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Hey you, yes you, the project manager. Ever thought of a career in sales?

Even IT project managers have those days. Days on which you ask yourself whether it was even worth it to have gone to work. Maybe you spent the entire day on tasks that should have been completed long ago, running after people who don’t have time for you (or who don’t feel like talking to you). On top of that you still need to write reports that basically describe what everyone already knows but no-one wants to hear. You find yourself sitting in project meetings for hours, trying to find solutions, because the solutions you already have are not the ones your bosses want to hear.

Those days might drive you to consider finding another job. But would it really be any better at a different company? If you’ve spent any time talking to IT project managers, you will know that the situation is pretty much the same everywhere. So what about a completely different job? But doing what?
Here’s an idea: ever think of a position in IT sales? Many of you are probably thinking: “What? Are you crazy?” I get the same reaction whenever I speak to sales managers in the IT business. They often find it difficult to find competent sales staff.

And when I suggest they speak to IT project managers, they often reply: “What a mad idea! Those guys have no sales experience at all.” True. They don’t. But that’s just the point—they have all sorts of other skills that more than make up for what they lack. And besides, they can get the experience soon enough on their own.

Should project managers work in sales?

Should project managers work in sales?

And what might those amazing skills be that supposedly qualify them for a job in sales?

They know how to organize things, including themselves

Even old-school, seasoned salesmen who have spent a lot of time going to clients on a whim, ready to improvise, have admitted that you just won’t survive out there nowadays if you don’t put in a lot of preparation. Particularly those big projects, the ones for demanding clients, need to be masterfully prepared and executed.

They (generally) are team players

Even the best IT sales consultants cannot handle complex IT projects on their own. The task requires many different specialists who need to coordinate their efforts. The old “lone wolf” just won’t cut it on his own anymore.

They know are good at talking to everyone

Specialists, managers, members of the board: everyone wants to understand why a particular project should be assigned to a specific provider. That calls for consultants who can play a translation role. Old-school salesmen who use the same presentation for all their clients tend to disappoint at least half of their audiences.

They know how to moderate and facilitate group decisions

Find the right decision-maker and work on her—that has always been the salesman’s motto. Not anymore. Decisions, especially those concerning large IT investments—are almost always made by consensus. When everyone else has agreed, the big boss tends to simply approve the decisions. He doesn’t want to be individually blamed for every single decision.

They are generalists

IT project managers are used to going beyond their own horizons. Besides the technical challenges there are also economic parameters to consider, never mind the fact that everything happens in a social context. Clients looking to launch complex IT projects need a partner who can harmonize all those different elements, without having to bother with the specialist’s details.

They know how to deal with frustration

In IT sales, as in IT projects sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, and sometimes nothing works. In those cases you need someone who can deal with their emotions before they go to bed. Someone who can arrive the next day, ready to make constructive contributions.

They have experience with projects

Practically all important IT investments start a more-or-less demanding project. And the extent to which this project runs well has a greater influence on the success of the project than the implemented product itself. Clients appreciate having advisors who understand the sales phase of these kinds of projects. They help in pre-emptively managing difficulties and offer general assistance during trying times.

Okay, now we would like to turn our attention to why IT project managers might be valuable assets with potential clients.

So why would anyone want to switch to the sales department?

IT sales consultant doesn’t exactly sound like a stress-free job. But it does have a lot going for it:

Esteem and success

To be fair: very few people associate sales with esteem. That is because most people are thinking of bad salesmen. Good salesmen are considered to be consultants, experts and professionals. They get a lot of recognition and respect. Definitely more than IT project managers anyway.

You will have more power to influence the project’s success

You would be hard pressed to find a job that gives professionals as much influence over the results as the field of IT sales. IT project managers, by contrast depend on countless other departments—many of which don’t always do what they’re supposed to. If it frustrates you that no matter how much effort you put in the results remain the same, then you will be happy to know that the world of IT sales is a playground, offering you many more opportunities for direct influence.

Salary

A good paycheck does not necessarily the happy person make. But if you want to live in a nice neighborhood and perhaps afford a nurse for your ailing parents, you know how important it can be. Still, you shouldn’t expect a big jump in salary immediately when you switch (IT project managers don’t earn that badly). But once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be happy to know that many competent consultants in good companies located in competitive cities like Frankfurt or Munich can take home six figures every year. Managers earn even more, and they too sometimes look at the salaries and bonuses of consultants with envy.

Solve complex problems

The days in which a sales person is expected to walk around with a catalogue, while the client tries to figure out what to do with the product, are over. Modern sales consultants boast in being able to provide their clients with solutions that they could not have thought of themselves. That requires ingenuity and business sense as well as social skills. If you have all of those, then get ready for a creative wonderland in which you get to actually make clients happy.

But let’s be honest, it can’t be that great, right?

True, in order for the job to be any fun, you need to consider the following:

No-one likes a boring product

Your boss and developer might disagree, the clients might still believe the product is not that great. It’s no surprise then that they inflict one of the most horrible experiences known to man on you: price negotiations. Truth be told, they are the least enjoyable parts of sales. Instead apply at a company that has a product you actually like (perhaps you are already a customer). If you are convinced then it is much easier to convince others. And conversely: the world certainly does not need another sales person who does not believe in their own product.

It’s hard without support

Some companies have stagnated in the last decade because they have believed that the best sales people are those who use a map marked with different sales markets, as their strategy to getting good results. Instead, look for companies that give you the impression their sales, marketing, technology and service sections all work together—and that management encourages this synergy. Let them explain it to you. If what you hear does not impress you, chances are it won’t impress the clients either.

A pleasant working environment

Ask your future boss about the staff-turnover in the department—how often are employees replaced? Not everyone will like that question, especially those companies whose answers make it clear that they are burning through consultants. If your interviewer seems resistant, don’t push it, you probably won’t want to work there anyway. Those who enjoy a lot of staff loyalty will be glad to talk to you about how loyal their consultants have been.

Effective preparation

A question you definitely should not skip in a job interview is: “Where do you get your leads (the client contacts that you are meant to follow up on)?” If your interviewer points the finger back at you then be very careful. You might be getting yourself into a cold-calling operation. Now, to be fair, cold-calling could be a legitimate strategy in some contexts, but that’s probably not what you want if you are new to sales. And besides, there are much better methods available in the modern sales world today. Remember, good companies will be able to tell you where they got their contacts from.

Travel

Though modern tools make many things in life easier, the best and biggest deals still get made face to face. That is particularly true in international business deals. If you hate airports and driving around, and if putting your kids to bed every night is a priority then this job might not be for you. Alternatively, look for an employer who allows for a more flexible lifestyle. More of those are coming onto the scene these days. So, the next time your frustration levels rise you might want to have a look at the job pages of companies you like. They might just have a sales job going.

How do I apply – without experience?

Do it the way a sales professional would. Look for a company whose products you like. Don’t write an email to the HR department, pick up the phone and speak directly to the sales manager. You will almost always find their details on the website. Ask how he would identify a top candidate and explain that you have most of what he is looking for—and much more. Explain that you can get experience in a short space of time, it wouldn’t be the first time you have mastered a new topic quickly. Then propose two possible dates for a personal meeting.  Most sales people will be impressed with this kind of sales-oriented approach. And if not, then just wait for the next opportunity. In the meantime, your IT project management team is probably not that bad.

Alex Rammlmair is an organizational developer, who specializes in the “soft” aspects of team work within companies. His forte is change and conflict management. He is the CEO of the AX-XO GmbH in Vienna. He is passionate about his game which he created about conflict management called “game changer”

Alex Rammlmair is organization developer and focuses on facilitating change and conflict solving. He is managing director of AX-XO GmbH (www.ax-xo.com). His passion is the conflict solving game GameChanger: www.gameChanger.world

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2 replies
  1. Wilco Charité says:

    Hello Alex,

    Very good article. I very well understand your point. Maybe a PM has no sales experience, but every salesperson has gained his first experience somewhere. And people easily attach a label on people with longterm experience in another area, assuming it is too late to learn something new.

    What surprises me, is that you only appeal to project managers. I am an experienced Business analyst and Requirements engineer but I have the same experience as a PM. To mention a few: organizer, teamplayers, good talking to everyone (I am a real stakeholder “engager”), moderator, deal with frustration and a problem solver. But, above all, I am a long term freelancer, since 2005. I deal with salespeople, recruiters, clients and in that time I have gained solid knowledge about how to threat clients and consultants/candidates (I do not sell products). I know what they want, what they need (that is different) and, very important, what the “do not’s” are. Actually, with a colleague, I am already talking about handling this. When you have to make clear what a client really needs, helping him define his own question, is that sales? Yes! But does that sound as requirements engineering/analysis also? Yes! Consider me interested…..

    Reply
  2. Alex Rammlmair
    Alex Rammlmair says:

    Hey, Wilco

    Thanks for jumping into the discussion.
    I could not agree more with what you said.
    Limiting the article to PM’s was for simplicity reasons (I guess, the title would have become awkward including all PM’s, business analysts, requirement engineers, change agents, … etc.).
    Business analysts with a sales mindset are top candidates for IT-sales, especially in high-profile projects spanning several departments.

    Zig Ziglar quote: ‘If your success depends on your ability to convince others, then you, my friend, are in sales.’

    I’m currently publishing a sales course for freelancers (english). I will send you a free coupon once it is live (in a couple of days).

    Reply

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