At the beginning of the year, I took on a research project to dig into what the future of IT sales would look like. As an ex-sales executive myself, I thought I began this journey with a fairly good understanding of what the answer to that question was…..well that was until I began to immerse myself in the topic and consume as much information as I could. I spent time interviewing CEOs, sales and marketing leaders at some of the largest IT companies in the world, connecting with other Gartner analysts to understand our end user research and talking with channel partners around the globe. I found myself uncovering all kinds of thought provoking insights which I had not anticipated – the bonus for me was I rediscovered my love for the art of ‘selling’, and all the complexities this market brings us each day and am extremely inspired to keep the conversations going.
One of my big ‘aha moments’ was discovering that the greatest innovation challenge for providers today may be in finding the means to reinvent the sales organization and go-to-market model to meet new market demands, while at the same time they continue to protect and defend existing customers and deliver net new revenue not necessarily what their next big product launch was going to be. I have coined this the “Sellers Dilemma.”
During my many airplane reading marathons, I also found it quite surprising that much of what has been written and discussed in many leading business books on how to ‘grow and innovate’ in today’s market left out one key piece to the puzzle and that was – no matter how great the products are, (sorry to say) they just don’t (always) sell themselves — sales is still a very important piece to any companies growth strategies (or at least it should be). (Fun fact….I actually took a marker and highlighted each time the word ‘sales’ was used and was amazed at how little such a critical piece of any business was actually discussed in detail.)
There is no question we live and work in a time where technology has seen unprecedented advancements. However, during this same time the sales models used by providers to ‘sell’ their products to customers haven’t changed much. They have relied on similar segmentation and go to market models without much consideration for changes in buyers and consumption models. This disconnect to new market demands is beginning to show itself in some providers actually missing quarterly numbers – which now has sales leaders wondering — what can I do to win in today’s environment?
Executives who find themselves facing the Sellers Dilemma are faced with many challenges however one of the biggest impediments to innovation in the traditional technology providers’ sales model is lack of flexibility to reinvent themselves without placing quarterly revenue at risk. Years of relentless focus on getting feet on the street in pursuit of an ever-larger installed base has effectively trapped providers in a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Today’s sales targets (quotas) hold hostage a sales executive who realizes change is required but can’t risk disrupting the current business and revenue. Any change in sales programs or coverage has a direct impact on performance expectations and a ripple effect on the entire selling force (including direct and indirect), which is why many just leave what is currently in place, even if it is just good enough.
The imperative to manage to predictable earnings performance (and satisfy Wall Street for publicly traded companies) doesn’t just constrain innovation — it can actually prompt sales executives to dig the hole deeper by going back to what they have done (and what investors have rewarded) in the past. They continue to add more sales resources, implementing more competitive pricing, and increasing marketing and demand generation instead of taking the time to question the actual effectiveness of the existing sales model and making adjustments where needed .
The bottom line is the future of technology sales is about examining (and fulfilling) the promise of recent innovation in go-to-market approaches, in the context of economics, continued growth and customers’ preferences and go to market and sales models can become a much greater competitive advantage than the actual products themselves — if done right.
Find out more about what Gartner is saying about the Future of IT Sales in podcasts, webinars and videos here.