There is a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Matthew McConaughey's character Mark Hanna tells Jordan Belfort that he doesn't care how technology works, only about making money, right before he slots home a deal for 2,000 shares in Microsoft stock.
Just as the financial industry has evolved since the days of Belfort and his cohorts, so too has an IT sales industry once predicated on a stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap mentality that saw reps flogging hardware down the phone to anyone they could.
The development of new technologies, the arrival of the internet and social media and the changing nature of the customer has driven a need for new sales tactics for resellers, distributors and vendors alike. This change means the environment of today's sales floors is radically different to what it was in the channel's early years, and increasingly the salespeople who are successful now are the ones who have embraced this change and have evolved to reflect the nuances of today's channel.
The hunter model
One person who has witnessed this shift in the channel's sales culture is Tiffani Bova (pictured below), vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, who describes herself as a recovering saleswoman.
Bova said that when she began her career selling for various MSPs and resellers, the sales landscape was much more simplistic and reliant on the skills of the individual sales rep.
"I used to be in a market where the sales rep was in control of the selling process. I call 100 people, 10 pick up the phone, I set up two meetings and I show up. They may not know much about me or the brand, but I'm going to educate them, get them interested in what I'm selling and hopefully sell to them," she said.
Spool forward to the present day, and the seller is now coming in at a point where the buyer has already completed a portion of the sales journey, having armed themselves with much more information on which product they want to buy and from whom, Bova said.
"We as individuals are all buyers today in our personal lives, so why would we think in our professional lives we would buy any differently?"
Bova gave the example of buying a book which has been recommended to you. It has been suggested by a trusted friend so you do not have to go to a bookstore and look through hundreds of books to decide which one to buy; you go knowing what you want. This means the buying cycle is shorter and all you are really doing is looking for the best price.
"Thinking about technology is very similar. The buyers are going to go to their trusted networks; they are going to ask questions and come up with should I buy HP, Lenovo or Dell? Three of my friends use HP and they say the support is really good so I have narrowed down my list to just, say, HP and Dell, and now I'm going to look for the best price."
Bova said that because of this change in buyers' behaviour, a different set of skills is required from the sellers themselves, which she contrasted with the "hunter's mentality" of years gone by.
"If you think about the hunter skill of going out and finding business and closing it, and bringing down big deals, and that very hunter mentality of going out with a spear and finding your dinner, it's very different to today, where that hunter attitude of the seller is still important but just isn't the prevalent selling model.
"What we're starting to see now is that the skill of the seller has to be much more based on: ‘I need to listen, I need to understand vertical industries and I need to be very responsive to what a customer is asking of me'," she said.
Bova added that today the key to being a successful seller is much more about being able to reach out to customers via social media, being able to blog about an industry to show off your expertise and become a recognised name by customers in that field through these tools - a far cry from Hanna's lack of interest in technology in The Wolf of Wall Street.
She said it is now much more about being able to guide the buyer through your intended sales path, rather than simply controlling it through traditional selling methods.
The good old days
Today's world of social media-driven sales represents a huge contrast to the sales floors of years past, as Ian Parslow, senior vice president of sales at MTI recalls.
"In the channel in the late 80s and early 90s, chairs were for closers, cold-calling was spent standing up. You didn't get to sit down until you had made an appointment or a commodity sale"
"I can distinctively remember working for an organisation back in the day, where we had a bell on the office wall and if you closed a £1m deal then the ship's bell was rung. I can remember the bravado and the teamsmanship about getting to ring it and all the recognition that came with it.
"In the channel in the late 80s and early 90s, chairs were for closers, cold-calling was spent standing up. You didn't get to sit down until you had made an appointment or a commodity sale. It was a great environment and the buzz at the time was infectious," he said.
"A lot of us came up the ranks through cold-calling and distribution and small resellers, and a lot of guys were making a lot of money in the early 90s, as you might imagine. Whereas now we have a very different model with massively complicated solutions running mission-critical applications, and those environments of the early 90s wouldn't play so well in today's market, let's put it that way," he said.
Chris Reynolds, partner manager at IT infrastructure provider Pulsant, said a key turning point in the evolution of channel sales came with the credit crunch in 2008.
"There was a lot more socialising pre-2008 because it was all about growth, growth, and more growth. Customers were buying a lot more and in a boom market people tend to make hay while the sun is shining," he said.
"There were a lot more things to celebrate and there was more cash around and a lot more incentives from vendors who would take people skiing or on trips to New York. If someone were to write a journal about it, they would have a lot more to say pre-2008."
"There is a tremendous amount of investment that channel companies are going to have to make in retraining existing sales forces and maybe they need to start hiring different people"
Reynolds said he felt that following the credit crunch, much of the older generation of channel salespeople lost their jobs or moved on, and following this, a new, younger generation has emerged which approaches sales in a different way,
utilising social media and adding a new vibrancy.
Hunting as a pack
Bova believes that the sales model in the channel will continue to evolve rapidly, and in order to cope with this change, sales managers need to rethink their strategies.
"The challenge for partners today is they have sales forces that are so wedded to their old ways of selling that they are not willing to make the investment in transitioning their own behaviour. ‘I've always called 100 people and 10 call me back and I've done two meetings for 25 years, and now you're telling me I need to tweet! What?'"
"There is a tremendous amount of investment that channel companies are going to have to make in retraining existing sales forces and maybe they need to start hiring different people," she said.
One of the biggest changes to the sales environment now and in the future will be a more team-based approach to making deals, as customers already come with an idea of what they want and are therefore more interested in speaking with the technical sales team than the sales rep.
"That individual hunter falls away to more team selling. Think about wolves where they all come together to hunt: it's a team sport."
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