Can engineers learn anything from sales?


Every so often, engineers at ElasticBox wear the hat of a sales engineer for a few months out of the year. For the last two months, that’s what I’ve been doing.

We engineers don the sales hat for many reasons. As an engineer, I’m often focused on details necessary to code a functional product. But that sort of focus tends to be narrow. With the sales hat on, I get to reorient my focus to that of the users. What do customers and prospects want? What are their use cases? How do they view the product? What are their pain points?

In the beginning

At first, doing sales as an engineer puzzled me. Why, I asked our CTO. His answer simply was, “How do you know you’re building a worthwhile product unless you try to sell it?”

That made total sense. But there are other reasons as well. When you’re a small company, each function has multiple responsibilities, and you have to play multiple roles. Another facet is to be able to explain the product to prospects at a deeper technical level and help customers implement their use cases successfully. Being fully knowledgeable in the product helps.

Playing the sales engineer

For someone who used to write code all day, this role was challenging at first. New in a sales role, I had to work on skills in different areas. Sales engineering requires that I present and explain the whole product and its benefits to customers and prospects. It requires that I talk in front of small or big groups of people and field questions or concerns without losing the flow of a demo context.

Making customers successful

At the same time, being technically sound and competent in the product helps me talk to operations engineers, developers, and architects on a very technical level. I can understand their tools and technical stacks and help resolve critical issues. Recently, for example, I helped a customer configure a Chef box with variables for reuse across many projects.

It’s every engineer’s dream to work with the latest technologies. And that’s the opportunity the sales role gave me. I was lucky to work on defining an ELK box stack to deploy Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana master and slave nodes that connect via bindings. Incidentally, ELK is a popular stack that provides search, logging, analytics and data visualization for many applications.

In the DevOps community, customers and prospects often ask about containers. I’ve been working on a Kubernetes box. With this box, anyone can deploy a Kubernetes cluster and launch programs and services through containers. But more on that in another blog post. :)

Thankfully the sales engineering role of a few months is not the only chance we as engineers get to be close to customers. While customer centricity is a marketing tagline at many companies, here at ElasticBox every one of us is exposed to customer pain. Every customer support question is emailed company-wide and gives us a firsthand opportunity to learn about a problem so we can jump in to fix it. Talk about getting intimately close to customers! We do, and I love it.

I’ve immensely enjoyed playing the sales engineer role for the last two months. Not only has this experience enriched my knowledge of real customer use cases, their needs, and the way they use the product, most significantly it helps me build a better solution that customers want.

If you have questions about ElasticBox, feel free to reach me at When am not coding or wearing the sales hat, you’ll find me out with friends, listening to music, and watching movies and TV shows.

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Categories: DevOps, ElasticBox
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