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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Mar 21, 2011 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Salespeople are from Mars – Consultants are from Venus

Enterprise Agile Planning

I hope that title caught your eye because it is a great jumping off point for something that has become readily apparent to me in the last several years of my career. Now that I’m in a consulting role (services) as opposed to previous internal development roles, I’ve begun to get a new appreciation for just how different the sales and services/consulting camps are. In addition, I’ve seen how Dr. John Gray’s provocative metaphor, first brought to light in his book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,’ also applies to what many perceive are diametrically opposed groups in any community.


Now, don’t get me wrong, there usually is (by necessity) a LOT of synergy between any of these two camps, but there is also a fundamental mindset difference that can easily throw an unproductive wedge between the two groups. I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as the next person for not always recognizing this, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that as a former software engineer, I still believe I can control most (if not all) of the variables in any problem. While I picked on sales folks and services people for my title, I’ll try to generalize this to make it applicable to any community of people with whom you are trying to collaborate better.

At the end of the day, I think the fundamental difference between any two groups is in how they are incentivized, as well as how they approach problem solving. There is a tools aspect to solving this, but only at a very high level. To effectively take advantage of collaboration and management tools, you’ll need to understand both your own mindset, and that of your planetary counterpart in this example.

Let’s use the two groups from our title to illustrate:


  • Sales people are primarily motivated by $$
  • Consultants are primarily motivated by customer success

Problem Solving Approaches

  • Sales people are ‘big picture’ thinkers – details are worked out later
  • Consultants think about the big picture – but need details to implement

I’m sure if we sat down, we could think up similar statements for other groups in a community such as ‘Project Managers’ and ‘Developers.’ The point here is both groups need to understand each other’s differing approaches, and, to quote Wikipedia’s assessment of Gray’s work:

“…monitor the amount of give and take in a relationship and if the balance becomes off and one person feels they have given more than they have been given, beware of resentment developing … this is a time when communication is very important to help bring the relationship back into balance.”

Yes, this sounds very ‘touchy/feely,’ and some reading this will think it isn’t germane to a discussion about collaboration in a business setting. To those people I would say: ‘Don’t business relationships matter too?’ Businesses invest a ton of time in marketing efforts, and in trying to be more ‘human’ (see my friend and colleague Emily Salus’s blog for examples). Shouldn’t you as a professional (in whatever role you find yourself) be investing the same amount of effort to be successful in your company, project, or team?

All of the tooling in the world does you no good if you cannot recognize the differences in how you think compared to others, and then formulate a plan to overcome those differences and put them to work for you. At the end of the day, communication really is the key – and that means both talking and listening.

I plan on putting this into practice in my own world as a consultant and community manager – I invite you to join me in this endeavor, and I’d love to hear about your challenges and successes in the comments section here…

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