Sales and engineering: Partners, not adversaries

Oct. 21, 2004
Sales and engineering are sometimes referred to as the "oil and water" departments — there are times when the ideas and philosophies of both camps simply don't mix.

Craig Slass
Vice President,Sales Rotor ClipCompany Inc. Somerset, N.J.

Sales and engineering are sometimes referred to as the "oil and water" departments — there are times when the ideas and philosophies of both camps simply don't mix. Differences stem from the perceived roles of each in the selling/production cycle. Engineering is the logical voice of reason, carefully examining a customer request for a part or product to determine the feasibility of making it, given manufacturing resources and capabilities. Decisions are made not in the company of the customer who is making the demands, but in their more familiar world of facts, figures, and formulas.

In contrast, Sales is the emotional gunslinger of the marketplace. Sales people are face to face with the customer who badgers, cajoles, and even threatens to take the business elsewhere to get what he/she wants. This fosters a "Take the business now; engineering will figure it out later," attitude as the sales person acquiesces to the customer, then rides out of town into the sunset, order in hand. A short time later they dump the saddlebag of promises they just made at the feet of engineering and ride off for another order. Engineering resents not being consulted, and chides sales for "giving in" to the customer.

"Sell what we make" is the mantra of engineering. "

Sell what the customer wants" is the pie-throwing retort from sales. Given today's competitive manufacturing environment, it behooves both sides to be more flexible. A customer print for something the company doesn't make doesn't warrant an automatic "No." Engineering needs to stretch the way it looks at these prospective jobs. Have all alternatives been exhausted? Can we farm out to a vendor/partner what we can't do economically in-house? Every potential project should be given full scrutiny before the dreaded "N" word is used.

Sales people have to temper their drive to achieve individual success with the needs of the entire organization. They can't assume that engineering can do anything the customer asks. Engineering must be consulted before technical commitments are made to the customer. More face-to-face meetings with the customer should include engineering to help determine the feasibility of a request.

Creativity is the key. We have to understand that when we say "no" to a customer, there is some other global player waiting in the wings ready to say "yes." It should never be the first answer given. Also, we need to view selling not in the traditional way of "making every sale we can" but as a process to service the customer in a way that makes sense for the entire organization.

In his best selling book, Direct from Dell, Michael Dell relates how he keeps his technical people on track by involving them with the customer. "We encourage them to get to know customers' needs by spending time with sales," says Dell, involving them more in "product planning" and immersing them in "what creates value for customers." By doing this, engineers focus on the customer and under-stand how to apply "technology for the customer's sake."

Forging such strong partnerships between sales and engineering can only be a winning proposition for both the customer and the organization.

Rotor Clip is a maker of retaining rings, snap rings, and self-compensating hose clamps (

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