The toughest thing… no wait. One of the many tough things about moving from a technical role into sales is letting go of the keyboard. Accept that someone else will be doing the demo, and they have their own style and way of doing it.

I remember being on sales calls as the pre-sales person and having a "backseat driver" sales person with me: "show them that thing! show them the other thing! you missed a step!". By the end of one of those meetings I was about ready to bludgeon the sales person to death with my ThinkPad. In fact, I was present when a colleague did actually snap, and - in front of the prospective customer! - turned the laptop around to the sales person, crossed his arms, and said "you drive".

This tendency to want to stay involved with the technology is a symptom of a wider issue. Technical gigs, whether pre-sales, product management, technical marketing, professional services, or whatever, are more similar to each other than any of them are to sales. I have seen people fumble that transition, getting bogged down in technical details that are no longer their job. This doesn’t work for anyone.

Part of it is also the cultural divide between tech and sales1; it’s a big change in self-image to start to see yourself as sales, and there is a tendency to want to prove that you’ve "still got it".

It’s tough to accept, but you have to let the tech team handle the tech issues; that is no longer your job. Meanwhile, they are relying on you, the sales person, to cover the sales stuff: is the deal qualified, have we met the economic buyer, do we understand the business case, what are the deadlines, and where are the pitfalls?

This is not to say that you should ignore technical details. Make sure you are current on what is a unique versus comparative differentiator, and how that landscape changes as both your own product and competitors evolve. It’s just that you are no longer using that information in the same way as you were when you were in a technical role.

This is as much a reminder to myself as anything else: give your technical colleagues feedback and inputs, but you have to let them do their job, which is no longer your job. It’s a sales team, and everyone has to play their own position.

  1. Just another way the IT industry can be unthinkingly sexist is the terminology here: "beards" versus "suits". I have worked with very good female techies and sales people, but lots of people still assume that a female in the meeting is somebody’s assistant.