Sales vs. Engineering

The conflict rages on!

Since the human race started communicating, there have been those who talk (and convince others of what they want) and those who make it happen. In short, there are talkers and builders. So, dare I jump straight to sales and engineering?

I’m looking at this subject once again because, as of late, I’ve had some discussions with others and it appears that the conflict rages on for many. Why can’t we all just get along?! Why can’t we engineers tell sales what we want them to do and say, and then they just do it? After all, we engineers know what’s best, right? Well, not exactly….

Have you ever heard of Engineers Disease? Engineers like to tell clients what’s best for them, because, in many cases, they feel they know better. If an engineer is suffering from Engineers Disease, then, even if his or her client tells the engineer all his or her relevant needs and wants (which usually differ from the engineer’s perceived needs and wants), the engineer will nevertheless say, “No, you have it wrong. I know best!” Does that remind you of anyone you’ve ever worked with—or might still be working with?

In fact, many, many years ago, I was afflicted with Engineers Disease! I can even recall a particular instance. I had just done some work for Keith Richards at his private offices in New York NY. (Yes, I got to meet and talk to Keith Richards, and he was quite the gentleman.) His Manager at the time, Jane Rose, hired me to set up her apartment in a similar fashion. After I was done trying to explain some of the intricacies—how to use the TV, VHS, radio, CD player, etc.—I can remember her explaining how she wanted it all to work. And, even today, I can remember telling her she was wrong—that this is how it should work. What a %#$@ I was! Ouch. (Jane, if, by some chance, you happen to be reading this, my humblest apologies to you. I was afflicted with Engineers Disease at an early age. Happily, I have been free of it for many years now!)

With sales, the problem is different: Sales wants to know why we can’t just put together a complete system, in one hour, pen to paper, and have a proposal the same day. (Of course, it is assumed we will always stop whatever we’re working on because what they’re working on is so much more important!)

Although I don’t know of a synonym for Engineers Disease for salespeople, a few choice words do come to mind, which I will refrain from using. I might be dating myself, but does anyone remember the 1967 classic “Cool Hand Luke”? Strother Martin put it very well when he said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” That’s right—what we need is better communication, coupled with a dash of realistic expectations. There has to be a delicate balance between sales and engineering, which is, admittedly, no easy task. Nevertheless, I have a few suggestions that I will share. (I will offer more in subsequent columns, which will include examples from reader feedback.)

Let’s start with R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That’s right—let’s start with respecting each other’s abilities and time, while recognizing each other’s weaknesses and how to compensate for those weaknesses. Of course, this is easier said than done. Working with individuals who have different roles is always challenging; now, couple that with different personalities, skill levels and deadlines. And, of course, there’s the ever-present pressure that salespeople feel from sales managers, who are driving them to meet their quotas. (By the same token, let’s not forget the pressure that engineers feel from their engineering managers, who are driving them to multitask like there’s no tomorrow: prepare shop drawings, red-lines, proposals, bills of materials, etc.)

I don’t want to dumb this down, but here’s something I teach my children. We all feel stress when things don’t go our way, when people make mistakes, etc. The trick is not to take it out on those closest to you! And I don’t mean your family, either. I mean, plain and simple, it’s very easy to lash out at those with whom you spend most of your waking hours. Why? Because they’re actually close to you (literally nearby). Just don’t do it!

When faced with dilemmas and recurring issues, do not complain or target the individual(s) involved. Instead, come up with a solution that will benefit all! Next time, I will provide some real-world examples of issues and solutions that have worked for me and for others. First, though, I want to hear from you, our readers.

What have you experienced? What are you experiencing? Please write in and let us know. Salespeople, engineers and managers are all invited! Please email me at

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