Go Out and Sell Your Capabilities
At the Breakaway Conference in Orlando, Fla., this August, more than 700 attendees representing the IT services and value-added reseller channel were given the results of a CompTIA and Yankee Group survey on issues related to business growth. Was there good news in the report? Yes, there was, including a positive prognosis for certified IT professionals with the right skills.
More than 500 senior executives completed the survey or participated in focus groups. These executives primarily represent small regional firms of 100 employees or less. Their principal areas of business include value-added resale, systems integration, IT services, and product sales and service. Around 90 percent of these executives are optimistic about the future, projecting greater than 10 percent revenue growth through the midpoint of 2005.
Their strategies for growth include increasing sales efforts, offering additional services, expanding into new markets and hiring qualified employees to support new business. The services to receive the most sales focus were network-related, such as network security, voice over IP, systems integration and support.
Staying abreast of new technologies remains a monumental challenge for these firms. “We are finding that there are more than five ways to do the same thing, and there are 25 different technology answers to each question,” a New York value-added reseller said. “But you can’t offer that level of expertise because you can’t master 25 different technologies.”
Survey respondents said that difficulty finding knowledgeable and motivated sales representatives with strong communications skills was another business challenge facing them in their quest to sell more higher-margin services. “I need people who are not afraid to really talk to the customer,” a Chicago-based value-added reseller said. “If they have the technical knowledge, sometimes they don’t have the communication skills.” Respondents said that certification helps establish credibility with customers, and that good communication is the key to maintaining that trust.
Fundamentally, the survey confirms what most of us have either observed or suspected for some time—a more diverse technology offering is leading to an increasing number of choices causing greater uncertainty among customers. Furthermore, there is a gap between the skills employers are looking for and those prospective staff members are offering. These findings are not isolated to value-added resellers and services providers. They involve all of IT. What can certified IT professionals do in this market to become more attractive to employers large and small, and ensure long-term demand for their unique skills?
IT professionals must master the context and the environment of business, including customer and supplier expectations, competitive issues and government regulations. Only through a full understanding of the strategies and goals of the organization can technology be effectively applied. Taking business courses and regularly reading business publications is one strategy for building this capability.
IT professionals must ensure that they are current and relevant in terms of industry best practices and procedures. This will provide greater flexibility, as well as the ability to work with a wide range of products and obtain appropriate support information and services. There is no better way to master industry-wide best practices than to maintain a foundation of vendor-neutral certifications.
The IT professional must be able to communicate effectively. That means being able to explain the application of technology in ways that anyone can understand. The IT professional needs to develop the ability to listen actively to the concerns and needs of internal and external customers. Project management training and certification can be excellent for honing these skills, as long as it focuses on the leadership and negotiation aspects of project management and not exclusively on the tools of the practice. Sales and presentation training can also build communication muscle.
When writing to or talking with present or prospective employers, use the following guidelines:
- Heighten credibility through demonstrated mastery of best industry practices.
- Put statements into the business context.
- Be clear, concise and engaging.
- Stay clear of jargon and acronyms.
- Present the image of a competent, well-rounded and motivated individual who is able to apply technology for the overall benefit of the organization.
Go out, in other words, and sell your capabilities and potential in terms the employer will value.
John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry. CompTIA has more than 19,000 members in 89 countries.