Engineers vs. salespeople: How to respond when you lack a feature the prospect requests

by Steli Efti

What do you do when you're in a sales conversation and the prospect asks for a feature you don't have?

Most salespeople answer in one of these ways:

  • We don't have that right now, but I can tell you it's in the pipeline, we're going to have that feature soon!
  • We don't have that feature, because we found ___ (some excuse/reason/explanation, e.g.: customers who think they need this feature often don't really use it).
  • We don't have that feature right now, but if it's important to you I'll pass it on to our development team and I'm sure they can make it happen.

It's the kind of overpromise/underdeliver answer you'd expect from a sales rep eager to earn a commission. Lots of hot air.

What's fascinating to me is how engineers often handle the same scenario completely different.

Engineers are a lot more elegant and skilfull about it:

  • We don't have that feature right now. Can you tell me why you need that, and how exactly you want to use it?

That's a brilliant response! They're now finding out the real need behind the feature! What does the prospect actually mean when he asks for that feature? What specifically does he need this for? What's the use-case?

Oftentimes the prospect will then respond by telling them about some kind of workflow. In order to understand the workflow and needs of the prospect better, an engineer will typically ask more specific follow-up questions.

At the end of this process, the engineer will basically say one of these things:

  • Ok, I get why this is important to you, I understand why you want this. Unfortunately, it's not something that our solution can do right now. We might implement this at some point in the future, but it's not in the immediate pipeline. Is this a dealbreaker for you?
  • Ok, I get why this is important to you, I understand why you want this. We don't have this feature, but I can offer you a workaround that accomplishes exactly what you want with the feature-set we have today. Here's what you do. You use our API to blablabla [insert smart engineer speak]. This might be a little bit different compared to what you're used to, but you get almost the same outcome.

As a sales connoisseur, I love this. It's. Pure. Beauty. 

Engineers are often a lot more precise in identifying and understanding the prospect's needs, and thus they're often better equipped to see if the product can fulfill these needs. That's what sales is all about.

Engineers are the ultimate solution-driven salespeople. I've seen them come up with workarounds, or combining it with another product, or find a hack on the prospect's side that makes it all work.

Engineers can often find another way to accomplish the same thing with the software as it currently is—without having to rely on the missing feature!