The modern day enterprise software sales career
Years ago, enterprise sales jobs often started in one of three ways (with plenty of exceptions):
1) A college graduate with a business degree would join a large information technology company such as Computer Associates, IBM, Burroughs, or NCR. Many of these companies and Software sales jobs started in Massachusetts, with such companies as Prime Computer, Data General, Digital Equipment Corp, and ComputerVision. This fresh college grad’s first software sales job would include several MONTHS of training on basic information technology, sales skills, and the application/market they were assigned to. They were assigned a mentor and a territory, and eventually became Senior Sales Executives.
2) A college graduate would join a large information technology company as a Sales Engineer, Engineer, or in a Professional Services capacity. They would eventually grow bored with too much technology immersion and want the compensation, glory, challenge, business exposure, or increased social interaction associated with Sales.
3) A college graduate, often with a liberal arts degree, is clueless about their career, but has a good personality and desire to make money. He or she joins a non-enterprise technology company, perhaps copiers, XYZ supplies, etc., and prove they are capable of being effective in Sales. They then join a company that is less pure technology centric, such as a payroll service, information services, computer supplies, value added reseller, IT staffing, etc., and continue to prove themselves. Eventually they are close enough to the heart of the Enterprise Information technology ecosystem and get referred into an HP, CA, SAP, IBM, etc.
The world has changed
There a now fewer large enterprise information technology companies. Market consolidation has reduced the market to BMC, Microsoft, HP, CA, SAP, Oracle, and IBM. These companies’ growth strategy is often focused on acquiring smaller companies and integrating their technology, customers, and sales forces. Organic growth is much less emphasized as a strategy, and there is a reduced commitment to hiring and training college graduates.
You now have small and medium sized enterprise information technology companies who become the feeding ground for the larger companies; but the opposite is also true, where senior sales executives grow tired of the bureaucracy associated with super large companies and appreciate the visibility, impact, and speed of a smaller company.
An enterprise technology company’s reduced commitment to formal sales training has help grow the third party sales consulting industry. Third party Sales Consultants are often engaged by the technology to help customize and formalize a sales process, and train the salesforce on popular selling methodologies such as Solution Selling, SPIN Selling, Value based selling, Sandler, etc..
Software sales careers now often start with a college graduate who may have any type of degree (not just business or engineering), knows somebody at a large or small enterprise information company, and gets referred into this company.
The hiring manager may have good luck with a network of friends or college, and the candidate has shown ambition throughout college, has decent grades and strong communication skills, and will work tirelessly in order to ring the bell because they made an appointment!
The candidate often begins his or career as a “BDR” (Business Development Representative), where their mission is to qualify inbound leads from a web based lead generation system and pass them off to an Inside sales person. The inside sales person is responsible for further qualifying the lead and taking ownership of the whole sales cycle, including closing the deal. A BDR is promoted to an inside sales role, and their enterprise software career is under way.
Another more modern day development is an enterprise’s tolerance (and often preference) to evaluate and buy software in a virtual manner. The internet enables them to conduct considerable research in advance of being contacted by a sales person. The prospect is therefore much more informed, and face-to-face time is not required. The enterprise does not want to waste their time or incur the perceived pressure of a face-to-face visit. Enterprise technology companies are happy to oblige with a remote/virtual sale because it reduces the cost of a sale and often helps reduce the time of a sales cycle. This trend is enabled by remote video conferencing, web demonstrations, etc.
The result is a modern phenomenon of career inside sales people, who never become field sales people. The field sales position was previously a natural stepping stone for inside sales people.
Enterprise Field or outside sales positions are now more associated with deals that exceed $150,000 or include newer technologies that represent too great of a learning curve to sell in a remote fashion. Exceptions include more mature and popular technologies, where an enterprise technology company can afford to have one or more software sales people in the field for each city, because every city has so many enterprises that need this common technology. Data storage, enterprise security, and Managed Services are examples, particularly with Value Added Resellers.
Sales Engineers and Professional Services personnel still often migrate to Sales position, but may first sell or manage existing clients in a “farming” capacity before becoming “hunters”.
A qualified sales recruiter can help candidates and clients (hiring employers) navigate this changing landscape by identifying the various stages of a candidate’s growth and interests, and match them to an employer’s strategy for sales execution. A Sales recruiter may often make suggestions to help employer widen or alter their criteria to find the largest and most qualified pool of talent – depending on their targeted geographies, price point, or technology maturity. Candidates can also benefit from increased exposure to roles that satisfy their unique preference, an example is a need to sell twenty $50k deals over the phone versus two $1m deals over 30 face-to-face visits.