IT buys into sales skills

But forcing these skills on techies is akin to root canal

Australian IT professionals are spending more time beefing up their sales skills and less time fine-tuning their tech talent in a bid to gain a competitive edge in today's market.

Communication, negotiation, and a ROI focus were once the domain of sales and business, but according to Australian IT managers, it is these skills that can really make the difference in a successful ICT career.

Executive director of IT recruitment firm Robert Half Technology, Katherine Spencer, said technology investments and regulatory requirements are blurring the distinction between sales and IT as tech professionals take-on business skills in their climb up the corporate ladder.

Bendigo Bank chief manager of IT delivery service, Bob Downing, said to survive IT professionals must be able to negotiate and influence.

"Extracting better deals from vendors and pitching well-researched and [articulate] projects should be something every IT manager can do," Downing said.

He said executives appreciate IT managers who can effectively communicate with end-users because it helps to improve business goals and cooperation within the business.

Put simply, Downing said IT managers couldn't be effective without sales skills because they are hired to address gaps between business units that nobody else can really fill.

"A decade ago these skills weren't in demand but now they are part and parcel of the job," he added.

Tom Pettibone, co-founder of management consultancy firm Transition Partners, and a former CIO at Philip Morris, said communication skills are a must for IT managers eyeing the CIO's seat.

"Effective IT leaders draw upon the ability to set and communicate a vision for the IT organization, [and the] capacity to market and sell that vision to IT staffers and business executives," Pettibone said.

However he warned against forcing these skill sets onto unwilling techies, noting that such an effort is comparable to root canal.

Western Australia Country Health Service (South West) IT operation co-ordinator, Chris Murray, said IT managers who have good communication and negotiation skills are the most valuable because they can design projects and secure vendor deals that better align IT with the business.

"People in IT who have the best communication skills and are technically sound are the best operators and have the most potential, which is generally also true for sales people," Murray said.

"Having some knowledge of sales skills and techniques is extremely useful for dealing with vendors and their representatives, but perhaps more for awareness of the tricks and techniques used to try and get you to sign without asking the hard questions."

But Murray warned against adopting a hard "vendor-like" approach when selling to the business.

"Product failure could become the fault of the evangelizing IT practitioner so be careful," he said.

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