If you’re applying for a role in tech sales, you’ve likely had this thought when learning more about a tech startup:
What the fuck is cloud infrastructure? Web servers? A relational database? Real-time machine learning?
How the hell are you supposed to get a job at this company if you don’t know what their product is?
I’m here to tell you, I was there when I started down this path. It’s OK if you feel these things. Here’s what you need to know about becoming technical enough to land a job in tech sales.
Most of us go to a company’s home page to understand that company. But, it is not the best place for you to learn about the product. Why? Because you have to understand who that page is built for - their potential customers.
That company is assuming their potential customers (ex: software engineers) have a certain level of knowledge where they don’t have to explain basic things, they just understand it.
Here’s an example below:
Git-based workflow? Serverless platform? CI/CD? Jamstack world? Gibberish.
So we need to start with the basics before we get into the details. You didn’t learn calculus without doing pre-calculus first.
Here’s where you should start when learning about a technical product:
Utilize tech news sites
Sites like TechCrunch & VentureBeat simplify what these companies are doing. Why? Because their audience is people who might not know a damn thing about this company! Their job is to simplify this so you can understand it.
For instance, here’s a TechCrunch article announcing Netlify’s Series C. Here’s how they explained Netlify:
Netlify has abstracted away the concept of a web server, which it says is slow to deploy and hard to secure and scale. By shifting from a monolithic website to a static front end with back-end microservices, it believes it can solve security and scaling issues and deliver the site much faster.
Now to someone new to this, I wouldn’t say everything here makes sense. But some of it does! So now let’s breakdown how a salesperson would understand this.
What’s the problem Netlify is solving?
Web servers are slow to deploy & hard to secure and scale.
How does Netlify solve this problem?
They help companies shift from a monolithic website to a static front-end with back-end microservices.
What are the benefits of using Netlify?
Faster-loading, more secure, scalable sites!
Now is there more for us to learn? Of course! But this is a good start. I’m telling you, salespeople don’t understand every detail about web servers or monolithic websites. What they do understand is the problems their potential customers face. The same is true for the product they are selling. They don’t understand every product detail, but they damn sure know the benefits it provides.
Here’s another way to frame understanding problems/benefits vs product details:
If someone was having a headache, how would you sell them on Advil? You’d tell them how it would get rid of their headache! You wouldn’t tell them about every ingredient in the pill or the formulation process that Advil has perfected.
That’s the difference between understanding problems/benefits vs product details.
Now, let’s get some basic knowledge on those words that were confusing above (monolithic, microservices, web servers). How do we do that? Google the term.
I was able to glean that that a monolithic website is one single, large codebase. The size of it makes it complex to understand & difficult to update.
A microservices website is a codebase that is split into smaller parts that make up the whole (like legos). This is easier to build, understand & maintain.
Ok so now that we understand the basics, we can go back to the company’s website.
You have many options to explore on a company website. You can go to their technical documentation, you can go to to their careers page, you can go to their pricing page. Do you know where salespeople go to understand the product better?
The customers page.
On the customers page, they lay out clear explanations of:
It’s important for you to understand the above because of what your job is as a salesperson. Your job is to speak to customers all day long. The ones who understand the problems customers face & how their product can solve them, will be best positioned to help customers and ultimately perform well.
Let’s use this case study as an example:
The above is literally what it takes to show you understand a product when you’re interviewing for a tech sales role. We’re not super in the weeds, this is high-level. But this will make you better prepared than 99% of the job candidates for this role.
There’s many ways to describe this, but my favorite one is:
Rome wasn't built in a day.
You aren’t going to understand a company’s product in one day. That’s ok. But do you understand it better than yesterday? Last week? Last month?
That’s what matters. Continuous improvement every single day will lead to great change over time. Here’s a visual representation of this from the book, Atomic Habits.
So just keep on going further down the rabbit hole everyday. Use the customers page to understand all the different problems customers could face, how the product can solve them, and how that benefits the customer.
A good way to get perspective on this is think about something you are an expert at now. Maybe it’s taking the best damn Insta story out there. Or a physical activity you just crush. Or making the perfect scrambled eggs.
I bet on day 1 you weren’t that good. But look at you now, after time & repetition, you’re a beast at it. Have that same mindset when it comes to learning a tech startup’s product.
I’ll leave you with one last quote on this from Moiz Ali, the founder of the deodorant that keeps my pits sweat & chemical-free.
The last thing to understand is why companies hire people for different roles. In a role, you are supposed to specialize in a specific set of tasks. What are you supposed to be great at as an entry-level tech sales role? Is it to be a technical genius? Is it to understand every complexity of the product?
Your job (SDR) is to take initial calls with potential customers and share at a high-level how Netlify can solve the challenges they are facing. An Account Executive (AE) then will turn those potential customers into paying customers. The Solutions Engineer (SE) will be right by the AE’s side throughout that journey to serve as a technical resource to those potential customers.
SDR’s and AE’s are always messaging SE’s with questions they have about the product. This doesn’t change as you get more experience. If anything, those that are still asking questions even though they have years of experience, are the ones who are going to perform they best. Because like we mentioned previously, they are constantly improving.
So if you’re stressed that a product is too technical for you, don’t! Follow the steps below:
Now go a cool company in the tech sector that you want to work for. And if you need help understanding that company, I’m here for ya! Send me a message on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org