The Salesman Who Cried Wolf

I’ve seen this happen many times. I’m on an engineering team. The product manager or account manager or sales manager tells the team about about a fantastic customer opportunity. Cisco is considering our part for their next platform. Google is a considering a partnership. Walmart may place an order for our product. This one deal can change the course of our startup! Make us profitable, bring us fame, cement our market leadership.

The engineering team gets really pumped. We’re playing in the big leagues now. We’ve made it. We have arrived. Usually there is something that needs to happen to close this deal. A new feature or form factor. Manufacturing optimization to bring the cost down.

This leads to all nighters and working through the weekend. The team is at its most creative. Ideas are flowing fast and furious. Everyone is reinvigorated. The product had never sparkled so brightly.

And then… nothing. Silence. The sales manager stops coming around. There are no new updates from product management. When asked, the sales team avert their eyes and look for an escape. Eventually we start hearing that the deal lost momentum, stalled out, fell through.

The impact on the engineering team is profound. It’s like the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Sales shouted “Hoo boy — big opportunity here!” When people came to look there was nothing. The next time, they are’t so quick. Eventually it becomes the salesman who cried wolf. The big deal won’t pan out so we’ll just ignore the bluster and keep doing what we’ve been doing. Even if this time the deal is real.

Now here is the problem. Intellectually we know that sales is a numbers game. The sales and marketing teams objective is to bring lots of big players to the table. Have enough and one of them will close. And all it takes is one to close for the herd to start paying attention.

Every big opportunity could be the one. Each opportunity needs to be treated as such, even though statistically it won’t pan out. Part of being a professional engineer or developer is to treat each opportunity with our A game. Even if this the the fifth or sixth time “the big deal” has fallen through, we owe it to our sales and marketing team to get equally excited about every potential deal they bring.

After all, they are out risking being eaten by wolves while we sit safely inside our houses, waiting for their call.

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