The top IT sales professionals are self-motivated, persuasive with their words and rise to competition. If this sounds like you, you could join them in this fast-paced role

The work of an IT sales professional falls into the three main areas of pre-sales, sales and post-sales support of hardware and software.

Pre-sales involves giving detailed information about technical specifications and the ways in which they could meet a customer's needs. This often includes demonstrating those features before a sale.

In some cases it also involves responding to a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) and then, if short listed, replying to a more detailed information to tender (ITT) document.

The actual sale involves negotiating a commercial agreement to the benefit of both the customer and supplier.

Technical support, which follows the sale, may include solving faults and problems, or maximising the use of software features, as well as advising on appropriate user training.

Responsibilities

The role requires significant interaction with clients, which may be face-to-face or over the telephone. Tasks are varied and include:

  • understanding customers' diverse, specific business needs and applying product knowledge to meet those needs
  • ensuring quality of service by developing a thorough and detailed knowledge of technical specifications and other features of employers' systems and processes and then documenting them
  • cold-calling in order to create interest in products and services, generate new business leads and arrange meetings
  • identifying and developing new business through networking and courtesy and follow-up calls
  • preparing and delivering customer presentations and demonstrations of the software, articulately and confidently
  • marketing and promoting a portfolio of products by writing and designing sales literature and attending industry events
  • maintaining awareness and keeping abreast of constantly changing software and hardware systems and peripherals
  • developing effective sales plans using sales methodology
  • providing technical advice to customers on all aspects of the installation and use of computer systems and networks, both before and after the sale
  • advising on software features and how they can be applied to assist in a variety of contexts such as accounting, manufacturing or other specialist areas
  • meeting sales targets set by managers and contributing to team targets
  • networking with existing customers in order to maintain links and promote additional products and upgrades
  • handling hardware or software problems and faults and referring on to specialist technical colleagues
  • responding to tender documents, writing proposals, reports and supporting literature
  • managing workload in order to organise and prioritise daily and weekly goals
  • contributing to team or progress meetings to update and inform colleagues.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for IT sales professionals are around £20,000 to £28,000. With experience this can progress to between £30,000 and £45,000.
  • At senior manager level, salaries can reach £70,000 or more.

Salary level is dependent on employers and regional variation - roles in inner London often pay more.

In most roles, employers offer performance-related bonuses on top of a base salary, called OTE (on target earnings) in job adverts.

A company car (or car allowance) may be provided for posts where regular travel is required. You might also receive a laptop, mobile phone, health insurance and the option to have shares in the company.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, putting in extra hours where approaching deadlines require them. You might be required to work longer days to prepare for social evenings and conferences, where you'll network with potential customers. If you're based on a help desk, your hours will likely be organised on a shift basis.

What to expect

  • The role is office based, but will often involve travelling to clients' premises. Overnight stays away from home may be required on occasion.
  • Office locations may change according to the needs of the company, so flexibility and mobility are often prerequisites.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are not common, but part-time opportunities do exist.
  • Career breaks are difficult because of the rapid developments common in technology.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK as computer and software firms are found in most large towns and cities.
  • There is a business-orientated dress code, except on help desks, where dress is informal.
  • Help desk work may be stressful because you have no control over the calls you receive. You might be working to set targets for handling calls or repairing faults within a specific time frame.
  • Overseas work or travel may be required if working for an international company, or if selling on an international basis.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates, but a degree or HND in one of the following subjects may be particularly useful:

  • business information systems/technology
  • business management
  • computer science/software engineering/computer engineering
  • electronics
  • mathematics
  • physics.

While a relevant degree is not always essential, subjects with a high technical content, or a business management component, may be favoured by employers. Some large employers require at least a 2:1 for entry onto their graduate schemes.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but a diploma or Masters in computing may be helpful for those without computing knowledge.

Search for postgraduate courses in computer sciences and IT.

Skills

While it's helpful to have an interest in and knowledge of IT, it isn't essential that you have the technical skills before you arrive. Many companies will consider candidates who have a strong sales background or some other relevant experience for their particular business. For example, someone with a retail background may be able to move into a job selling IT software to the retail industry.

However, you will need to show evidence of the following:

  • self-motivation and a competitive, results-driven attitude
  • passion, dedication and focus
  • a good level of technical understanding with enthusiasm for new technology and its commercial uses
  • stamina, resilience and the ability to work well under pressure
  • articulate and confident presentation skills and a professional telephone manner
  • time-management skills and the ability to prioritise your workload
  • attention to detail
  • persuasive and influential verbal communication skills
  • a strong team spirit
  • business awareness
  • a full, clean driving licence if the job includes regular travel to clients' premises.

You should keep up to date as best you can with industry progress so you can demonstrate a good working knowledge at interviews. Useful sources include:

Work experience

Experience of a customer service or sales environment will improve your chances of securing a job. Potential employers will be particularly impressed if you can demonstrate evidence of exceeding sales targets and the ability to build successful customer relationships in previous roles.

Any sales experience may therefore be helpful, including working in a call centre or telemarketing role, where sales skills and the ability to meet targets are illustrated.

Employers

Sales is one of the largest job areas in IT. Look for graduate programmes with major IT players as well as roles in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The main employers include computer manufacturers and software houses, which need specialists to explain features of their products in non-technical terms to users and those with purchasing power.

Computer retailers are also major employers, where work can include selling to corporate customers, offering a help desk for after-sales service and providing maintenance and support packages.

The growing popularity of online shopping has shown the need for improvements and advances in retail software. This is a high-growth area and a big employer of IT sales professionals.

Telecommunications has also grown rapidly in recent years and the need for IT sales professionals in this part of the sector is consequently increasing.

Given the essential part that computers play in all organisations and the sophistication of the hardware and software available, support staff have a vital role to play in ensuring that customers are aware of its potential and how it suits their needs.

As software and hardware are becoming ever more complex, there is a growing need for support in this area.

Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies, so sign up with specialist agencies. Alternatively, start your job hunt at:

Competition is relatively high, so it's worthwhile making speculative applications as well as applying for advertised jobs.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Most training is on the job and varies depending on the size of the company. Large graduate recruiters usually arrange a set induction period, which may focus on the aims of the business, individual training objectives, shadowing senior members, mentoring and external courses.

The development of extensive communication skills is encouraged and marketing training may be provided through short courses.

If you work for a smaller organisation, training is likely to be intensive and in-house, aimed at giving you comprehensive technical knowledge of your employer's products. You may also be expected to shadow a senior sales professional, quickly moving into your sales role and taking immediate responsibility for key clients.

Although a lot of the training is tailored to a company's own products and client group, there are also a variety of external training courses and qualifications available.

ISM endorses certain sales training courses, which are run by external organisations. Relevant topics include:

  • key account management
  • leading a sales team
  • generating leads and appointments
  • persuasive face-to-face selling.

The ISM's sister awarding body, the ISMM, also offers a range of qualifications, including awards, certificates and diplomas up to Level 6 for various roles, from new starters to senior sales manager or sales director level. Find out more at ISM Qualifications.

There will be many opportunities to attend conferences and industry events, which will aid in your learning and help to develop your product and industry knowledge. Some IT companies, such as Microsoft, offer sales workshops and e-learning courses.

Your training will often be focused on continual learning and maintaining a good working knowledge of products and services in a fast-moving and evolving industry. This means keeping up to date with industry trends and having an awareness of competitors' strengths and weaknesses to stay ahead of them.

Career prospects

Typical advancement within the profession often involves handling more technically complex queries or becoming involved in the marketing of larger IT systems. A detailed product and service knowledge, a proven track record of exceeding sales targets and strong business acumen can help career progression.

You might also specialise in certain types of industry software, such as accounting or supply chain management. Career progression is often reflected in the level you are selling to, i.e. progressing from selling to an individual in a business, up to sales at board level.

With increasing experience you may move on to a manager or director level where your role can include making more strategic decisions for the benefit of the company, planning sales campaigns, managing budgets and creating new partnerships.

You may also be more involved in team management including recruitment, prioritising staff workloads and providing training for new starters.

In help desk work, career progression may come with supervising a help desk team, which would include planning staff rotas and workloads, monitoring the quality of responses and ensuring that targets are met.

There is a high turnover in the computer sales support area (particularly on help desks). Movement away from such roles may be for a number of reasons - to avoid the pressure of a target-driven environment, to take on more responsibility or to apply skills and experience to a new role are just a few examples.

The range of technical and personal skills demanded by this post are highly transferable and will allow progression into other areas of sales, consultancy or management positions within IT.

Marketing, training and product support roles are also options for your career development.