I'm hurt; :(
you obviously didn't read this week's Feature Story, which starts on our home page.
See "Broken rule #2" in that story. You might also take a look at "Broken rule #4."
[Note: Stories are free for the first week. If you're reading this post after July 8, 2003, you'll need to be a paid Site Member to access the July 1 story about Teamstudio in our Editorial Archives.]
On the other hand: Every sale, every situation is different, but I don't personally believe a technical background matters in sales. In fact, it's my opinion that if you need techies to explain and sell your product, you've got a much deeper problem.
The best software sales rep I ever hired -- and I've hired quite a few -- sold dog food to grocery stores immediately prior to his stint with us. One of my next-best sales reps worked her way up from shipping clerk to sales admin to field sales. Another great one sold heating oil.
In all cases, these people were selling enterprise-level, complex software; this was not consumer stuff.
I guess I do think that some general educational background matters -- I might hesitate about a high school dropout -- but I think it's the software company's job to build software that any good sales rep can sell. I don't believe it's the sales rep's job to become an engineer.
Now, before you all flame me, I do recognize that entreprise level software sales will require, at some level, technical expertise combined with what we generally refer to as "people skills" -- but that's what CTOs and CEOs are for, imho.
Categories: Sales and Distribution
My question is: For software sales people, what type of educational background is required for them to be successful.
We develop, market, and sell a software product that is used primarily by engineers at manufacturing companies. The people we talk to are the engineers themselves, their managers, and maybe a VP. Our products are generally technical point solutions, but we have a new product line that is geared towards the enterprise level.
Do sales people need to be engineers to sell engineering software to engineers? We currently have predominately a one-person sale. Is a two-person sale approach preferable where the main salesperson is not an engineer but who relies upon an engineer to demo the technical features of the product?
I'm hurt; :(
Well, the other thing here that's a BIG factor is price.
Teamstudio's average sale is $300 to $4,000, so they can't afford to do housecalls, nor can they afford super-tech reps who'd command a big base salary. (Teamstudio pays its reps very well, but more than half is earned through commissions.)
In my previous snarly post, I should have addressed this component. Most software companies grossly underestimate the cost of sales and they never get their product pitch to the point of Teamstudio's: a compelling and well-understood value proposition in 30 seconds.
In other words: If your software is highly technical, and you are selling directly to a highly technical audience, then yes, you may need to hire highly technical sales reps. But your average sale had better be well north of $25K to make it work (and some would say $150K).
PS: I was joking about you missing the article, I hope you know; in my biz, hides are rhino-like. :D
No educational prerequisite. We sold $20,000+ complex enterprise software products. My best sales rep. ever was a high school graduate whose previous software sales experience was in a retail PC store.
I run a sales and pre sales group for a fairly technical product as well. Sounds like you have actually two issues that you may want to think about. First, you have a technical product that will lead to to desire a person with a fairly technical background.
Second, you are starting to ramp your sales force.
Both objectives could lead you to a different skill set choice depending on what is more important to you. In the first insance, I'd always go for the guy with an enterprise sw background that has shown success digging things up from opportunity identification and can close and put less emphasis on the product domain. If you have good tech sales/presales, it should be fine to have a two pronged approach to the sales process.
Alternatively, if the buyer will almost in all instances be technical and domain/credibility are so important, you may want to hire an industry person that can "get there" from a sales perspective. However, he'll approach sales in a much different manner usually than the classic sales rep. Both have pros
I managed to miss this thread. I guess I'm better late than never.
I couldn't agree with you more. That pairing of a polished Sales Person and a Sales Engineer who knows the technology and can actually TALK to customers is one of the hardest to find.
I train Sales Engineers and what I've observed is that it's not the most technical or the most salesy SE that does best. It's someone in the middle who is confident but not arrogant, friendly but not fake, and who may not know it all, but knows when to say "I don't know, but I'll find out" -- then is conscientious enough to actually find the answer and get back to the prospect a soon as possible, even if it's just to say I'm working on it.
I've seen that you produce the best SEs when you take an Engineer with a nice personality who likes people and train them to Sell while they are Teaching.
Sorry I am late in replying and my answer will be short but I have pretty strong opinions o this one.
I would never hire a software sales rep that did not have a university degree.
That being said, I don't care what the degrees is in as long as it was completed. Arts/ Science/Business/pre grad or post grad it does not matter. There is no evidence that the type of education has any bearing on sales success. IE -Engineering grads don't make better sales reps than arts grads necessarily.
Instead of education specifics look for experience and skills that are related to the results you want. Do they need to cold call - hire someone with a proven record of cold calling. Do they need to develop high level relationships? Look for someone with a history of selling or interacting at an executive level.
Remember - selling is personal. Hire someone with exceptional interpersonal skills presence, and with the smarts not to learn about your product specifically but why people would want to buy your product.
I would never hire a software sales rep that did not have a university degree.Why? The other points you make don't seem to me to support that absolute requirement. I would be interested to hear your reasons.
The best sales rep I ever had (in terms of year-in, year-out making the numbers) had a high school education.
Thanks for the questions.
I have found in the past that my reps without a university education have less developed writing, creative thinking, and research skills. They also have less developed communication skills and poor executive presence. I feel that starting and completing a university or college degree shows that a person is willing and able to see a project through to completion. To me, the act of going through school itself also shows that a person is interested in advanced learning and self improvement and is more open to new ideas.
As you, I know successful business people and sales people who are not university educated. I find however that they are the exception, not the norm. There are exceptions to every rule; however I find that the probability of success is much higher with my reps that are university educated vs. the ones that are not.
There is a related (I think) thread on "behavioral interviewing" in the HR forum.
I can't argue with what you say. I guess an entrepreneur or senior manager has to decide which s/he is interested in interviewing for: evidence of specific job-success-related behaviors, or predictors of such behavior (such as a college degree). I would argue for the former, but hey, that's what makes these discussions interesting.
"Less developed communication skills and poor executive presence" certainly describes the individual I wrote about. His e-mails were an embarassment. He could barely write a letter. He tended to get into occasional shouting matches with my contracts administrator. He had a very strong personality. About 1 in 20 customers hated him and asked for a different rep (the sales VP would handle those people directly). But 19 in 20 customers loved him, and he somehow managed to sell millions of dollars worth of enterprise software to those 19.
Although having a decent education (which I define at a bare minimum a high school degree) is important, sometimes too much technical education can actually get in the way of making sales.
I don't think the dollar amount of the sale is so important compared to a person's listening and questioning skills and a willingness to learn or be trained.
As Charles mentioned before, he worked with a person who had only a high school diploma and yet that person was very successful.
Getting back to my main point. Technical people have a tendency to focus on technical features rather than listening and uncovering problems and challenges and then presenting the benefits and results of solutions.
You used the phrase "The people we talk to." I believe we don't "talk to" but rather "speak with" people. Sales focuses heavily around building relationships. Yes, you must know the nomenclature of the industry however when it comes to the fine points of the technology; most of my clients' team up a sales engineer with a sales rep since different skills are required for each.
As Dennis Miller would say "Its just my opinion, I could be wrong."
After Kevin's last post, it sounds to me like the issue is not necessarily one of education (college degree or not), but one of product training and sales integrity.
Product training first. A good sales person should know the product well enough to understand when an opportunity is staring them in their face. That one is the company's responsibility to make sure the sales reps have enough training to see all of the problems that the product solves.
As for sales integrity, if a prospect asks a "stump the sales person" kind of question (and they will), the sales person needs to have the integrity to acknowledge the fact that they do not know the answer to the question.
I coach my sales folks to re-state the question to the prospect (to make sure that the issue will be properly presented to the tech staff) and then go get the answer.
My folks are instructed to never act like they know something when they don't.
I once had a broadband sales kid try to sell me a T-2 internet service. Afterall, there is a T-1 and a T-3, it only makes sense (to the kid) that there might be a T-2. Guess what, that firm never got a dime from us. Clearly, the sales kid was not properly trained on their product line and he did not have the integrity to acknowledge that he didn't know much about what he was selling.
T2, that's funny. Years ago I once heard a young lady in an interview for an Admin position say she knew Lotus 1, 2 and 3.
I have a couple comments. I believe in getting the technical person involved early, probably not the first onsite but soon there after. An SE works the technical side of the account and can uncover information about competitors and real issues, desires and politics that the Salesperson just can't get to. I also believe the SE should be able to access a situation and require certain qualifications in an account before they get too involved. You know like, money, pain, motivation, ownership etc... If they are not there the SE should be able to just say NO.
As for Salespeople who can't write etc.... I was listening to a Y2K Marketing tape (I think that's the name) and they talk about franchising your sales system. Have form letters that can be tailored to an industry and customer and have Admin print an mail them.
Anyway, just some thoughts ... I too could be wrong.
I think Carl has made a very good point in terms of providing product training so that sales reps are, in fact, capable of recognizing an opportunity when they hear one. I also agree with the idea that if you don't know the answer to a question, be honest and admit it. Next explain that you will go and find the answer. There is nothing wrong with not knowing every single technical aspect about a product. That's one of the major reasons for having SEs. This is where Joe makes a great point about how to use SEs.
Alas I have digressed. First, I have not written any code since the one class I had in college many, many years ago. So I basically am a "non-technical" person. I learned about the software business by asking people in the computer room (they always seemed to have a lot of time on their hands) questions. Every time they used a term I did not know (for example: Sysplex, Shared DASD, CICS, TSO, MVS/SP/XA/ESA, IMS/DB, DB2, etc.) I would ask them what it meant and how it was used. Sales reps can learn a lot this way if they are willing to be patient and listen.
I have found being patient and listening can become a real challenge for those who are technically oriented. Their focus seems to shift immediately to the bells and whistles (the underlying technology) because that is where their comfort zone is. This quality is fine for a SE however it can and often does work against a sales rep.
I once trained a person who sold "integrated, large scale data mining, analysis and visualization, life sciences software, enabling researchers to quickly and efficiently extract, filter, calculate and cluster large volumes of valuable information from worldwide stores of genomic - bioinformatics data. The software through the integration, automated analysis and visualization of multiple independent predictions, gave researchers the ability to identify and validate relevant data, prioritize research projects and interpret results in the full context of all available sequence, structural and functional information."
Now it took some studying of their marketing materials to learn this language. After I learned the language that was spoken, using the product knowledge provided to me, I was able to craft qualifying questions and this was the result:
"I am now calling researchers with the intent of discovering what makes them excited and what challenges or obstacles they face, but I am not calling to sell them something. Prospects respect this consultative approach and frequently end up asking my advice or inquiring about our product line. It must be every salesperson's dream to have a prospect inquire about the product you represent. This scenario is counterintuitive to most telesales experiences and I thank you for the tools to utilize this method."
Emma Lang, Telesales Academic Account Manager
Molecular Application Group
So in the case above, being technically oriented was not as important as being able to use a consultative approach to selling. The secret is to be interested not interesting.
Just another two centsĀ?