Are you getting tired of picking up the help desk phone and answering the same questions from your end users? Perhaps you’ve been paged in the middle of the night just one too many times to come in and restart a production server. In short, you’re starting to get burned out on tech support.

Consider going into sales.

I have railed privately to CEOs and marketing directors for years that nontechnical sales people should not be sent out to sell hardware or software solutions. They rail back at me that they can’t afford to hire technical people and train them to be sales reps.

I say that technology companies can’t afford not to hire qualified people with sound technical skills into those sales positions. In the same way pharmaceutical companies don’t send just anyone out to sell to physicians, neither should technology companies send “sales types” out to market technology solutions.

I predict that the next big thing in IT careers will be a huge demand for technical sales representatives. The ads placed by smart, successful companies will read, “Only technically savvy people need apply.”

When it comes to upgrades, the most basic question is…
Recently, I sat in a meeting with my Fortune 500 consulting client and a sales representative from a company selling enterprise tech support software. The sales rep was asking my client to abandon a two-year-old client/server application in favor of a Web-based version of the software.

The first question we asked the vendor was, “Can we migrate our old data into the Web version?”

The sales representative said, “Unfortunately, there’s no way you can port your old database over to the Web app. It has to be reentered. But don’t worry, we can have our people enter it for you.” (I wondered to myself how much they would charge to rekey two years’ worth of old data.)

The manager of tech support and I scratched our heads, and I commented aloud, “Gee, they must have completely retooled the application if there isn’t even a migration strategy for the legacy data.”

While we were testing the Web application, we learned an interesting piece of news from a sales representative from the same company who was working out of an office in a different city. According to this representative, you just copy the old data to the Web server, and the Web application takes over. No migration necessary.

He lost the sale because he had never used the product
We spent three weeks evaluating the Web application, and then we had another meeting with the vendor to discuss our findings. This time, the sales director showed up, along with the original sales rep, the one who didn’t know about data migration.

At last, I thought, the vendor has sent someone who knows something about the software. Unfortunately, very soon into the meeting, it became painfully obvious that the sales director had never even used the software.

To his credit, the sales director didn’t try to bamboozle anyone in the room. When he didn’t know the answer to a question, he said, “I don’t know.” The problem was they couldn’t answer the most basic questions about how the client/server software behaved compared to the Web-based version.

In case you missed my point, let me say it again in boldface: The software company’s sales director couldn’t answer basic questions about the software he was trying to sell.

Let us count the number of things that were wrong with that picture:

  • ·        The sales representative had already lost credibility with my client because he had told us emphatically, “There is no migration path for the data.”
  • ·        The sales director didn’t know how the software worked. He was there hoping to close a sale and bring home a signed contract.
  • ·        My client had a dozen or so technical questions about the product that simply went unanswered.

I was embarrassed for the sales director. I found myself thinking about how much money the vendor was wasting by having this nontechnical person in such an important position. If the guy is such a great sales person, I wondered why didn’t he have the common sense to bring a technical person along with him.

Perhaps the vendor felt it would have cost too much to send a third person along on the trip. I wonder how they felt about having the sales director and a sales rep flying home empty-handed?

Questions you should always ask a sales rep

If you get invited to a meeting with a software vendor’s sales reps, be sure to ask these important questions.

Lessons to be learned
I will never understand why technology companies send nontechnical people out to sell their goods and services. Some of you will try to tell me, “Hey, everybody knows geeks can’t sell. Only sales types can close the deal.” But I don’t buy that argument.

I say if you’re going to send a warm body out to talk to a technologically savvy person about buying a hardware, software, or computer consulting solution, that warm body had better have knowledge of and a knack for technology. Nontechnical sales geeks will be ignored, mocked, and shown the door.

So, if you’re a techie who’s looking for a way to get out of the IT trenches and away from your pager, I encourage you to get into sales. It’ll be easier for you to master the fine art of selling than it is for sales types to learn how to compute.

Could you close the sale?

Do you agree that nontechnical sales people are hindering the success of technology companies? Please post a comment or write to Jeff.