HP Presales Certification: A Career Path Alternative
If you enjoy planning and designing information technology systems that solve complex business problems, then your career opportunities might be more plentiful than you thought. IT solution sellers and systems integrators are clamoring for people with broad technical knowledge to help sell integrated solutions to enterprise customers. Perhaps it’s time to consider making a move into a technical presales position.
While technical presales jobs have been around for a while, the need for the role really intensified after the technology spending bubble burst in 2001, when companies stopped spending wildly on disparate components such as servers, storage systems, niche appliances and departmental applications. To continue to generate sales in a tough economic climate, value-added resellers (VARs) began to provide a higher measure of integration consulting before the sale to demonstrate the value proposition of a proposed solution. The presales professional fulfills the critical role of assessing the business needs and proposing options for a solution that will work in the customer’s environment.
HP is among the first major manufacturers to offer a certification path aimed at developing presales professionals for its business partners, with two levels of credentials for people in a presales role: the entry-level Accredited Presales Professional (APP) and the advanced Accredited Presales Consultant (APC). HP presales certifications equip individuals with the technical skills necessary to effectively plan and design HP solutions for customers.
The Accredited Presales Professional certification requires an individual to take a set of customer business requirements, recognize opportunities and make recommendations for a solution (including application, platform, operating system, storage, network and option components) that will solve business needs. APPs are expected to be able to explain and position business-class and enterprise-class products, as well as solutions and services at a generalist level. The ideal candidate for this certification level is any account-aligned technology generalist who plans solutions for customers based on HP technologies. Two credentials are available under the APP certification: HP Enterprise Solutions and HP Imaging and Printing Solutions.
The Accredited Presales Consultant certification adds system design responsibilities to the role. The individual earning an APC credential must be able to take a set of customer business requirements and plan and design a complete solution within a specialty area. The design element of this credential requires a good foundation of technical knowledge to architect a complete enterprise solution.
Numerous technology specializations are available under the APC certification, including:
- HP AlphaServer GS Solutions
- HP Enterprise Storage Solutions
- HP Imaging and Printing Solutions
- HP Superdome Server Solutions
- Specialty in HP StorageWorks XP Solutions
HP recommends and provides training to candidates who are pursuing these credentials, although training is not required. However, candidates are required to pass one or more certification examinations that validate a set of desired knowledge and skills. Those professionals who apply for the APC credential must hold the APP credential as a prerequisite. In addition, several of the APC specialty credentials also require the Accredited Integration Specialist certification from HP.
A Challenging Role
Opportunities abound for qualified technical professionals who can help their employers sell business-class or enterprise solutions. In a recent VARBusiness article called “Death of the Salesman,” author Robert Wright laments the difficulty of finding good people who can sell today’s enterprise systems. He advises VARs, “Don’t bother looking for dedicated salespeople. Find engineers and consultants who can double as salespeople.” Today, buyers of enterprise technology want to have consultative discussions with their systems integrators or VARs before making a purchase decision. This, in essence, is the role that the APP and APC credentials prepare you for: part technical expert, part business consultant.
“Our business partners have been evolving into a consultative approach to sales for the past few years,” said Mike Wells, director of the HP Certified Professional program in Asia-Pacific and Japan. “They understand that they can provide more value to their customers if they have a good understanding of the business requirements before planning and proposing a technology-based solution. The presales professional is in a good position to apply his business knowledge along with his knowledge of the HP technology to prove to the customer that the ROI warrants the investment.”
Chicago-area systems integrator and HP business partner RMS Business Systems has typically maintained a 3-to-1 technical-to-sales personnel ratio with most of them holding an HP APP or APC credential. “The HP presales certifications help our people understand how to have discussions with the customers that go beyond technology,” said Jim Groah, vice president of sales and marketing for RMS. “This takes them out of a strictly technical role. They can better understand the impact of their technical recommendations on all the users of the systems we propose.”
Groah emphasizes the importance of the design element of the APC credential. “Having the knowledge and skills to design an enterprise solution gives you the foundation to have better discussions with the clients,” he said. “You understand the building blocks that are necessary to architect a solution. In addition, you understand what the customer already has and where he is going, and you can have a more strategic impact on the direction he takes.”
The RMS team is trained not to suggest a solution, but to provide options. For example, Groah said a customer has a wish list of what he or she wants to do with IT. “This starting point is Option A,” he said. “Since our customers don’t always know the broad range of technology that’s available, our presales consultants suggest other aspects that might add to or fortify the system, such as a highly available version of Option A. We’ll call this Option C.” The RMS team works with the customer to further refine the requirements and budgets to come up with a hybrid approach, or Option B.
“Once the customer decides on Option B, we begin detailing out the specifications,” Groah added. “Every component of the solution is understood before the order is placed. As a result of this proven methodology, the customer enjoys a guarantee there will be no financial risk associated with this process. We believe the value of the presales role is critical to the overall success of our projects.”
If you think you might like to explore a career as a presales professional, be aware that the technical knowledge and skills aren’t necessarily all you need for this role. HP’s Wells explained that other “soft” skills are required. “Anyone in a sales role—even a technical sales role—needs to have skills in project management, developing and giving presentations, and organization and selling,” he said. He added that HP can validate that a person holding a presales certification has the requisite technical knowledge, but the individual must bring the other skills to the table to succeed in a presales role.
Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company, a technology assessment firm. She is a consultant to the HP Certified Professional Program. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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