Demand for outstanding talent continues to rapidly increase in the software sector.

Software sales talent – square pegs & round holes

James Watson, a Director FMC Global Talent and head of the software recruitment team.
James Watson, a Director at FMC Global Talent and head of the software recruitment team.

Demand for outstanding talent continues to rapidly increase in the software sector. The pressure is on to find individuals with both the required sales acumen to close deals and the technical expertise to take the (often highly complex) software packages to market. The perceived wisdom is that they need this expertise in order to adequately respond to any challenging questions fielded to them and to appropriately evaluate and adapt the software solution based on the customer needs.

One of the most obvious ways of addressing this need is to appoint a specialist from the particular software area. They come in already equipped with product knowledge and an interest in what they are selling. However by limiting the talent search to this candidate pool choice is dramatically reduced which in turn creates a number of risks.

In fact it is possible for employers to become so focussed on appointing the ‘perfect’ candidate that they overlook other suitable talented individuals, just because their specific software domain knowledge is not immediately related. These individuals may still possess transferable skills and an ability to learn a new solution / market rapidly. In some instances, if they possess a broader set of skills at a high level, this can benefit the employer in regard to a fresh ideas and a willingness to challenge existing perceptions.

As evidence of the above one of the senior hiring leaders that I currently support told me that out of the six senior sales professionals he had recently appointed, the strongest performer in Q1 had come from outside the immediate industry.

So, what are we looking for?

Customer focus: Certain sales characteristics are critical for success regardless of the specific software solution. Evidence that a candidate treats their customers as a priority and seeks to understand and solve the respective business challenge is the fundamental building block of the solution. Surprisingly, this is not always evidenced by candidates at interview and it is a powerful indicator of capability and true customer engagement.

Building relationships: It is essential within any market that a salesperson is a master of relationship management. This is not just limited to the customer base, but should include an ability to develop a much broader network of connections including industry forums and thought leaders.

Tenacity and persistence: It may seem obvious, but making the most of the relationships you form in a sales role is only possible if you are a resilient and persistent communicator who can handle rejection and manage customer expectation. How well will the candidate bounce back from failure? Do they have the capability to maintain a positive, proactive and engaged mind-set, even through challenging commercial periods?

Flexibility and innovation: A lot of the transferable skills that you can look for in an employee come down to their mind-set and how they personally approach a role. Do they have the inherent flexibility to try new things in their approach to sales? Having the bravery and conviction to believe in a trial and error approach is massive in sales, as the greatest results are achieved outside of your comfort zone. The sales people you employ should have an innate desire to innovate and adapt to change, in order to keep results positive throughout any disruption caused by external factors.

Goal-driven and realistic: Sales people obviously need to be self-motivated and goal-driven, with the ability to realistically predict pipeline and consistently hit and exceed targets set for them. However, evidence of success in ‘new’ markets (either by solution or sector) is a strong indicator of a candidate’s ability to transition to a new focus area and is well worth probing at interview.

Broader awareness: Finally there is a lot to be said about sales professionals innately possessing a level of awareness about the wider setting of their customer base. For example, the necessity to have a level of cultural knowledge if the company deals with a certain geographical customer base. They might also display evidence of a level of awareness of competitors and the wider market in their previous jobs. This approach means that the candidate will have the mind-set to ensure they better equipped to gain insight and implement it within their sales processes.

I would encourage hiring leaders to adapt a pragmatic approach to their hiring options in order to ultimately secure the right candidate in a timely manner. In a perfect world each role would be filled by the market leading expert in that particular field, but the belief that this is possible every time is unrealistic. The right talent is out there but not always in the most obvious places!

As a specialist head-hunter with 20 years’ experience I am passionate about supporting clients to secure outstanding talent through market insight and an approach that challenges conventional thinking. If you are interested in any of the points I have raised or are seeking to expand your team then please feel free to contact me.