What is tech sales?

May 5, 2021

The tech industry is booming. 

There have never been so many tech unicorns - companies valued at over 1 billion -as today... and these companies are hungry for talent. 

8 out of the 10 largest companies in the world today are tech companies.

Many people think you need to know how to code to work in the tech industry. But a recent study by glassdoor found that almost half of the jobs advertised by tech companies are for non-technical roles.

“43% of roles advertised by tech companies were non-technical.”

One of the most in-demand profiles at tech companies today are sales professionals. With thousands of tech companies actively hiring sales talent, it's no surprise many people are considering it as their next career move.

  • For entry-level jobs, they usually don't require previous experience or degrees.
  • They're fun, fulfilling jobs with tons of autonomy.
  • They're well paid and offer huge opportunities for growth.

And yet many people are still not 100% clear on what technology sales actually is.

If the word "sales" springs to mind the typical pushy salesperson trying to trick people into buying stuff they don’t need, you’ve got it all wrong. Sales professionals in the tech environment today are closer to consultants. Their goal is helping customers win. 

If you're considering tech sales as the next step in your career, it's important you know what you're getting into.

In this blog post, we will give you a high-level overview of the tech sales career. We will cover:

  • What is tech sales?
  • What is SaaS and why is it so popular?
  • The buyer's journey and the sales process
  • Common roles and responsibilities in tech sales
  • What does a career in tech sales look like?

Let's begin!

Defining tech sales

Tech sales is a generic term. Essentially, it refers to the process of selling technology. 

This can be:

  • Hardware - For example laptops, mobile devices or wearable technology such as Macbooks or iPhones.
  • Software - For example consumer apps like Spotify or Netflix or enterprise software such as Salesforce or Slack.
  • Services - For example consulting and integration providers such as CapGemini or Cognizant.

Yet when people talk about "tech sales", they're usually referring to a business-to-business (B2B) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales environment.

🤔 Wait, B2B and SaaS-what?

Don't be scared by the acronyms:

  • B2B means Business to Business. There are B2B and B2C companies. A "B2B company" sells its product or service to other companies, and a B2C (Business to Consumer) company sells its product or service directly to consumers.
  • SaaS means Software as a Service. When a company builds software and lets the final user access it over the internet for a monthly fee, we say they offer Software-as-a-Service. SaaS companies can be B2B, B2C or both. Spotify, Netflix, Gmail, Shopify or Salesforce are all examples of SaaS models.

The reason why "tech sales" is commonly associated with B2B SaaS sales is that it's currently the industry within the tech sector with the highest demand for sales professionals.

Why?

To begin with, SaaS is huge, and getting bigger. Gartner projects that the SaaS market alone will do a whopping 113.1 billion ($US) in 2021. Secondly, selling to organizations (B2B) is far more complex than selling to final consumers, since there are usually multiple stakeholders and decision-makers involved. In this environment, a great sales process and skilled salespeople are crucial for success.

In this article we will focus on B2B sales at SaaS organizations.

Why is SaaS so popular?

For companies, SaaS (together with IaaS and PaaS) has been revolutionary. Let’s take the example of building your own e-commerce. 

Before SaaS, if you wanted to build an e-commerce, you had to invest in an in-house technical team to build custom software including a web or mobile application, a database, payment gateway, CRM management, physical servers… 

Nowadays you can do all of that for around 30€ a month on Shopify or WordPress. 

Essentially, SaaS means companies don't have to build their own software tools to run their business (Salesforce, GSuite) or offer their services (Shopify). Instead, they can use these software tools for a subscription fee.

As a result, the SaaS model has become hugely popular in the B2B environment.

According to Forbes, the average company pays 20 times more for SaaS subscriptions today than five years ago and uses 30-plus free SaaS products. An average mid-sized company spends $20,000 per month on SaaS subscriptions.

This trend shows no signs of slowing down, with app adoption increasing across every department.”

Now, you might think that with the huge value these companies provide customers will naturally flock to them, and there's no need to spend much on marketing or sales.

But in fact the opposite is true.

There are so many companies competing for market share, that the ones with the best marketing and sales processes are usually the most competitive. This is why companies are constantly looking for top tech sales talent that can help them grow.

Through time, B2B SaaS companies have nailed the sales process and the roles that bring it to life down to a science.

Let's have a look!

The buyer's journey and the B2B sales process

Before we can dive deeper into the different roles and responsibilities of tech sales professionals, it's important to understand how B2B tech companies buy and sell today by covering two core concepts: the buyer's journey and the sales process.

The buyer's journey

Think of the last time you purchased anything. You probably didn't get a cold call from someone and gave your credit card immediately.

Most likely, you first realized you needed something, then researched it on the internet, evaluated different options and maybe even chatted to one or two vendors before making a purchase decision.

Tech organisations have learned that the purchase process is a journey, and consumers advance through a process the industry has called 'the buyer's journey'.

You will likely see many complex versions of a buyer’s journey. We like the simplified model that divides it into 3 stages:

Stages in the buyer's journey. Source: Hubspot.com

The sales process

Just as customers aren't likely to give out their credit card to the first person that calls, salespeople aren't likely to pick up the phone and close a sale there and then. 

In real life, salespeople have to tailor their sales activities to each stage in the buyer's journey to nurture the lead from awareness to purchase. 

  • If you try to sell to someone in the early stages of their buying journey, you will likely lose them. They’re not ready yet. At the beginning it’s all about educating, guiding the buyer and identifying their needs. 
  • Similarly, if you start educating a buyer once they’re ready to make a decision, you will probably have trouble closing the sale. In the final stages, it’s all about helping the customer to see the huge value your solution provides. 

We call this the sales process. 

Sales activities along the buyer's journey. Source: Creativepro.com

Each sales process varies from company to company depending on the product and industry, yet essentially they all go through the same general steps:

  • You acquire leads through a mix of inbound and outbound efforts. We call this prospecting. 
  • You try to qualify those leads as early as possible to ensure you’re spending your time on the leads that are most likely to convert. This is usually done through "discovery" calls.
  • At this stage you’re not looking to sell, but rather to qualify: Do they have a real need your product can solve? Do they have the budget and authority to make the purchase? Is now a good time for them to buy?
  • Once a lead is qualified and engaged they become a prospect, and you can begin to talk about your product (selling). At this stage you usually jump on sales demos to showcase your product and how it can solve your prospects problems. 
  • The final step is closing the sale. This likely includes meetings with additional stakeholders, sending proposals, negotiating, overcoming objections and closing the deal. 

As you can see, there are no "wolf-of-wallstreet" pushy sales tactics involved in this process. A good portion of what you do is act as a consultant. That’s why listening, effective questioning and empathy are key skills to have and develop in tech sales roles.

It’s all about understanding your customer's problems and proving you can add value.


Roles along the sales process

Now that you're familiar with the sales process, we can begin to review the different roles and responsibilities within a sales team.

The exact roles and responsibilities will vary by company, product and industry. In fact, there are so many different role names and distributions of responsibility it can get quite confusing. In some models, a single salesperson takes care of the whole sales process. In others, each person focuses on one minor activity for one of the steps.

For the purpose of this blog post, we will focus exclusively on the three most common roles.

SaaS Role Definitions - Winning by Design
Sales roles along the funnel. Source: winningbydesign.com


1. Sales Development Reps (SDR) or Business Development Reps (BDR)

SDR's and BDR's are in charge of generating and qualifying suitable leads. They focus on outreach, prospecting, and lead qualification. SDRs don’t focus on closing business, but connecting with as many leads as possible and determining if they are a good fit for their company’s products. 

They connect and learn about their leads’ businesses and needs. If a prospect is a good fit, SDRs schedule the next steps with sales reps more senior and experienced in their organization (usually an Account Executive). 

Common activities include:

  • Cold and warm contact using a mix of calling, emailing and social selling (e.g. LinkedIn)
  • Need discovery and qualification through Discovery Calls

2. Account Executives (AE)

Account Executives (AEs) exist in companies in virtually all industries. They are usually responsible for closing sales deals to create new customers. They typically have a revenue target and are paid commissions when they sell their company’s products and services.

In Tech Sales, an AE usually works with a Sales Development Representative (SDR), who develops initial interest and sets up the first sales meeting. The AE is then responsible for giving sales demos and closing the deal.

Common activities include:

  • Conducting sales demo's
  • Drafting proposals
  • Negotiations and closing deals

3. Customer Success Manager (CSM)

Once a client has been won and onboarded, they're usually transferred to a Customer Success Manager.

CSM's are in charge of ensuring existing customers are happy (satisfaction) and keep using the product (retention). They also fulfill a sales role (hence why we include them here) which is to encourage existing customers to upgrade their products (upselling).


What does a career in tech sales look like?

Tech sales career paths depend greatly on each person, country, industry, and company type. You can decide to become a high-performing individual contributor, a team leader or even an entrepreneur.

Our friends at crash.co have done a great job outlining the different career paths available in the US👇

Source: crash.co

The career paths available outside the US are similar to the ones depicted above, but salaries of course will differ. Below you can find average salaries for SDR's and AE's in different regions 👇


Source: LinkedIn Salaries

It's a wrap!

To recap:

  • Tech sales professionals are in huge demand
  • They're fulfilling roles, focused on solving customer problems
  • They're well paid and offer huge room for growth
  • Entry-level roles don't require a university degree or previous experience

Tech sales can be a wonderful career choice for many people.

In fact, a study done by Princeton researchers suggests that 1 in 5 people have all the necessary skills necessary to succeed at sales. Yet many people never consider it because they don’t know what it is all about or just don’t have access.

This is why we founded Hyrise Academy, to give motivated people access to tech sales careers regardless of their background through intensive online courses. 

We hope this high-level overview helps you get a better understanding of the world of tech sales and the opportunities it provides.

If you are considering tech sales as a career option, we recommend you take our 2 minute test to find out if you belong to the 1 in 5 naturally apt to work in tech sales.


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