You’re a sales person with no IT background. How do you keep up?

First off, if you don’t have some underlying interest or curiosity in technology then you shouldn’t be in this line of work. If you do like tech and appreciate how it makes our lives more productive, safe and reliable, then you’re in the right place. I’ll explain my method of learning the IT landscape, so you can keep a conversation with these geeks.

Our company, Think|Stack, is an IT company that sells services. Most of these services involve us installing a specific tool that enables our clients’ businesses to run or secures the data they have. You might guess what I’m about to say next. Learn what these tools do and understand how they affect your clients’ day to day work. Take the trainings that the IT vendors offer out there. I know some of them suck but there are some decent ones (props to Sophos and Fortinet). They know their product better than anyone else. They will show you the pain points they solve and why it’s better than their competitors’ products. They do all of the research and sales prep for you. That’s the hard part. All you have to do is soak it up and apply it to your conversations. Another thing to check out are the case studies that these vendors provide. I’ve read quite a few that Amazon Web Services has created and they’re super helpful in painting the full picture.

The next piece of advice I’d share is to shadow the engineers you work with. I’m assuming you understand the context of the project or service you sold but look a little further into the actual steps that are taken to roll that out. Go onsite with them. Look over their shoulder while they write code. Crack a beer and sit down with them at the end of the day and ask if they ran into any complications or hold ups during the project. You will learn intricate details of the process that will make you more credible in future conversations with prospects and it’ll help when you pass off the project to your engineers. They appreciate when you make their lives easier.

Read, read, read. Your brain is a muscle that needs to be worked out just like biceps and triceps. Not only will it keep you sharp and improve your memory but staying informed of what is happening in the tech world is crucial to your credibility as an IT sales rep. There are several reading platforms such as websites, blogs, magazines, case studies and CES reports. I personally like Business Insiders’ Tech Insider (www.businessinsider.com/sai), SecurityWeek blog, Wired magazine, The Hacker News (thehackernews.com) and Appy Geek. I also recommend reading about the business world in general. Magazines like Entrepreneur give you a high-level understanding of how companies function. Once you understand that, you can then start to see how technology affects how company’s deliver their service product or both.

Finally, you really can’t beat hands on experience. Buy as many tech products as you can and try it out for yourself. Turn your house into a “smart home.” Buy a cheap server or NAS device, that probably has way more storage than you’ll ever need, and experiment with it. Log into your modem/router and play with the different settings. I guarantee they have more functionality than you realize. But keep in mind these are simple things (I can already here my engineers laughing at me now). Unless you’re signing into the interface of a firewall, performing an Office 365 migration, installing a WAN device etc., you’ll never be as technical as your engineers or the tech guys you sell to. That’s okay. Your prospects don’t expect you to know the intricate details of what they do. However, they DO expect you to know what the hell you’re talking about in regard to how it affects their company’s and department’s goals. Following a couple or all of these suggestions will help you get there.