My colleague and friend, Hak, made an observation about types of firms based on whose hand is on the tiller. Sometimes I am reminded of the classic game The Secret of Monkey Island.

Stan is a sales guy and it doesn’t much matter what he’s selling.

There are basically two types; there are others, but they’re in the noise. They describe themselves when they describe their company philosophy. One type says they are “customer driven.” That company is run by Sales. The other type says it is “marketing driven.” Notice they don’t say “market driven.” That company is run by Engineering or R&D.

I quote Hak because I believe that his observation is basically on-point. At one time or other I have managed sales departments and at other times engineering teams.

Driven by Sales

Sales teams see things largely in terms of competition. “Our products’ features versus the competitor’s features.” Often times a powerful Sales arm will twist the arm of Engineering in order to get a “special” made. One Sales VP referred to this as “they’d rather be selling the competitors product instead of their own,” and then added, “our salesman — plain and simple — got outsold,” meaning the sales person conceded that the competitive product was better. This is death for a sales process because you can’t sell something that you don’t believe in. In the end Sales is enthusiasm and product knowledge, combined.

Driven by Engineering

The engineering team sees things largely in terms of technology. “Our products’ features are cutting edge and ahead of the competition.” Often times a powerful Engineering department will push the Sales department to sell cool features to clients, forgetting the fact that customers want benefits, not features. The engineers then wonder why their cool technology is a flop with customers. In the end R&D/Engineering is listening to the goals, and then deftly delivering a solution that might be a moving target.


Being Sales or R&D/Engineering driven is not an all-or-nothing choice. It would be foolish to be 100% one or the other, yet when a client calls are they sent to the Sales Department to be up-sold, or do they speak with a Drupal architect about the options they have? The emphasis is to one or the other and rarely are these in total and complete balance. The question is, which kind of company do you want to work with?