How to sell to technical buyers, developers, and engineers

The Dock Team
January 25, 2024
January 25, 2024

If you’re selling to technical buyers, your team may be feeling the pressure to demonstrate a level of technical expertise they don’t have yet. 

You may be seeing your team’s deals fall off as soon as you start talking to technical stakeholders. 

Or you might simply find that when you move upmarket, you’re suddenly coming up against buyers with far more technical requirements than you’re ready to meet. 

In this article, we’ll share expert tips and tactics for how to win over technical gatekeepers—from setting up your sales team the right way to equipping them for success with the right sales skills and collateral.  

What makes a technical buyer? 

A technical buyer can be either: 

  1. a technically skilled end user of your product; or
  2. a technical gatekeeper, with a job title like CTO or head of IT. 

Their purchase criteria will typically relate to the feasibility of your solution from a technical standpoint. They’ll be interested in factors like:

  • if your solution is going to make their lives easier or harder
  • if your product integrates well with the existing tech stack
  • if you meet specific security, technological, and compliance requirements 
  • if your product has particular features or addresses specific use cases; and
  • the details of how easy your product will be to implement and what level of support they can expect

Technical buyer vs. economic buyer

The technical buyer won’t usually have the final say on the purchase decision, but they can make or break the deal. In other words, they won’t be the ones to say yes, but they can certainly say no. 

The economic buyer, on the other hand, is the one who can give the final go-ahead on the purchase. They’re more likely to be focusing on the ROI of your product, rather than the technical aspects. 

What makes selling to technical buyers different?

There can be a tendency to exaggerate the difference between technical buyers and other senior buyer profiles—possibly because salespeople feel intimidated by their own lack of technical knowledge. 

As Ben Solari, the VP of sales at Jellyfish, told us in a recent interview:

“You don't necessarily need to know the tech as much as you need to know the problems that your tech is solving for.” 

In other words, as with any potential customer, selling to technical buyers involves a deep understanding of their pain points and top KPIs, and the value your product offers. 

However, there are a few generalizations that are worth bearing in mind when it comes to your sales strategy in technical markets: 

You should skip the jargon 

When it comes to selling to technical users, François Dufour, the resident CMO at Decibel, advises sales leaders to build trust by being brief, to the point, and accurate. 

As he points out, most developers have years of experience looking for inaccuracies. “When they debug, they spend time sometimes looking for a comma or a period that's in the wrong place. And so that means also everything you write needs to be right on.” 

That means no fluff, no buzzwords and no inflated sales pitch. 

“They want you to be authentic. They don't want you to just tell them, ‘Hey, this is going to be the best outcome possible when you use [our product].’ Describe functionally what it does and how it works, and keep the big claims to a minimum.” 

You can listen to the full interview with Francois Dufour on the Grow & Tell podcast. 

They might not want to talk to you.

These days, the majority of the B2B sales cycle takes place without interaction with a vendor. Seventy-five percent of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free sales experience.

If B2B buyers don’t want to spend a lot of time talking to you, this may be especially true of technical buyers, Dufour points out: 

“[Engineers] are used to learning on their own very often. Finding resources, reading docs, trying to build things. They have to learn so much all the time because tech changes so fast[ . . . ]

“The moment you understand that this is all about making them efficient in learning, efficient in building, and efficient in fixing, that changes how you think about things.” 

Pocus's Alexa Grabell says if you're selling to developers, you either need to go product-led or take more of a top-down sales approach.

If you're selling a dev tool product, [developers] will never answer you. So you're going to need to figure out how to go above them to the VP or CTO.

You’ll need to get into the trenches with them

When you’re selling to technical buyers, many of the questions will revolve around the nitty-gritty of implementation. As a result, there’s a lot of muddy overlap between sales and success during the technical buying process. 

Setting up your sales team to be able to handle that level of crossover will make all the difference. 

How to structure a revenue team to target technical buyers

If you haven’t sold to a really technical market before, you may be used to a sequential sales motion—the AE engages the prospect, closes the deal, and brings in the implementation or CS team after it’s all locked down. 

But, if you’re selling to a technical buyer, you’ll need a much stronger partnership between your AEs, sales engineers, implementation, and the product team right from the start, explains Pete Prowitt, the head of revenue at Stytch

Prowitt’s team sells primarily to developers, and they rely on a close partnership between Sales and Solutions Engineering for every deal. This is more about communication skills than sharing your Salesforce or SAP account, Prowitt explains: 

“The sales professional becomes responsible for the what. Why are we doing this? What are we looking to do? Then the solutions engineer manages the how. It just creates this really powerful dynamic that's led us to bigger deals, better deals, and to more traction as we start to find our groove on that front.” 

Prowitt’s team also works closely with Product during the sales process: “We’re trying to figure out, ‘Hey, if we advise in this direction, is that going to create complexity later on?’” 

When you’re talking to technical decision-makers, you’ll likely find yourselves getting into the weeds about customized solutions, integrations, future-proofing—and you need to be clear on what you can commit to before your Sales team falls into the trap of overpromising. 

Learn more about how Prowitt set his team up for success on the Grow & Tell podcast. 

5 best-practice tips for winning over technical buyers

We’ve distilled the hard-won knowledge from our panel of sales leaders into five best practices to help you get more purchase orders from technical buyers: 

1. Give your sales team the chance to learn by doing

One of the most daunting things about selling to technical buyers is the level of expertise involved in your sales conversations. You’ll be discussing complex solutions with highly educated and knowledgeable prospects, and you don’t want to feel like an idiot. 

The good news, according to Ben Solari, is that gaining the necessary level of industry knowledge is relatively straightforward. He advises SDRs in the technical space to 

  • dig into customer stories, so that you have a clear grasp of how your product provides value; 
  • learn through osmosis by sitting in on calls led by a more seasoned rep; and 
  • work on your prospecting and outbound skills, so you spend as much time as possible talking to prospects, figuring out which messaging lands, and learning the questions you need to be able to answer.

As well as fostering a “learning by doing” mindset in your sales reps, you’ll also need to make sure they have the sales collateral they need to answer tough, technical questions. That will mean partnering with product marketing to create 

  • strategic messaging based on in-depth customer research;
  • customer-facing content like white papers and technical case studies;
  • buyer enablement content, like buying guides, checklists, and industry reports; and
  • internal-facing sales enablement content for your team members to use during outreach and discovery, like product one-pagers and pricing sheets.

2. Enable your technical buyers to self-serve 

For technical buyers who prefer to self-serve during the sourcing and purchasing process, make it easy to find relevant content. Use Dock to set up a digital sales room in which you can share technical documentation, product one-pagers, an in-depth technical demo, and use-case-specific case studies. 

Show that you’ll be a good technical partner by getting ahead of possible questions and technical roadblocks. For instance, to pass a security review, add your security profile to your Dock workspace before you’re asked for it. 

3. Provide a sandbox or proof of concept project

Technical buyers and technical users are going to want to try before they buy. That means not only providing your prospective customers with access to a product trial, but guiding them through a successful product testing experience — whether as a self-serve sandbox or a proof of concept project. 

For instance, Marie Gassée, the head of GTM at Column, told us that even when they’re working on enterprise deals, they couple their top-down sales motion with a sandbox. 

“We try to be extremely friendly to developers who have questions, who want to play around in Sandbox. We often will allow folks to open a bank account just for themselves or their company and play around, see what it's like to move real money with Column.” 

You can hear more about Gassée’s thoughts on self-serve growth on our podcast, Grow & Tell. 

While a sandbox can help any prospect get a sense of your solution, you can take things one step further with a full proof of concept (POC) project. A POC is more advanced — a fully customized trial version, complete with integrations — so it only makes sense for deals that are very likely to close.  

If you decide to offer a proof of concept project, here are a few tips to make it as effective as possible: 

  • Position the POC as a mutual success plan, not a product trial. Once you’ve defined your prospect’s success metrics with them, create a project that relates to those success metrics, not the features you want to show off. 
  • Embed the POC into a centralized workspace instead of managing it in Excel. If you create a user-friendly shared workspace, you can host your POC and track progress in the same location where you house your sales collateral, security documentation, meeting recordings, mutual action plan, and so on. 

This will make it far easier for your buyer and instill confidence that working with you will be stress-free. Dock’s collaborative workspaces make this quick to set up. 


4. Help them make the business case 

Francois Dufour recommends positioning your AE as an ally to your technical buyer. Their role is to help the technical buyer or technical champion make the economic case for investing in your solution—whether that’s in terms of ROI or cost savings. 

“Developers typically hate having to make these business cases and then work with procurement and buyers internally,” Dufour explains. 

Ben Solaris agrees. His team provides the technical buyer with content to help them with making the business case internally: “Here’s how you talk to your CFO around R&D spend and what it means to move the needle here.” 

Here’s Ben Solari on our podcast talking about how to enable technical buyers.

This is crucial for every technical product, but it’s especially important as you move upmarket, says Rich Liu, the CRO of Everlaw.

When he was leading sales at Mulesoft, he realized that the key to growth was to shift their messaging from “just some tool that your developer needs” to “speaking to the economic buyer with a true business value narrative that is quantifiable.” 

5. Create communication channels to keep the deal moving forward 

When you’re selling complex technical solutions to multiple stakeholders, it’s crucial to keep the deal moving forward. To keep the momentum going during long procurement processes, try: 

  • using a mutual action plan based on the client’s priorities and milestones. For example, tie your deadlines into their launch schedule: “If you want to launch in January, we need XYZ to happen before we close the deal in November.” 
  • creating easy ways of communicating—for instance, set up a shared Slack channel to reduce email clutter and keep all stakeholders up to date on discussions. 
  • making it easy to find all relevant information, so the buyer doesn’t waste time (and potentially stall out) looking for your technical specs or a recording of the product demo. 

Dock can help you sell to technical buyers 

If you’re selling to technical buyers, Dock can be a helpful tool for your sales team. With Dock, you can 

  • create a shared, centralized workspace to house all your content, mutual action plan, implementation checklists, POC details, and security certification;   
  • monitor your buyers' engagement with your content, check to see who’s looking at what, and see which content is most compelling to your technical buyer and other stakeholders; and 
  • create a seamless transition from sales to success—particularly important for technical sales, where there is significant overlap between the two functions. 

Check it out for free today. 

The Dock Team