influenced by people selling products: cars, homes, software applications.

In these industries, most sales people need to move as fast as possible, trying to sell standardized products that cannot be modified to various customer types. This naturally leads to a dynamic where buyers feel like someone is pushing them to buy something they don’t need at a higher price than they feel would be fair.

Selling software services is not like that at all.

Each project is different.

The combination of skills, experience and capabilities needed in the team will vary a lot from one project to another.

The customer’s needs for UX, security or other domain specific knowledge play a major role in their decision to choose a certain supplier over others.

For these reasons, selling services, especially software services, is different from selling products.

Skills …

There are a few skills which are critical skills to selling software services:

  1. Technical knowledge – crucial for understanding customer needs and recognizing opportunities. From the very first conversation potential customers will talk about their tech stack (existing or desired), infrastructure options and functional requirements.
  2. Experience with software development projects – anyone who has not been actively involved in delivery of software projects will have a very difficult time anticipating potential problems and creating the right expectations.
  3. Listening skills – some customers know exactly what they need, what they want and are able to clearly articulate their needs. But they are the exception. In most cases, it’s the sales person’s role to understand the real needs and priorities of the project. This requires good listening skills and the capacity to objectively evaluate conflicting pieces of information.

A disciplined process, the desire and ability to solve problems and find solutions using technology are also useful traits for anyone selling software development projects.

What sales of software services isn’t:

  • Loud people pushing benefits 
  • Aggressive use of discounts to sign the deal
  • Someone talking for hours to present the advantages and reasons to buy

… and mindset

This brings us to our perception of what it means to do sales.

It’s not good.

Most people have the same cultural references and a nearly universal disdain of sales as a profession.

A few weeks ago I heard a very good antidote to this for anyone who wants to do sales but struggles with the associated labels.

I was listening to a podcast interview with Benjamin Zender. When he talked about his personal website as a repository of learning resources, he used this expression:

This is not an advertisement, it’s an invitation.

This is exactly the mindset that can work when talking with potential customers for software services.


You are not selling something.

You are working with customers to solve their business problems with the help of custom software built by your team.

And the first step in that process is to convince them to choose you for the project.


The skills and mindset of successful sellers

Too many times, people expect results from the perfect strategy,

or a big campaign,

and ignore the importance of sales people in signing new projects and contracts.

Software services companies operate in a world of their own.

What works for companies in other industries doesn’t apply to selling software projects.

It is important to understand these differences and to choose sales people with the right skills and mindset.

I wrote about this in today’s newsletter.

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