Managers are critical people to anyone’s career success. This is no less true for sales
technologists. Consider the crucial role played by managers:
- They set the conditions under which the
technologists will carry out their functions.
- They provide the feedback needed to ensure that technologists
are optimizing their time and abilities, both for their benefit and the benefit
of the company
- They control access to the customers and
projects that can broaden the technologist’s experience set while growing their
soft and hard skills.
- They hold ultimate authority to evaluate the
technologist’s performance - and thus influence their continued career success.
This can be considered a kind of contractual arrangement, whereby the technologists trade their skills and time for opportunities to develop their careers. In order for the terms of this arrangement
to be mutually beneficial, the manager must be fully aware of not only the business challenges that the technologists will face, they must also understand what motivates these particularly nuanced professionals.
Despite the conventional assumption that sales technologists are hyper-focused geeks that arise from purely technical backgrounds and care only about the bits/bolts/speeds/feeds of the technologies in question, the truth is that sales technologists have very diverse backgrounds and come from a broad range of different environments. Their motivations and expectations are just
as diverse. Many may seek a career path that will lead to a distinguished technologist status or a hands-on position as a data center IT manager. Others may see their current position as an entrée to more business-centric careers such as sales leadership or an influential position as a CTO or CIO. To be effective, the sales manager must be aware of the technologist’s specific motivations and must structure the technologist’s work life such that their aspirations become possibilities while ensuring that they deliver the expected value to the company.
In most organizations, the norm is to have sales technologists report directly to sales managers. This arrangement often limits both the value derived from the sales technologist and the
potential to grow that person into a much more potent resource.
Sales managers are laser-focused on meeting specific revenue targets. Yes, they do also pay
attention to customer relationship management and strategic market maintenance, but these activities all tend to serve the more urgent need to cross the finish line from a near-term revenue perspective. Their priorities are necessarily skewed toward the needs of the traditional sales people they manage as well as the mechanics of deal progression with customers and internal finance staff. Let’s not forget the endless reporting cycles that are the lifeblood of the corporate sales engine. Sales managers come to perceive sales technologists as a pure support force that brings to bear specific expertise to either excite their equivalent staffers within the customer organization (i.e., technical decision makers), or as a weapons cadre to be aimed at, and discharged upon, their competitors. They don’t prioritize the “care-and-feeding” of the sales technologists on their teams;
in many cases, they don’t even know how.
Sales technologists need managers that focus on them as key resources, not ancillary support staff.
They need leadership that will listen to their ideas and allow them to implement their own tactics and techniques in support of overall sales goals. They should be allowed to participate in the setting of strategy, market analysis, and competitive responses. Most of all, they should have
leadership that values their contributions and seeks to support and encourage their development.
Managers that originate from the sales technologist ranks fit this bill quite well. They are
keenly aware of what motivates these professionals and are more open to considering their ideas, since they lived this experience for quite some time. They know how to nurture the pure technologist as well as the person seeking business or leadership responsibility, since they’ve successfully traversed both paths. They are generally in a better position to know when valuable technology insights are being surfaced or when potentially bad technology decisions are being made, since they have a technical background. They know how to “care-and-feed” technologists.
This is not to say that traditional sales managers cannot develop the skills needed to effectively manage sales technologists. Getting there requires focused effort to dig deep into the motivations and expectations of these people and provide them with opportunities to fulfill their career aspirations while meeting the sales targets prescribed by the company.
- Have focused conversations with your sales technologists to discover their specific backgrounds. You may find that they possess unique abilities - beyond their core support function - that can strengthen your overall strategy.
- Seek to understand their motivation for pursuing the roles they currently occupy. Where
do they want this to go? How do they see this role in terms of their overall career strategy? How can you jointly structure an activity set that will allow them to grow into the person they want to become and deliver best value to you and the company?
- Find out what gets them excited about their work. What kinds of situations do they thrive in? What kinds of projects would hey enjoy being involved in?
- Find out where they would feel comfortable exhibiting leadership if given the chance. Are they itching to get involved in a marketing effort? Would leading local components of a product launch be of interest to them? Could they help you to coordinate activities between operating units?
Choosing to leverage the full capability of sales technologists, not just the technology expertise they
possess, can pay huge dividends for sales organizations. Managers that take this approach will operate with a significant advantage.