Working in the sales function isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain skill set to find success as a sales manager, director, or CRO. This is especially true when it comes to technology sales. The IT industry is a highly competitive market with products and services at every price point. True sales leaders who can differentiate their companies are difficult to find. Despite this challenge, there are a number of clear traits to look for when recruiting sales leaders in technology.
Anyone working in technology sales knows what it’s like to fixate on that day’s missed opportunity or big win. However, the higher the level of sales leader, the more important long-term strategy becomes. For example, a CRO must look beyond a single day’s activity and plan how sales can best support the company’s overall goals in the next quarter, year, and decade. The highest performers are able to look ahead and strategize on how to sell their company’s products that aren’t even ready for the market yet. This forward-thinking ability requires knowing how to measure success while adapting a go-to-market strategy in order to increase revenue and reach important benchmarks.
Selling software as a service, a cloud solution, or another innovation is different from selling a consumer packaged good. Sales leaders in technology don’t need technical programming or development abilities, but they do need a base knowledge of how their product helps prospects in their niche. The ability to interpret the benefits of an offering and communicate clearly with both highly technical buyers and CEOs who have no IT experience is crucial in distinguishing a company from competitors and closing new business.
The best technology sales leaders understand that the individuals who make up their teams are their biggest asset. Successful sales managers, directors, and CROs have the ability to empower and coach those around them. Regular training, continuous learning, and professional development initiatives keep their salespeople growing, sharpening their skill sets. That leads to strong succession planning that impacts the entire organization. Notably, skilled leaders connect with departments outside of sales, whether it’s collaborating with the technical team or checking in with finance. This positions them to see beyond their function, granting them a 360-degree view that helps motivate and develop sales talent accordingly.
Sales in technology are not solely measured by the number of deals that are closed in a day or by the profit margin at the end of the month. Studies show that companies that optimized the customer journey were able to increase revenue by 10% annually. Sales leaders know that marketing and customer relationship management are the keys to going beyond just one transaction with a customer. Nurturing prospects before, during, and after a sale helps to create a relationship that can be fruitful into the future. Working closely with the marketing department and thinking in terms of storytelling/problem-solving go a long way.
Sales teams throughout the industry are increasingly reliant on data and analytics to better target and position their products and companies in the marketplace. There’s an inherent advantage for sales leaders in technical environments in that the organization may already be employing big data best practices. What are the buying habits of prospective customers? How are their experiences with the products? Data can answer questions like these. It’s why Cisco saw 48% growth of recurring subscriptions by using data to proactively address customer issues.
Industries, products, customers, and markets evolve. Sometimes change happens slowly, while sometimes, as is the case during the coronavirus pandemic, changes happen fast. The same sales strategy won’t work forever or in all situations; it must be tailored to the problem or customer in front of the sales team. As Forbes points out, sales leaders must be able to adapt when necessary. Specific traits that support this ability include practicing empathy, seeking feedback, and focusing on providing value. Truly flexible salespeople do what it takes to make the deal, whether that means providing post-sales product support or offering a unique payment arrangement.
The most effective leaders are those who are authentic. They value the input of others and seek out constructive feedback while staying true to themselves. Importantly, they strive to understand different viewpoints and invest their time and energy to make tangible decisions accordingly. That allows an authentic technology sales leader to recognize when a process or initiative doesn’t work and set aside their pride to make the changes that are best for the company. Finally, authentic leaders have strong moral and ethical backgrounds, are reflective, and promote honest relationships with peers, employees, and anyone else they interact with.
Without the sales department, technology products and services wouldn’t go very far. An increasing focus on the function in the last several years is why CROs have risen in prominence in the tech industry compared with other sectors. The next time you’re recruiting for the function, seek out the above traits that separate true sales leaders from salespeople.