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Upskill to keep pace with technical and sales changes

Upskill to keep pace with technical and sales changes

“For sales staff, the biggest weakness is not taking a consultative approach to selling. A level of technical sophistication is required to be competitive, but more important is understanding how technology impacts clients. We add subject matter expertise to support sales as we drive into detailed solutions. Most sales people in the market are too focused on technical selling. The focus should be on the ability to understand a client’s problems and strategic initiatives. This enables staff to translate how our capabilities can make initiatives a reality.”

Hodgson believes there is still a skills shortage in New Zealand, but it is relatively focused. “There is definitely a shortage on the sales side, specifically those who can take a consultative selling approach,” he says. “This particularly applies in the value-added reseller and services environment where the technology itself may not be the differentiator. In the post-financial crisis marketplace, we must be able to translate solutions into client business initiatives and client value – in most cases, providing hard cost savings and additional business benefits that CTOs and CIOs can report on.”

Rapid changes in IT are also providing new requirements for technical and sales staff. “In future, it will be individuals that command an understanding of multiple disciplines who will be most in demand,” says Hodgson. “For example, a person who understands datacentre operations, enterprise security, network architecture and application convergence will be in high demand for cloud computing. Similarly, individuals with strong application skills across multiple platforms, and a real creative flair, will be in high demand for creating the next generation of solutions.”

PeopleCentral is a national recruiting and training organisation, with a number of IT industry clients. “Training can help to prevent technical staff from trying to sell features of a product rather than benefits to the buyer,” says director Steve Evans. “If the buyer doesn’t see a return on investment for the product or service, the sale will fall over. Sales staff need to learn to adopt a systematic approach to the way they prospect for new business, and make consistent sales presentations that uncover needs and make the return on investment clear. Good sales professionals can obtain better results when backed up by technical expertise, either their own or from the back-office team.”

For technical staff, Evans recommends selecting candidates for product knowledge and expertise, plus the personality traits associated with success in sales environments. “These people are likely to respond well to sales training and consequently perform,” he says. “At the moment, a skill shortage is not evident, with sales people still losing jobs; but there is always a struggle to attract and retain talented sales teams.”

Upcoming sales opportunities are likely to appear in the social networking areas. “Although these sites are growing exponentially, few people who have signed up to social networking sites such as Linkedin have really grasped how to exploit them for business purposes,” he says. “Emerging professionals who can address this issue would, I suspect, be in very high demand in the next 12 months.“

The key technical and sales skill requiring special focus is the ability to translate technical product information into messages that can be understood by the customer and are relevant to their business needs.

“Translation means asking the right sort of questions to understand the customer’s problem and communicating the technical solution in a way that the customer will have confidence in that solution,” says Martin. “Sales people also need to understand enough about the futures and functions of a product, as well as limitations, to provide an appropriate solution and avoid overselling. Availability of staff capable of handling this translation will always be a challenge in New Zealand, leading to an ongoing skills shortage. This is likely to increase as the economy picks up and projects on hold start to get executed.”

Recent evolutions in the IT environment have increased the level of complexity, making it imperative that reseller staff keep up with a wide range of issues that arise from developments such as cloud computing and virtualisation. “As the environment continues to become more complex, technical people need to be more abreast of the issues and keep skills updated through physical or virtual training channels,” Martin says.

Cisco maintains a strong training programme with a wide variety of technical specialties. Recent broadening of the company’s infrastructure portfolio is likely to add to the need to develop reseller technical skills. “Sales staff need to develop the ability to have a business level conversation, not a product conversation,” says Cisco regional manager Jen Rutherford. “This means understanding the technical differentiators in terms of their business impact. Technical specialists need the ability to have a business-relevant conversation. They also require specialist knowledge; credibility in front of the customer; collaboration skills to work with virtual teams; and the ability to perform under pressure.”

Cisco supports its partner technical staff through a wide range of programmes, including e-learning based around virtual classes, event replays and video content using web technologies for remote delivery. Content ranges from brief one hour weekly web updates to small group discussions around a particular technology and instructor-led training for a deep dive into technologies.

While most areas are now well served, Rutherford sees a local shortage of high-end sales people who really understand business objectives, and some weaknesses in technical architecture skills. Reseller teams need to acquire depth of specialist knowledge in areas in which they choose to focus,” she says. “It is no longer possible to be all things to all people. The depth of knowledge required in each space growing. We focus upon building architecture teams that are able to provide a long-term roadmap for a client.”

Among the technical areas most likely to be in demand over the coming year are skills in virtualisation, architectural implementation and design; ability to scope requirements clearly; and articulation of competitive differentiators and their business impact as opposed to focusing upon features.

“Technical staff need to develop the ability to take a technical idea and link it to a business outcome,” says Rutherford. “They need to understand both the technical and business side so they can provide strong technical arguments that feed into business results. “

Unisys, as a service provider, needs to consider training across its internal organisation as well as for clients. “Good training helps keep staff up to date and informed about the latest technology innovations,” says managing director Brett Hodgson. “However, the biggest challenge for technical staff is to look beyond the widgets and understand how technology impacts the client’s business and customers. Ongoing training encourages technical staff to constantly look at technology innovation from the client’s perspective.

“For sales staff, the biggest weakness is not taking a consultative approach to selling. A level of technical sophistication is required to be competitive, but more important is understanding how technology impacts clients. We add subject matter expertise to support sales as we drive into detailed solutions. Most sales people in the market are too focused on technical selling. The focus should be on the ability to understand a client’s problems and strategic initiatives. This enables staff to translate how our capabilities can make initiatives a reality.”

Hodgson believes there is still a skills shortage in New Zealand, but it is relatively focused. “There is definitely a shortage on the sales side, specifically those who can take a consultative selling approach,” he says. “This particularly applies in the value-added reseller and services environment where the technology itself may not be the differentiator. In the post-financial crisis marketplace, we must be able to translate solutions into client business initiatives and client value – in most cases, providing hard cost savings and additional business benefits that CTOs and CIOs can report on.”

Rapid changes in IT are also providing new requirements for technical and sales staff. “In future, it will be individuals that command an understanding of multiple disciplines who will be most in demand,” says Hodgson. “For example, a person who understands datacentre operations, enterprise security, network architecture and application convergence will be in high demand for cloud computing. Similarly, individuals with strong application skills across multiple platforms, and a real creative flair, will be in high demand for creating the next generation of solutions.”

PeopleCentral is a national recruiting and training organisation, with a number of IT industry clients. “Training can help to prevent technical staff from trying to sell features of a product rather than benefits to the buyer,” says director Steve Evans. “If the buyer doesn’t see a return on investment for the product or service, the sale will fall over. Sales staff need to learn to adopt a systematic approach to the way they prospect for new business, and make consistent sales presentations that uncover needs and make the return on investment clear. Good sales professionals can obtain better results when backed up by technical expertise, either their own or from the back-office team.”

For technical staff, Evans recommends selecting candidates for product knowledge and expertise, plus the personality traits associated with success in sales environments. “These people are likely to respond well to sales training and consequently perform,” he says. “At the moment, a skill shortage is not evident, with sales people still losing jobs; but there is always a struggle to attract and retain talented sales teams.”

Upcoming sales opportunities are likely to appear in the social networking areas. “Although these sites are growing exponentially, few people who have signed up to social networking sites such as Linkedin have really grasped how to exploit them for business purposes,” he says. “Emerging professionals who can address this issue would, I suspect, be in very high demand in the next 12 months.“


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