The most important IT skill you will gain this year is sales

Two weeks ago I posted on LinkedIn that I got my Hubspot inbound sales certification. That post is the second highest read post in my LinkedIn feed with almost 1200 views. I decided to do some research on why.

According to Inc magazine, a group of 20 CEO were asked the most important skill to succeed in business and they all responded sales. This was not just for their business people but for everyone in their organization. They would agree that learning to sell is very important for an IT professional.

So why is that? Here are 4 reasons I believe sales is important in an IT role:

  1. Getting justification to do work
  2. Advancing your career
  3. Improving your ability to drive change management
  4. Improving your ability to negotiate scope

Getting justification to do work

Imagine, we have just been at a conference, meetup, user group meeting or back yard BBQ. While we were there we heard about the hottest thing since Al Gore invented the internet. Now we have to figure out how we are going to convince someone at our company that this fits at our company. 90% of IT people jump right into demo mode. We go to the technologies website and we show someone a demo of how great this stuff is. That is nearly the worst thing we can possibly do. Someone who knows sales knows that the first we we need to do is to convince our customer why they absolutely need this item.

To do that we need to start with laying out a business problem with a good amount of detail associated with it. Imagine laying out this scenario to your boss. We print 40 checks a day and it takes our accounts payable person 4 hours a day to print those checks. Since we are planning to increase our production this year by adding in a second shift that could mean that we will need to double the throughput of our procure to pay process. Unless we plan on hiring another person we really need to look at ways beef up our current process. It just so happens at last months user group meeting,  the newest procure to pay process in XYZ application claims that it can reduce that process by 50%. I was thinking if we could pilot that process with Sally in accounts payable we may actually be able to have her can support both shifts with no additional work. Would you like to see more details on what it would take to do that? Could I set aside some time to show you and Sally a demo?

That scenario of doing some homework, laying out a business problem and offering a solution to that problem is something that sales people do everyday. An IT person who can do that will find that their value with their company will increase greatly.

Advancing your career

The most important product we all sell is ourselves. We do this in every interaction we have everyday. We do it in 1 on 1 meetings with our boss. We do it in annual reviews. We do it interviews. We do it at neighborhood functions and social gatherings.

The first thing you need to have are 2 pitches for the most important questions you will be asked. They are where do you work and what do you do. Most people answer with a company name and job title. I work at Acme Industrial and I am a Portfolio Manager. While these answers are true they are the worst answer you can give. Most people will say great and move the conversation on to something else. Try this instead, I work at Acme Industrial a company that makes buildings more comfortable, safe and sustainable for their owners and occupants. I am a Portfolio Manager there and I help the executives decide which of the 50M in projects that the business requests, are going to be done with the 30M that the business can afford to spend. Those 2 statements alone will help drive your career further that nearly anything else you do.

While those are great however they are not something you can use for your boss. In those cases you need to become very versed in the business value you are driving day to day, month to month and quarter to quarter. Let’s take one simple case. In an annual review you want to report that you completed the PMO integration project on time and under budget. In the verbiage you go through the time it was supposed to be completed and the 50K in the 500K budget that you saved on the 6 month project. That is great and will probability get you an above expectations rating on your review. What if you reported in the details however that you trained 300 project managers and business partners in 3 weeks using a combination of travel and webinars. The original estimate was to train 150 total. We trained the extra people and reduced the budget by 15K using a new webinar tool and received a 4.5 survey rating out 5 on the exit surveys we gave the people who took the training. Imagine listing 4 or 5 of those detailed business value items in your annual review. The same work that earned an above average rating just became one that earned an exceeds expectations rating.

Again if we are not selling ourselves no one else will.

Improving your ability to drive change management

As IT professionals we are often times at the forefront of the largest changes in our organizations. Those changes often have very large impacts on the way people work. It is important to be able to sell those changes not just roll them out. For instance take a CRM roll-out. The project plan for every CRM roll-out will have training built into it. However that is exactly like starting with a demo during justification. Training is the one of the last things that happens after selling the change through organizational change management.

Why does an IT professional have to sell something that has already been agreed to be implemented and rolled out? In most cases those decisions are made for people and many of them may not even know of those decisions. One key principle in sales is to build buyer personas. Those personas help you to determine what sales model and sales actions you will take with your buyer. Similarly in organizational change you should build out stakeholder personas. Those personas should be used to determine what communication and training should be done. Let’s take 2 examples, the first persona we will call the “Change Hero.” The Change Hero is the person who historically takes in all change and tries to use it to their advantage. This person is the one who has a ton of questions, interacts in a positive manor and is easily converted into an subject matter expert. The second persona is “Eeyore”. Eeyore is a the person who has had every system and piece of technology equipment break as soon as they start using it. They don’t get angry about it but they just say “Oh bother” and trodge along doing it the old way until someone fixes it for them.

Now imagine if we try to do the exact same things for our Change Hero and Eeyore. If we create a plan centered around the high energy Change Hero it will drive Eeyore away. Likewise if we create a plan around Eeyore the Change Hero will drink all the coffee we have just to stay awake in our change meetings. The most common approach is to build something in the middle. Sales people will tell you that is a recipe for selling nothing. Find your personas and build out plans for at least the big 3 that will cover 80% of your stakeholders.

Having targeted change plans built around personas will make you a change champion.

Improving your ability to negotiate scope

Too often as IT people our standard answer to scope changes is no. Great sales people understand that no is never the answer. Consider this question for a sales person at a store. “Hello can you make this mixer fly?” The sales person who says no develops no relationship with the customer. The sales person who says, “Well maybe we could replace the beaters with a prop, add some wheels to the base, weld some wings to the body and get a lithium battery pack for power, but wouldn’t it be better to just go to the RC store down the street?” That sales person gets a laugh from the customer and builds a relationship that lasts.

IT professionals need to use the same techniques when negotiating scope. No is never the correct answer. There are only 2 answers. The first is when you understand the implications immediately you answer yes and these are the implications. The other answer is I am not sure I need 1 day or 1 week or whatever the time frame is to get you an answer. Those answers will get you a life long customer. No gets you someone who wants to outsource IT next year.

Conclusion

Selling is difficult not everyone enjoys doing it. However just like exercise, starting with a little and building your way up is a necessary skill that can be developed.

Want to sign up for a mentoring session with me go here: Booking Time with Greg

Looking for the linked in group: SE WI Small Business IT Professionals

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