Don’t tell Bill Lohse that techies make terrible salespeople. The millionaire veteran of IT publishing will tell you many of technology’s innovators are also incredible salespeople. Even the world’s richest man, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, is an extraordinary salesperson, according to Lohse.
Although Lohse—president and CEO of SmartAge, an e-commerce service company serving small Internet companies, and former president of Ziff-Davis Publishing—has a knack for launching successful technology companies, he calls himself a salesman, not a true techie. While he understands technology, especially the impact of thoroughbred Internet start-ups on the economy, he prides himself on being a crackerjack salesman. Lohse understands the subtle nuances of the selling process and what it takes to be a great salesperson.
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Opening the Gates
Lohse cites Gates (the two have been friends since Gates was a teenager) as an example of a brilliant salesperson. “One of Gates’ biggest strengths is his ability to invent the future,” Lohse explained. “That takes innovative selling skills. Gates is a visionary who looked at the facts today and said, ‘Out of these possibilities, what can come true tomorrow?’ Once he did that, he knew how to commit himself and his company to making it happen.”
History proved that true. In 1975, Gates came up with the concept of “a PC on every desktop, a PC in every home.”
“He was going out on a limb making that prediction 25 years ago,” said Lohse. “This was a time when computers were clunky game machines.”
Creating the technology that would change the world is one thing, but making the world believe in it took brilliant selling skills, according to Lohse.
The power of salesmanship
Gates is only one example. Virtually every company leader who has crafted a successful technology also boasts excellent selling skills. Yet, most techies consider selling to be “the dark side of the business. They have a notion of a salesperson as someone trying to manipulate them into buying something they don’t want,” Lohse said. “Techies must understand selling is simply the presentation of an option or a choice so people can say either yes or no.”
When techies think of a salesperson, they think of the stereotypical loud-mouthed used car salesman selling defective cars at inflated prices. “That’s an Industrial Age concept of selling,” added Lohse. “Thanks to technology, selling has become a sophisticated process.”
More importantly, Lohse said techies would naturally adapt to selling because it’s a logical and structured process. “Once they taste the rewards of selling, a new dimension opens up,” he said. “Technical people have critical attributes for making exceptional salespeople. To be successful, you must believe in and understand your product. Computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians combine idealism, honesty, and passion about their work, which are essential elements in convincing someone to buy. The best technical people are structured and logical thinkers, both of which are critical for presenting products accurately.”
Learning the art form
Even super-geek Gates had to learn to be a salesman. “Selling is an acquired skill,” Lohse said. While honesty and passion about your product are important, you also have to know how to close a sale. “This is where techies have the biggest problem,” he said.
The most common mistake techies make in selling is not knowing when to shut up. “They get so passionate about what they’re selling, they never stop talking,” Lohse added. “You have to listen to your customers, understand what they’re saying, and then stop talking when you get a ‘yes.’ Introducing too much information can confuse a buyer.”
According to Lohse, like everything else in life, practice makes perfect. If you think you’ve got what it takes to sell, start off small. Don’t quit your technical job until you’ve proven you can handle a sales position. Try selling in your spare time to see if you adapt to it.
It can be especially exciting if you’re peddling your own creation. Once you make that first sale, watch out, Lohse said. After that, there’s no turning back. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s how Microsoft’s Gates got started.
Bob Weinstein's weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace, appearing in major daily newspapers throughout the U.S.