Programmers v Salespeople

Are sales more important than development?

Last year my wife moved from a sales engineering position to a sales rep job with her company. It has been a bit of a challenge, but she’s enjoyed it, and it’s been good for the family. On top of a small raise, she has a large potential upside to her income as a sales representative. I’m amazed how much money some of the people in her company make from selling software and services, and I sometimes wonder how it works out.

Recently I sent her this link about salespeople and commissions. It talks about the problems with commissions and the potential misunderstandings of what commissions actually do for our company. I know that some companies think paying salespeople flat rates and no commission is heresy. I know others that have transitioned to flat rates, including many retail companies, and they have continued to achieve high sales.

As we debated the benefits of paying commissions,  we argued a bit about the relative value of the positions. She asked me if everyone received a salary, who shoudl be paid more. I said that I thought it was easy to replace salespeople in a company, so developers. My wife countered with “it’s easy to replace programmers.” So for a Friday poll, I thought I’d ask the tech people out there.

Should salespeople make more than programmers?

You can assume a commission structure, or salaries for everyone, but when you look at the value each brings to a company, and the ways in which they can help grow business, which is more valuable? Which is easier to replace? Replacing a top performer in either place is probably hard, but what’s your opinion?

I still stand by the idea that it’s easier to replace salespeople. While I think selling is a skill, I think it’s one more easily learned by a wider variety of the population. I think programming has a fundamental mindset that is hard to teach.

Or maybe it’s a larger number of people would be more willing to spend their days trying to sell something than sitting in a cubicle writing code.

Steve Jones


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2 Responses to Programmers v Salespeople

  1. Matt says:

    My immediate response is to agree with you. Programmers, especially the good ones, bring and acquire an intimate knowledge of the product itself. This helps to ensure good quality, good security, and quick updates. A fantastic salesperson with a crappy product is just lipstick on a pig.

    However, with the loss of a salesperson, you are not just losing their skill sets…you are also likely losing their clients. The relationship between a client and a company often exists solely with the sales rep and is likely to extinguish if that rep is no longer with the company. And even the best products won’t sell if no one knows what makes them great.

    I guess in the end I would say both are incredibly important and that it would be far more worthwhile to have 1 great employee than 2 or 3 crappy employees in either category. Quality of quantity.

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  2. way0utwest says:

    Good thoughts, Matt. I do think that it’s true you want high qualities of both. However I’d say that seeing salespeople move on, get fired, etc., the clients don’t always just go with them. Lots of times the clients are contracted to, or happy with the company and will give the new salesperson a chance to do a good job.

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