IT Sales: An Inside Look at This Inviting Tech Role
The intersection of technology and business seems like the place to be. You may already know of many different ways to make a career for yourself in that crossover. After all, tech companies are businesses and few businesses in any industry can get by without technology. The two fields are interconnected, and that principle is particularly powerful in IT sales.
IT salespeople sell IT products or services to buyers. These buyers are often businesses needing various IT services and solutions. Whether it’s custom web development, software as a service (SaaS), cyber security, cloud technology or niche software tailored for a certain company, IT sales is all about connecting users with the information technology solutions they need.
In every sales career, you will need certain skills. Knowing your audience and understanding what you sell is always important, and great people skills will always be key. But there are quite a few ways IT sales can differ from sales in other industries. To get an inside look, we asked IT salespeople to share some of the ins and outs.
How is IT sales different from other types of sales?
Great salespeople tend to have skill with relationships and communication, as well as familiarity with the products they sell. In that way, there’s lots of common ground between sales roles in any industry. But IT sales really lives in a niche of its own. Here are some nuances IT salespeople shared about selling in their industry.
1. The product is seldom physical
Most IT services being sold are literally hard to grasp, according to Benjamin Talin, CEO and founder of MoreThanDigital. “It’s a little challenging to sell something the user can hardly experience.” Talin explains that if you want to buy a car, you just sit down and drive to test it out. You can get a feel for it, see it, smell the interior—and it interacts with your emotions in that way.
But IT is often very neutral as an “experience.” Talin points out that users usually get the explanation on a screen but understand its value most after using it for a while. “It usually also involves a long-term commitment. This makes it more challenging, and building good customer relationships is of utmost importance.”
2. You have to be more like a consultant
“I don't have a fixed product or standard service to sell,” says Pavel Moroz, head of sales at Greenice. Moroz explains that his work involves more consultation than sales in a way. “When a business owner asks for custom software to solve a particular challenge, I need to understand the challenge and the business itself first to be able to suggest the best solution.”
This creates its own challenges. Moroz says asking the right questions and prioritizing the right information requires a lot of background technical knowledge. “You do not need to be the programmer yourself, but you need to understand how programmers work and how the end-products like apps and websites work.”
3. It’s hard for people to picture what they are paying for
Since many people don’t understand the inner workings of IT, justifying the cost of your product or service can be a difficult hurdle. Prospects may balk at the price and not understand the difference in quality or outcome they will get with different vendors.
“When you are selling a product, you can provide a free trial to the prospect so they can decide whether they want to use it or not,” says Mariam Ayvazyan, business development assistant at VOLO. “But when it comes to services, it is hard to get a chance to prove that your services are worth the project pricing.”
4. Lead generation is even more important
“Quality lead generation makes my role different from the average sales role,” Ayvazyan says, explaining that she spends 90 percent of her time on research and lead generation activities versus only 10 percent on actual selling or closing.
Because understanding a potential buyer’s needs and meeting them can be complex with IT, the upfront research to find a solid lead tends to matter more than anything else. “If the lead is a quality one, the actual selling process will be much smoother and the percentage of closing the deal will be higher,” Ayvazyan says.
5. Sales cycles can be long
Since IT salespeople often deliver IT solutions of some kind, the sales cycles can be much longer than with other products.
“When the prospect approaches us with their need, they sometimes don't imagine the complexity and volume of their project scope and are surprised at the actual time and effort that the realization will require,” Ayvazyan says. She explains that lack of technical skill and know-how makes buyers hesitant to jump into further discussion—but that further discussion is crucial to figure out what they need and how that need could be met within their budget.
“The sales cycle could take months,” Ayvazyan says.
6. You have to estimate a lot
Many clients or potential buyers will come to IT salespeople with a problem they are hoping to solve. If the buyer doesn’t have a background in technology, it’s up to the IT salesperson to translate their needs into what is even technically possible and break that down into time and costs.
“No IT company knows how exactly they will fulfill a project,” says Kasparas Kucinskas, growth and project manager at Idea Link. He explains that any solution needs to happen in a certain timeframe, be aesthetically pleasing, convenient to use and fit the customer’s budget.
“We plan how much time specific parts of the project should take to solve. This, obviously, is less than ideal, as the salesperson has to pretty much guess how complex certain parts and problems of a future project will be.”
7. Staying up to date with rapid industry changes is a huge part of the job
“The most challenging thing about selling IT services is staying up to date with the industry,” says David Mattia, IT sales specialist at networkiq. He explains that IT is constantly evolving, and it’s up to IT salespeople to keep track of the latest innovations and keep their customers relevant in the market.
What kind of education and experience do you need for IT sales?
Sales roles aren’t always tied to college education—but is that the case for most IT sales roles? We used real-time job analysis software to analyze over 30,000 job postings in the last year seeking professionals in IT sales. 82% of these job postings sought candidates with a bachelor’s degree—not a surprise considering the highly technical nature of the products and services being sold.1
As far as experience goes, 29% of the job postings analyzed were entry level—looking for applicants with 0–2 years of experience. The largest share of IT sales positions we analyzed (48%) sought applicants with 3–5 years of experience.
Do IT salespeople need a background in technology?
As you might have noticed, many of the elements that make IT sales unique have to do with the very nature of information technology—intangible products and services oriented around solving problems customers might not know how to explain from a technical perspective.
“In my opinion, you must have a background in technology—you won’t survive in this job otherwise,” Mattia says. “As the business’s first point of contact, I need to have a thorough understanding of what we provide and how we can help customers.” Mattia says you could probably learn enough to sound convincing without much technology knowledge, but if you don’t understand and believe in what you are selling, you won’t thrive.
“In the IT sphere, it is mandatory to have at least some basic knowledge about the services and solutions your company provides,” Ayvazyan says. She explains that prospects are often not tech-savvy themselves and need IT salespeople who can teach them and translate some of the technical aspects into language they understand. While you can always include your technical team, Ayvazyan says that usually happens later in the process. You will need to be able to understand enough to build the connection and satisfy the prospective buyer.
How much industry knowledge you need as a minimum will definitely fluctuate depending on what kind of IT sales you get into—but our IT sales experts agree, the more technology in your background, the better.
Getting into IT sales
If this closer look at IT sales appeals to you, you might want to consider pursuing a program in technology. A tech foundation will make the perfect jumping-off point for a career in IT sales.
Some programs even offer a mix of IT and business curricula that a prospective IT salesperson could definitely benefit from. For example, the Rasmussen University Information Technology Management program blends information technology courses with business courses that can help students learn important sales, management and corporate concepts.
Check out the Information Technology Management program to see more of what you could learn in this kind of program.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 32,221 job postings, (Jan. 1, 2021 - Dec. 31, 2021)