Looking to move from selling IT services to product sales?
Having sold for IT services companies Nikhil got thinking about a next innings selling products and platforms.
Why not work for AWS, SFDC, Azure, Oracle, SAP, or GCP and sell their technology platform?
What are the odds?
Likes attract likes.
In the two job moves he had made, Nikhil found that IT services companies prefer to recruit sales professionals from other IT services companies. Like him, these hires understand what, how and who to sell to and are productive faster.
He found that it’s also true for product companies. They want to recruit salespersons who have prior experience selling licenses.
Is there an opportunity for an IT services sales professional to cross over?
Sold products/platforms as part of an overall services deal? Worked closely with the sales teams of a platform company during license + integration sales?
A case can be made of experience in the lifecycle and nuances of a product sale.
Also, for those who are proficient in the domain processes of an industry sector and how / which technologies can be used to improve outcomes?
An industry focused platform company like FIS, Manhattan Associates or SAP (for manufacturing or supply chain) might see a fit.
Having worked alongside the sales team of the platform vendor can also help get referrals with the hiring managers of that company.
So, you might actually get hired to sell a platform.
Good for you.
When assessing the move, here are four points to think through.
That’s all you sell.
Nikhil is working for his third IT services employer. With all of them, offerings ranged from infrastructure management, applications sustenance and modernization to data management. There were multiple avenues to make an initial sale with a prospect, and then sell other areas of work as well.
When he looks at product companies, he finds that they offer one or a few platforms.
Some companies like, SAP, Oracle, SFDC and AWS have a wider range, but still clustered around their core offering of enterprise ERP, CRM, or hosted cloud.
When selling for them, that is what is available to take to market.
Range of learning
In his current role, the sales pursuits can be different from one to the next. It can be a cloud migration deal, then application modernization, followed by one for data analytics.
Working on these deals, he has got exposed to and learnt about a range of technologies and platforms.
Projects are often custom crafted to the unique business needs of the buyer. It provided an additional learning opportunity in the business processes / technology landscape of his client and industry.
Nihil observes that most successful IT services salespersons like him demonstrate an above average knowledge of either a set of technology offerings or the business processes and tech stack of an industry sector.
Having sold for product companies through his career, Shawn’s experience is that most products and platforms have defined functionality. They do what they do and in the same way across clients. Having learnt it once, he was able to sell it many times over, with periodic refresh of knowledge for new feature releases.
Most platforms also tended to address one or few technology or business processes of a client. AWS helps migrate compute infrastructure, SFDC customer care, SAP (dominantly) manufacturing and supply chain. For Shawn, the opportunity to build depth in technology and industry processes lay around the focused areas addressed by the platform which he was selling.
Sell to many vs. few.
A typical deal value which Nikhil pursued was in six digits and up. Decision cycle times were multiple months, often quarters.
Consequently, he was dedicated to one of very few prospects and clients, focusing on making them large, selling the multiple services which his employers offered. It gave him time to invest with a prospect or client, learn its business/technology environment, and build deep relationships.
In a recent role, Shawn was tasked to sell into two Fortune 500 companies. The ticket values he was pitching for were large and for a year he was dedicated to these pursuits. He built good insight into the decision cycles and tech stack of these two companies and some durable relationships.
With most products moving into SaaS, Shawn observes that license sale values have shrunk and unless selling to a Fortune 500 company like he currently is, salespersons need to win business with many clients to meet their sales quota.
After the initial sale, customer success teams get engaged to provide oversight of adoption, client relationships, and often even mining for additional license sales.
Selling products into the sub Fortune 500, the engagement with a client may be short and last till the first sale. Seed, sell, sign, move on to the next prospect.
Lower base, high commissions
Compensation for sales professionals in IT services is typically a combination of a base and commissions, with commissions pegged at 30 -35% of overall compensation at an on-plan achievement. Stock options are less common.
In platform / product sales, the base compensation will typically run 25 - 30% lower than in IT services. Commissions on the other hand can match base at on plan achievement and much higher for those who beat plan.
Most IT product companies also still offer stock options or discounted stock to employees.
Shawn tends to laugh about this. He says that in an average year he is just about paying bills, but two solid years helped him put a down payment on his house and save a good chunk of money for his son’s college education.
For an IT services sales professional like Nikhil, selling products or platforms is a potential alternative career.
The odds are better for those who have already sold licenses or worked very closely with the sales arms of a platform partner when making a license + services sale.
The rhythm of work will change when making the switch.
Nikhil narrated an incident which I found it interesting so thought I’d share it.
It’s just an incident, no message or theme intended.
In 2019, Nikhil was working for a $ 800 million IT services company growing business with a large insurer. The engagement was in double digit millions across application support and modernization.
Having been in the role for a few years then, he led quarterly governance meetings which were attended by the VP of applications and often by the CIO. Most of the discussion would be around opportunities to use technology to improve business outcomes.
The client was a very large user of Microsoft tools.
Nikhil was in regular touch with the regional VP of Microsoft, and they would periodically meet.
On one such meeting the VP drove in with a new branded car. He had a great quarter, and this was his present to himself. Coincidently, Nikhil too had upgraded his car recently. The conversation started with cars, went on to business, and then the common client.
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