Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As part of being a programmer, you often are asked to provide estimates/ make slideware / do technical demos for Sales teams to present to end-clients. Sometimes we go along for the 'technical' discussions or 'strategic capability planning' or some similar mumbo-jumbo.

Sometimes, you kind of know which ones are totally going to fail and are not worth pursuing but the Sales guys present fake optimism and extract 'few more slides' out of you or the 'last conference call'. These don't lead to anywhere and are just a waste of time from other tasks for the week.

My question is how do you get out of these situations without coming across as non-cooperative.

Updated after Kate Gregory's answer:

The problem is related to projects we know are doomed (from the technical feedback we've received)

But Sales ain't convinced since they've just had a call higher up the management chain - so it's definitely going ahead !

share|improve this question

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

One-by-one, you can't. You're at your desk, sales calls and says excitedly that they've set up another meeting with Mr Big, and are you free at 2? And can you make another demo by then? It's just never going to be an appropriate response for you to say "dude, Mr Big is totally not buying this software, that meeting would waste my time, no, I'm not going." Whether Mr Big is buying or not is something the sales guy is supposed to know more about than you. (In fact, he might even be right.) So for that call, you have to suck it up and say sure. And do a good job on the slides!

Longer term, a chat with your boss about this "supporting the sales team" role would probably be helpful. Is your issue the time spent? Or that you object to investing time in something that is doomed? In my experience, it is highly unusual for the number of technical people in the room to shrink as the sales process goes on - normally the tech people only show up once things are getting warm, and more of them come to each meeting until the client is landed. So you wanting to bail from the process before the sale is closed will appear strange to management and sales. Discussing this with management may help you to understand how your presence increases the chance of a sale. I think it's unlikely management will grant you a pass to bail on selected client pitches based on your opinion of whether they are going to buy or not, but you could talk about it.

Finally, you clearly are expected to produce slides and demos as part of your job, so approach them with the same dignity as "real code". Reuse, have a repository, be modular, don't repeat yourself, figure out how to waste as little time as possible giving sales what they need. Remember, when Mr Big does write that cheque, he's funding your salary. You want him to buy. You want to help sales. You just want to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible.

share|improve this answer
    
You've hit all the exact points about the situation we are in. Yes it's part of my job and we do have a repository of useful collateral. This collateral increases and improves after each assignment, esp. those that are fruitful are imp learnings. I'm annoyed at the ones which we know the client is clearly not interested in (for various reasons) - but Sales speak to various members of the organization (up the ladder from Manager to Director and now we've reached VP) and the demand is - it must be better than the last one since now it's the VP etc –  JoseK Sep 23 '10 at 11:51

You can't do their job. You shouldn't try to do their job. What you should do however is giving your opinion. Always.

Even if you are 100% sure of what you say, don't try to convince them with affirmations.

My trick: ask questions. By asking questions, you can safely try to understand, and you will see that, sometimes, they may be right too.

share|improve this answer

You're always going to do this and sales people by nature are going to optimistic, head strong, and fight a deal to the end. They don't take no for an answer and we give no for an answer.

First, be thankful they are there. Seriously, you have to take the good with the bad and their character trait is what keeps them going after the 200th cold call.

Instead of isolating a particular deal and calling saying no, rank it with the other open deals. Just tell them we would be better off focusing on other ones. Do this even if you think they're all bad.

A company should look into sales staff or anyone else who is hogging technical resources.

share|improve this answer
    
I like the "we would be better off focusing on other ones" angle –  JoseK Sep 23 '10 at 12:29
    
@Josek - Like development planning, everything gets triaged. –  JeffO Sep 23 '10 at 14:08

Use the meeting as an opportunity to practice your presentation skills. Every time you explain the benefits of your project you get better at it. In my experience, the customers least likely to adopt your solution are the ones who ask the toughest questions about it. Pay attention to their concerns - some may be out in left field, but some will give you good ideas on what you need to do to provide a technical advantage over the competition or to add value to a new corner of the market.

This lets you become the guy who always has the right technical answers that help seal the sales that are winnable. Management should notice this and give you a bigger role in shaping the future of the project - and that can be a really satisfying reward

share|improve this answer

"how do you get out of these situations without coming across as non-cooperative"

Turn it into a positive.

You really want to get [insert whatever else you are working on] finished so it will help for future sales pitches. You need to prioritize other work so you can be properly prepared for when the sales pitch [you think is waste of time and will never escalate] reaches a critical point.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.