Sales is easier to measure than Engineering

Sales is a soft skill and engineering is a hard one. So why is sales easier to measure?

Posted by Tejus Parikh on February 16, 2017

As you would expect, we talk a lot about performance management at work. I recently shared an article from Professor Beekums that talked about development measurement. My astute co-founder asked a very on point question:

Tell me this, why is the most scientific job ([software] engineering) measured by the fluffiest, subjective bullshit -- and the fluffiest, subjective bullshit-ridden job (sales) measured the most scientifically?

Clearly a great question that digs directly into the challenges of accessing top performers in the modern workplace.

My reaction was going to be "well we've been selling for millennia, but only building software for less than a century." However that's not quite right and the answer is more involved.

The real answer is that sales is instant gratification and engineering is a delayed benefit.

While the tools of sales may be soft, fluffy, and possibly dubious, the output of sales are obvious. Close deals of sufficient size and the company benefits. Sales is unique in that the organization can draw a direct line between activity and value recognition. Furthermore, every sales activity is attached to a meaningful number.

Engineering, while a discipline of facts and unambiguity, is a long term investment. Often, the activities that aren't initially perceived to be high value can be incredibly valuable to the company. The asset management interface for Ludicorp's game was probably a secondary concern to the game, but was the most valuable when the company became Flickr. The email service developed as a 20% project at Google became the cornerstone of their Business collaboration offerings.

Yet for every one of these major success, there were numerous false starts. Most of code developed for the game Ludicorp created went unused. Most of Google's 20% project either never made it out the door or became like Google Wave. Which means on the level of individual engineers, some work resulted in tremendous outcomes and other work was a waste of time. Unfortunately which was which was unknowable at the time of activity.

Thus forms the basis of the apparent contradiction. The tools of each trade have no connection to the value recognition of each trade. Sales, an art, is inherently easier to measure than engineering, a science.

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

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Tejus is the CTO and co-founder of WideAngle and writes weekly about building startups and the technology that powers them from Atlanta, GA, the startup capital of the south. Get my content on twitter, via RSS, or in your inbox:

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