Tomas was referred to this project by Josef Dvorak, for his analytic approach to sales and building sales teams. Tomas certainly didn’t disappoint – his thoughtful responses show wisdom around the process and delivery of long-cycle sales.
When I used to work at Gartner, we would often say “the pace of change will never be this slow again.” Tomas’ reflections on technology in this interview are both a warning and an opportunity for any aspiring technology salesperson.
Jamie: Tomas, to begin with, what have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Tomas: I love to see the outcomes and the results in the real-world after the sales process is done. I love to be a part of a company, a product, or a solution that enables something, that delivers some positive outcomes and where I can see the results afterward, and therefore, I’m proud to be a part of it.
Jamie: Is that true of your current role as well?
Tomas: Yeah, it is. All the solutions we deliver to our clients help them, make their lives easier, and make their workday more convenient.
Jamie: What is the best thing about being in sales?
Tomas: Collecting gold for yourself is one of them, right? It is an important part. To have an opportunity to create your own bonus or create the portion you are getting paid at the end of the year is huge. But what I love the most is the contact with people; not sitting and staring into a laptop or TV or screen, 8-to-10 hours a day, but being outside, meeting different people, listening to their stories, trying to understand them, and trying to create something out of it.
One more thing that came to my mind is the lack of a stereotypical day.
Every day brings something new and even though you plan. My day starts with some sort of a scheduled agenda in preparing what’s ahead of me for today – the schedule is rarely kept in reality.
Something happens, and you need to adapt. The agenda is re-evaluated, for either something positive or negative. It doesn’t matter, but the lack of routine is something I like.
Jamie: Why did you originally go into sales?
Tomas: The true answer would be that during my university studies, I found out that I was good at talking to people. They believed what I say, they often bought from me, and I felt good about that. It all happened accidentally, as I studied at an IT University and was meant to be an IT guy, staring at a screen all day. During my studies, I realized that talking to people was much better.
Jamie: Do you believe there’s a specific personality type that is best suited for sales?
Tomas: I would say that it’s easier to become a salesman when you are an extrovert, but from what I have seen and what I have read; on many occasions, introverts are often much more efficient and successful in delivering results, so I cannot say that you have to be an extrovert to be a good salesman. I think it’s helpful if you like to talk to people and if you like to meet people, definitely. But being an extrovert does not guarantee that you’re going to be a good salesperson.
Jamie: In technology, do you feel salespeople are firstly treated and well-compensated when you compare them to their peers who aren’t in sales?
It’s a funny thing actually, thanks to Josef Dvorak, we run an education program internally, and one thing we learned from the program is that salespeople are generally perceived negatively in our industry. The thoughts and feelings usually aren’t positive when you say “salesperson.” Many people, like my colleagues or consultants, when I ask them to help us with sales, they expect something deviant or something that is outside of their comfort zone.
Jamie: What are the skills you believe that people should exhibit naturally to want to go into sales?
Tomas: I see the two must-haves: one is to have at least a basic knowledge about the field where your company operates. Secondly, to know what you are selling, and you need to understand the problem you’re solving, by using the skill of active listening. This means understanding the customer’s needs and having the ability to see a problem through the customer’s eyes. Having these skills enables me to start to create a vision and hypothesis of future solutions.
Jamie: Do you see any potential advantages of age or appearance in your field?
Tomas: Yes. Naturally, in the IT world, almost all the staff are men. Hiring or buying from a woman is definitely a positive.
Jamie: What are the skills required to really succeed in IT sales other than active listening and knowing the product?
Tomas: Again, I don’t think it’s about IT sales specifically, but generally in sales, the more I call, the more people I meet, the higher is the percentage probability that I will create offers, and I will receive purchase orders. From my perspective, I believe that it is a game of numbers. What you need is discipline and commitment. It’s not only about the talent, but also about a network. When I’m a good listener, and I know the basic facts about the field I want to sell, I need to commit myself, and I need to create some sort of everyday discipline to perform the sort of activities to ensure that the percentage of potential success increases.
Jamie: What are the biggest challenges you faced in winning business in technology sales?
Tomas: Continuous development, innovations, and really accelerating the tempo of new stuff being developed in the market. From my experience, it seems that some people; usually people 25 years old or older, face challenges when it comes to keeping up with the increasing tempo of new developments in the industry. Therefore, they experience problems when it comes to studying new things, learning, and adapting to a fast-growing field. I see that happening and I experience it as well.
Jamie: Is there a risk with any technology company that the technology you’re selling becomes either gradually or quite suddenly obsolete?
Tomas: Yeah, it could happen.
Jamie: In terms of a salesperson choosing a technology company to work with; would you be very careful in selecting the company and the technology that you sell to?
Tomas: If I were choosing the next company to work for, I would like to see the long-term strategy with the product. What they are planning to do and where is their place in the modern world? Because without this, your solution can become obsolete quickly.
Jamie: How you would go about looking into and evaluating the competition in that particular space?
If we’re talking about the strategy, the competition is a part of it. I really want to know and would like to understand what their positioning is? What is the story behind the solution or behind the company? If the competition is stronger, why do the founders believe they can succeed? What is the originality or the specification that should it guarantee that, even though the competition is strong, they can succeed? If they aren’t able to persuade me, I’d be very doubtful about the project.
Jamie: How do you go about dealing with organizational complexity in the businesses that you’re selling to?
Tomas: Most of the time, in my current position, I’m selling to the biggest enterprises in our region, and it’s killing me. It’s really energy-draining when you have delivered a good presentation, you found all the needs, you see the buy-in on the other side, and their future user is enthusiastic about it, but afterwards, you know what lies ahead of you is three to four months of procurement and decision making. There’ll be investment committees, continual workshops, and more presentations to show other people why it’s amazing; it happens all the time. I don’t like these delays, but I’ve gotten used to them.
I have to say, I feel envious when I hear success stories from the US. Every year, there are new success stories, where they are trying to demonstrate that it was just one presentation during a conference, then a second presentation, and three days later, a purchase order. That never happens here. We are always pushed to speed up the sales process via the US. I’m always trying to demonstrate to them that that’s not possible in our region. I really envy that in the US, cloud-based modern companies are much faster in the decision-making process.
Jamie: Would you recommend IT sales to any salesperson?
Tomas: Yeah. From my experience, salespeople are compensated higher than the rest of the company. I have never met a sales guy who would tell me that he’s satisfied, but I think the compensation in our region is really good. In our company, we use a 50/50 model. 50% is a fixed salary, and 50% is a bonus scheme where the sales guy has to deliver something to earn the other part.
Jamie: How do you feel about the balance of sales and marketing in your organization?
Tomas: We just created the marketing team. I’m the first and only member. It is really important to set the expectations and the roles of the marketing and sales team and the relationship between them. I think it is different for companies that are based on product selling. If you can imagine a software company with one type of software and you have to roll it out all around the world, I see the role of marketing as really important here, as well as the role of social media and brand awareness online. We are more the type of company where you have a smaller pool of important customers, and you are delivering a wider scheme of solutions, products, and services. What you need to get from marketing is all the support that enables you to network and create a quality relationship management.
As the key account manager, with these huge companies, I need marketing to create tools and opportunities to meet the customer needs as much as possible, as many times as possible during the year, not only in offices but in events in different places and occasions. I expect them to deliver regular breakfast events, and to get us into many conferences. I’m a golf player, so to give me many business golf tours so I can play golf with my customers, or I can take them to golf and chat with them for hours. But that is a totally different marketing method. It’s about the relationships, not about the product.
Jamie: How is the sales training in your industry?
Tomas: There is a strong push towards hard skills training, but only because the organizations are not keen and not ready to spend a lot of money on all the soft skills. In the IT world, zeros and ones: that describe all these soft untouchable things. “If I cannot describe it properly, I’m not going to pay for it,” viewpoint. What I can see is that we are not investing enough money, enough time, and effort into soft skills. Many times, in the market, I see salespeople where they are struggling with presentations, and they are struggling with one-to-one meetings and with many aspects of the sales process.
Jamie: Has Orbit decided to do things differently?
Tomas: We are trying to do things differently. That’s the reason why we agreed on the services of SBR Consulting, and we try to invest in this area because I really believe that it will increase the efficiency of our people.
Jamie: How do you go about getting into the technology sales industry if you’re on the outside looking in?
Tomas: I would say for a young university student or a graduate, the IT world looks very, sexy. There’s always something new, always something pretty. You can make lots of money. So from the outside, everything looks bright and shiny. The first two weeks are huge -the first week they are really enthusiastic, they are jumping to the roof, but then the eye-opening process started and they realize when it really hits them; you have to learn a lot, you have to work many hours and the successes are not going to come within a week or even a month. It takes years to become a good salesperson.
Jamie: Is there a lot of hard work to be done?
Tomas: Yeah. You open a magazine, you read Forbes. You see all the TV shows, like Big Bang Theory or the IT Crowd, for example, and you see all the fun and all this home working and hipsters working in robes and these fancy areas where everybody is just smiling and staring at their Mac, but actually, nobody’s working. That’s how TV presents our industry, but the reality is different. You have to work.
Jamie: How can aspiring salespersons get their foot in the door to begin learning these things?
Tomas: Because I started a sales position when I was 19 years old during my studies, I did not start in an IT sales position; I started off in telecom. I started as a sales guy for a telecoms provider with much easier stuff, selling internet, selling cell phones, and SIM cards. After that, the proposition started including cloud services. For me, it was a natural path to more complex and more difficult solutions.
Maybe that would be one way to get into technology sales – starting with something easier. I can imagine that a young salesperson would start with a single product company, with only one piece of software or hardware, where you can understand the proposition and understand the problems quickly and then move towards IT integrators and solution providers where the operation is more complex.
For example, talking about Orbit; about the company, I’m working for now. All the young people really struggle for the first year in our company because the list of the solutions and services is really long and difficult to understand. The company’s full of senior consultants who have been working for us for 10 to 15 years. The first months are really difficult for everybody and much more difficult for graduates and young people who need training for the first month.
Jamie: Do you think people could go the other way; do you think they could learn the technology really well and then go into sales?
Tomas: It can happen. I think I even know a few guys used to be technicians and after years of delivering projects, they found out that the contact with people and opening and creating new opportunities and new projects is positive and switched to a sales position. I know some of them. It’s rare, but I have met them. They’re unicorns.
Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople, generally?
Tomas: Having discipline, as I already mentioned. If you are lacking the discipline and continuous level of activity, it’s going to hit you in the future, and it’s going to kick your ass. It’s not about today and tomorrow. If I’m lazy, the day after tomorrow, then nothing happens. Three months later, you notice, when the pipeline is not large enough, and the opportunities you’ve developed or are not there.
Jamie: If you had your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Tomas: I would open an Espresso Bar.
I’m just messing around. I love espresso, though. Once I’m really rich, and I have sold everything, then, I will open a cafe. If I had a chance to start it over again, I know I wouldn’t change anything. I like it the way it happened.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you didn’t make a sale, and it really taught you something?
Tomas: I just finished building a house. I was not personally building the house, a company was building it for me, and I learned a lot during the process, such as, “Before you cut, measure it twice.” It’s all about preparation. What I learned is if you are about to start a difficult project, where you really want the project to be successful, really take your time, think of all the details, and prepare. What is the alternative, and if the alternatives go wrong, what’s the third option I have? What do I need? For me, the process of building this house was really terrible. So many things failed, and I wasted a bunch of energy, and you need to get things repaired and back on track. The knowledge I gained was, from now on, I will really take the time to prepare and think things over.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a specific time where you have succeeded, and you made a sale that really shows off the skills that you’ve developed throughout your career?
Tomas: I think the best deal that I delivered last year was a huge deal for the biggest bank here in the Czech Republic, and it was a long process. It developed for over nine months, and it took me many meetings. We met the IT guys, we had many meetings with procurement, and we persuaded them with all the benefits they will get out of it. I cannot recall anything really specific or special. It was many small talks and many activities, many meetings, and many emails to deliver it.
All the recent deals were, really, hard work, but worth it.
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