SQL Server Professionals Shouldn’t Hate The Word “SALES”

Don’t ignore this blog post until you’ve read it completely. It can revolutionize your career. And, when you’re done, tell me what you think about it in the Comments section

There’s a reason why you’re a SQL Server professional – you love working with data. You signed up for a job that looks at SQL Server databases, optimize queries, build servers and create business intelligence (BI) solutions. Fixing corrupted data pages and making queries run from 10 minutes to a few seconds get you really excited. Unfortunately, nobody cares. Here’s a joke that I usually tell about SQL Server DBAs: “When everything is working well, management asks why they hired you in the first place. But when all hell brakes loose, they ask the exact same question. ” Sad, but very true.

I had the opportunity last week to be in a room full of really smart people from the hosting provider space. We were looking at SQL Server 2016 and the new features of the database engine. As we were wrapping up the event, I asked what their most challenging issues were. Here are a few of them:

  • What was sold to the customer was different from what the team can deliver
  • We’re mostly working on boring projects
  • The work estimate for projects is usually undersized
  • We can’t even attend learning events like these because of resourcing limitations

I asked what the common theme was among the issues they raised. And the entire room agreed: none of them have anything to do with SQL Server nor related technologies. In fact, the last bullet point was consistent with what my blog readers told me last year in a survey: they want to learn new technologies and keep their skills up-to-date.

Not Your Typical Used Car Salesman

We technical professionals (and most of the people we know) have a different feel about salespeople. Why do you think the expression “snake oil salesman” even exists? Maybe you have your own experience about dealing with sleazy salespeople. But that’s not what this blog post is all about. And I’m not about to convince you to switch careers from being a SQL Server professional and into sales. But I can guarantee that you can have a better career as a technology professional if you keep an open mind about this topic.

The Webster dictionary has this as one of the definitions for the word “sale,” emphasis mine:

the act of selling; specifically : the transfer of ownership of and title to property from one person to another for a price

Transfer of ownership: We’re not just talking about tangible items here. Ideas, beliefs, feelings, stories, etc. can be transferred. That recommendation you made about your favorite restaurant? Or that vacation getaway experience you shared on Facebook? You already are selling something and you do it all the time without feeling bad about it. Do you know that the most effective SQL Server sales page is SQL Server’s Connect site? Most SQL Server professionals just look at it as a bug reporting tool. I look at it as an opportunity to transfer ownership of my ideas to the SQL Server product team. I remember the time when I was testing the IBM DB2 v9.5 row compression feature and SQL Server 2005 didn’t have that feature yet. In one of the closed door conversations with the SQL Server product team, I mentioned about the row compression feature in IBM DB2 and asked if this will be introduced in SQL Server. While I can’t claim exclusive ownership of the idea, I was happy to see it introduced in SQL Server 2008.

From one person to another: Your ideas are only as good as the results you get from them. If you keep them to yourself, it probably won’t get much traction. This is especially true when you are embarking on a large project. You need to transfer ownership (or sell) your idea to as many people as you can – whether it’s within your organization or outside. The idea about row compression in the SQL Server database engine got transferred from me to the SQL Server product team.

For a price. The price does not necessarily have to be monetary. It could be anything – ranging from bragging rights (it was my idea,) to a feeling of fulfilment. But don’t get me wrong, I’ll take any amount any time 🙂

Doing Sales Without Becoming a Salesman

I’ve been an active participant in a lot of sales calls from the time I was a data center engineer to now as a business owner. I’ll be honest, there were times when salespeople regretted the fact that they brought me in during the sales calls. But in most cases, the outcome was both positive for me and the customer. Here’s an example of how I used sales to work on exciting projects while making sure that project estimates are not undersized.

The Tale of the Exciting SQL Server Project

Several years ago, a customer approached our team to assist with the deployment of a highly available SQL Server database for their SharePoint environment. Because SQL Server 2012 Availability Groups was fairly new back then, the operations team did not have the experience of building one. I wanted the team to get the hands-on experience of building an Availability Group configuration (addressing the challenge of working on boring projects) while guiding them thru the process. Because I knew how long it took to build and configure SQL Server Availability Groups, have already written documentation to outline the process, and knew the skills of the members of the operations team, I was able to provide an estimate of the number of hours it will take to complete the project (addressing the issue of undersized work estimates.) And because I love to teach, I got the opportunity to offer the operations team to “attend a learning event” without jeopardizing the resource limitations (addressing the issue of keeping skills up-to-date.)

The salesperson was happy, the customer was happy, the operations team was happy and I get to do what I love to do. Who said sales should be sleazy? Although, it would have been better if I got a commission for closing the sale 🙂

Question: What’s your opinion about SQL Server professionals learning how to sell ideas? How can you use this skill to address the challenging issues that you face in your career? Share it in the Comments section.

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You might also be interested in this blog post: But I hate selling…

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