Good sales people are one of the most frequent "I need some yesterday" requests received by a recruitment consultant specialising in the IT vendor industry. And it's one of the requests getting harder to fill. Top sales execs these days get more telephone calls from head hunters than prospects!
Back in the '80s, the mainframe sales executive was the star of the show. They operated under a variety of titles - "marketing representative" (if you were an IBMer), "business development manager" (if you wanted to imply that selling was something a little beneath you), or the good old fashioned "sales representative" (for those who had no problems about advertising their purpose in life). All had the same objective - get the customer to sign the deal and pocket and enjoy the resultant commission.
This modus operandi remains the same today, but techniques back then were different. The sales professional was typically a non-technical relationship building person, mostly male. The "long lunch" featured as an important part of the sales cycle, and those sales execs working for the likes of IBM could, with a click of their fingers (or so it appeared to their competition), summon a variety of highly knowledgeable and trained technical experts who could dazzle the prospect with their understanding of his/her business and their ability to satisfy the required needs.
So what's different today?
The whole emphasis is now on "solution salespeople"; selling just a product is regarded as a no-no. Salespeople must themselves be able to talk learnedly about legacy systems (even if they were still at school when these were being developed), current technology, future technology trends and the best product mix solution for the prospect. No longer can they call up armies of technical consultants; rather they need to rely primarily on scarce resources and know, and have a good relationship with, a variety of "partner" companies with whom they can form a consortium to win the deal.
Where do you look?
"Fly in a subject matter expert from Boston? You must be kidding!"
So where and how do we find such gems of our industry - skilled technicians with excellent business nous, fantastic people skills and who are able to orchestrate a win-win-win deal for all concerned?
Not surprisingly the answer is "with difficulty", as not that many such paragons exist. Many times too, a star in one company does not become a star in another environment.
So what is our (IT) industry doing about this? Do we have companies putting substantial effort into training new sales stars, like IBM, Fujitsu, and Burroughs used to do in the '80s?
Unfortunately, no, this is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be. Companies, largely driven by financial analysts who care little for technology, but a lot about return for their client's investment, cannot afford to spend the significant dollars needed for junior sales training schemes.
And there's the rub!
Without a steady influx of gun-dog style, bum-quivering, "shoot-'em-and-I'll-bring-'em-home" junior bag-carrying sales trainees, we have to rely on a small pool of dedicated, highly skilled professional sales execs, who tend to change companies on a regular basis, become promoted out of the sales arena, or leave to grow avocados on the Gold Coast!
The question to be asked is, if we all con-sciously invested in training new sales staff, wouldn't the whole industry benefit? When did you last give a top pre-sales consultant a go as a trainee sales exec? Or possibly give an under- performing sales person a helping hand and a carrot, instead of the stick or the boot, as is so common with certain IT companies.
The bottom line is that we need to do something soon, or else we'll continue to rely more and more on less and less, and the IT industry, including our customer base, will be the loser - with only ourselves to blame.
Graham Young is the managing director and co-owner of Anagram International, which specialises in the IT industry.
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