Selling computers without selling your soul... (Parts 1-5)
© Douglas E. Welch 1997
If there is one career more maligned than that of car salesperson,
it is computer salesperson. So many consumers have had bad experiences
with people of both persuasions that there are more than enough
This is not to say that sales is a poor career choice. Computer
users must purchase their computers from somewhere and a knowledgeable
salesperson can be a great asset. It can also be a lucrative career.
This month I will address some of the pros and cons of computer
sales and ways that you can sell computers without selling your
soul, as well.
Less than worthy?
Some readers may take issue with my inclusion of computer salespeople
under the banner of technology careers. That would be unfair both
to the profession and to those people who have a knack for selling
technology products. Each of us has our unique talents and while
my own temperament advises against computer sales, there are others
who find it highly enjoyable. Personally, I am glad there are
people out there to handle this work or I would be resigned to
buying all my technology via mail order.
Like everything in the world, there are good salespeople and bad
salespeople. We shouldn?t let the actions of a few cloud our opinion
of everyone else.
Is this the career for me?
As with any computer career it is important to evaluate your own
temperament and career goals to see if computer sales is truly
the place for you. There are several questions to ask yourself
to help make this decision. Do you like dealing with the public
on a daily basis? Some people, most notably computer programmers,
prefer not to deal with people during the day and have chosen
a career that allows them sustained periods of concentration.
However, you must be a ?people person? if you want to succeed
Next, do you have a desire to learn about a wide variety of computer
products? Salespeople must be familiar with a huge variety of
hardware and software products in order to provide the best solutions
for their customers. Where consultants and trainers can focus
on a few computer products, sales people need to have a wide overview
of the entire market.
Finally, do you have the ability to say, ?I don?t know?? Nothing
can be more helpful to a customer than admitting you don?t have
an answer at your fingertips. The phrase should actually read,
?I don?t know, but I will find out for you.? Giving out bad information
will quickly doom you to the reputation most people expect from
salespeople. Protect yourself and you customers by understanding
your own limitations.
What it takes?
In the coming weeks I will discuss what it takes to be a good
computer salesperson if you decide to give it a try. This includes
how to protect yourself from unscrupulous employers, developing
relationships with customers, building your knowledge base and
surviving on commission instead of salary. Even if you aren?t
going into computer sales, there are some lessons to be learned
by all of us.
If you have decided to enter the computer sales job market you
will be well-advised to look out for some of the usual stumbling
blocks that can arise. While there are many sales jobs available,
working for someone who has less than good employee standards
can put you under tremendous stress. First and foremost, you need
to find out as much as possible about a business before you ever
decide to sign on as an employee.
Doing your homework
Before you ever fill out that first job application you should
make every effort to find out as much about the company as possible.
Visit the store as a customer and pay close attention to how the
sales people interact with the customers. Are they courteous or
do they seem rushed? Do they take time with customers or do they
push hard to make a sale and move on to the next customer? Do
the salespeople provide good advice or are they merely telling
customers what they want to hear? I often find myself correcting
salespeople, out of their earshot, in many of the computer stores
I frequent. This is a sure sign that all is not well with the
sales staff. It is better to say, ?I don?t know? then give out
If you have a friend or acquaintance that works at the store,
pump them, gently for their opinion of their job and company.
I have been in several jobs where I would have been hard pressed
to recommend that anyone else join the company. I was unhappy
and I knew that my friends would probably feel the same.
At the interview
Once you get to the interview it is important to remember that
this is your opportunity to ask questions as well as answer them.
Be sure to ask about details on the compensation model the company
uses for its salespeople. According to my friends who have been
salespeople, you want to avoid companies that pay a straight commission.
It can be very hard to survive on commission only, especially
when you are just starting out.
A better model involves a salary guarantee where you are given
a certain amount of salary each week with the remainder to be
made up from your commissions on sales. Sometimes, this guarantee
will slowly drop over time and more and more of your salary will
be based on your commission, but this gives you a cushion when
you need it most.
Another sure sign of company problems is that of high turnover
among salespeople. If a store seems to have and entirely new staff
each time you visit, it could mean the environment is not very
good. Perhaps there are management problems or the compensation
model doesn?t allow the salespeople to make a living wage. Whatever
the reason, high turnover is a definite warning of hidden problems.
Nest week: Staying current training and research.
This week we continue our discussion of developing a computer
sales career. Previously I discussed how to come to the decision
to work in sales. This week we look at what is required once you
take that first sales job.
Every technology career has some form of continuing education
requirement and sales is no different. Technology moves so quickly
that all of us must be responsible for staying on top of the latest
innovations and any problems with existing systems. There are
a few unique differences, though, between a salesperson and those
who work in a corporate computer department or as a private consultant.
While a consultant or computer staffer is able to concentrate
on a finite set of hardware, software and tools, a salesperson
must be a generalist. They need to know a little about everything
instead of a lot about a few things. They need to have a deep
understanding of the computer industry as a whole as well as the
specific products they sell. This overall knowledge allows them
to listen to customers and suggest which tools might be available
to provide the best solution.
Salespeople who are not informed about the products they sell
are a danger to their customers and their own livelihood. They
often recommend the wrong tool for a specific job or make promises
that the hardware or software cannot keep. This isn?t always the
complete fault of the salesperson, though. Often they are being
pressured by management to ?make the sale? at all costs. Operations
like this are the source of many bad sales stories.
How to be ?in the know??
Salespeople can use the same resources that any other technology
worker has available for learning about computer hardware and
software. This includes magazines, books, and even the Internet.
They, however, also have a few unique methods of learning about
the products they sell. Many manufacturers provide product introductions,
printed materials and even hands-on training sessions specifically
targeted at helping salespeople sell their product. Granted, the
information will be skewed towards the manufacturer?s products
but over time you will be able to tell just how one product compares
to another. The information is important regardless of how it
As a salesperson, you should try to make use of as many of these
opportunities as possible. Hopefully your management will understand
the importance of these events and allow you some time ?on the
clock? to attend them. Otherwise, though, it is up to you to take
the initiative. It is in your own best interest to attend, even
if you have to do it on your own time. The more information you
have, the better you will be able to sell and the more money you
As with any job, learning doesn?t stop when you get the job. The
only way you will be able to sell well is to understand the products
that you are selling. Your customers and your pocketbook demand
Next week: Ethics.
Despite what you might read in the newspapers or see on television,
ethics are still something that all of us need to consider and
foster. Every life contains many opportunities to compromise our
ethics so we need to be on our guard and understand just how damaging
a lapse of ethics might be to our lives and out livelihoods.
Sales Ethics and oxymorons
Some salespeople, and the retailers they work for, might have
you believe that the term sales ethics is indeed an oxymoron.
They concern themselves only with making the sales regardless
of the customer?s needs or desires.
We all know companies like this and probably have dealt with more
than our share. Unfortunately, the novice computer buyer often
does not have the knowledge necessary to know when they should
be shopping elsewhere. This is where you, as a salesperson, have
to take some responsibility.
While some may tell you otherwise, personal integrity and ethics
are two of the most important traits for every salesperson. Customers
return to a salesperson they can trust and this improves your
ability to make money. Compromising your ethics might make you
money in the short term, but over time, you will develop a bad
reputation that will follow you wherever you go.
Bad companies, not bad sales people
We all know people who act differently at their jobs. They might
do ethically questionable sales but personally they are good people.
This is usually caused by a bad work environment. Perhaps company
policy makes it difficult to make sales quotas without bending
ethical rules. Perhaps the company is merely interested in cleaning
out closeout inventory instead of providing solutions for the
customer. Whatever the cause, there are warning signs.
If you do the research described in earlier columns this month,
chances are you won?t sign on with a company that has these problems.
Talking with customers and acting as a customer yourself should
point out any ethical problems a potential might have.
If you do find yourself at a company that has serious problems,
it is better to leave than to try and adapt your own ethics, or
change the company. A bad company reputation taints everyone who
works for that company. There are plenty of good companies. Start
your search again.
Chances are, a company that doesn?t respect its customers, won?t
offer you much respect as an employee. It is a good bet that you
will have trouble getting paid or experience other problems that
will badly effect your finances, your emotions and even your health.
Next week: Sales as a springboard
While there are definite concerns associated with working in computer
sales, there are several factors that make it a very good opportunity,
especially for someone just starting a computer career. In some
cases, a sales job can be held while you finish your college career,
allowing you to get a head start on your classmates.
A job in computer sales could be considered post-graduate work
for any college student. Due to the requirements mentioned in
earlier columns you need to learn a lot about computers and you
need to do it very quickly. This overview of the computer industry
will help you no matter what technology job you might find after
You will become intimately acquainted with the pros and cons of
a wide variety of hardware and software. You will have an understanding
of the needs of various people and companies in a wide variety
of businesses. Working in sales is like working for the computer
department of many different companies all at once. You can get
the equivalent of several years experience in a very short time.
Factor in the added resources for learning available to sales
people (see earlier columns) and you can easily see the benefits
of working in sales.
Up the ladder
In many businesses, every new employee starts off by working in
sales. This introduces them to the company?s customers and gives
them an understanding of the most important part of the company?s
business. This is important for the employee as well as the company.
It gives you the opportunity to gain an understanding of an entire
company since the sales division often works with every other
part of the company.
This information becomes very important when you decide to move
up in the company structure. If you like sales you have a major
grounding in the department already. If you decide to move to
another department you will probably have developed relationships
with people in those departments. You also have gained knowledge
of these department?s functions and what skills you could bring
Even if you are not interested in sales don?t consider time spent
there as some form of purgatory. You just might make the important
connections you need to move up in the company. Keep your eyes
and ears open and you might learn more than you thought possible.
Though there are many pitfalls and profits to working in computer
sales, it should be included as a legitimate technology career
alongside programmers, network managers and technical support
staff. Too many people dismiss sales without understanding how
hard it is to be a good salesperson and the career possibilities
it presents. If you go into a sales career with open eyes and
an open mind it can open many doors for you.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com