Where Are All The Salespeople?

Jan 2014


“There is no such thing as a no-sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way, a sale is made; the only question is who is gonna close? You or him?”

— Ben Affleck, Boiler Room


“Most people think “selling” is the same as “talking”. But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.”

— Roy Bartell


Should I learn how to code? A business person asked me that. I don’t think so. I think they should learn to sell and be good at it. Isn’t a really good salesperson even more rare and valuable than a good developer? Anecdotally, finding people who are good at building stuff is comparatively easy to finding people who are good at selling stuff. So why are people in a rush to become devs?

It’s perhaps because for the first time, the median income for a developer is exceeding the median income for a sales type. Even though in aggregate famous salespeople are far wealthier than famous technologists. Where would talented sales people gravitate, probably where they can have the highest impact or greatest income in the shortest period of time which is usually in retail or finance. Fields where you win not by exerting influence over a machine but over other people. Historically that’s where the most money has been made and is how talented salesman end up in Wall Street in the first place.

Selling is an alien skill because it involves influencing other people whereas programming is a form of technical craftsmanship. It’s perhaps because you can measure more easily the affect of a developer. Does the product work? Whereas you should be able to measure a salesperson in well, sales. But too often that gets skewed into design, marketing, pitching, ideas etc. Generic business tasks that do not necessarily result in sales.

Salespeople do more than just pitch, they sell. Selling means making money. I think a half baked product with an excellent salesforce would outdo an excellent product any day. That is pretty much the modus operandi of most enterprise companies and even a lot of big consumer ones. Microsoft won because of their salesforce not because of their products. And if you’re measuring market capitalisations, most technology companies are actually enterprise ones and do not produce *good products* per se.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen tons of startups with *good products* fail. I think in the aggregate it is easier to sell something which sucks than make something good and these aren’t mutually exclusive. You also come across tons of people who can build things. But I’ve yet to come across someone who was an amazingly good salesperson. So why don’t self proclaimed *business people* then just get really really good at selling?

So good that they can sell anything, the way a programmer might get so good they could program anything. Because their value in an organisation is actually higher than a developer. Why are they wasting their time learning to code, because they’ll never, or will take much longer, to be as good as someone technical who has a love for it anyway. I think if you were going to become a good programmer, sometime in your life you would have already cultivated an interest in it and begun to learn about it out of sheer curiosity.

Now in a startup context. For the first few years, every product sucks. They iteratively get better. So the median difference between a failure or success is who’s product can actually sell and the person doing that is the salesperson. Ergo, why aren’t there more of them and isn’t that the real shortage?