The Key Skills You Need to Succeed in Tech Sales: Self-Confidence, Humility, Honesty and More

Sponsored by Appian

Silvia Fossati, Kelsey McDonell and Meghan Posco

Photo courtesy of the Appian.

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Fairygodboss
April 18, 2024 at 10:42AM UTC

“Be yourself,” Silvia Fossati, the Appian Area Vice President who is responsible for business in France, Iberia and Italy, says of her best advice for women in tech sales.

Kelsey McDonell, Solutions Consultant, agrees that it’s important to stay true to yourself and adds that it’s okay to not know everything about tech. McDonell is responsible for engaging in client discovery, product demos, proof-of-concepts, architectural deep-dives, proposal responses and more.

“Yes, you need to be the expert on your product, but customers and prospects appreciate honesty,” she explains. “If I come across a term or technology that I haven’t heard of, I ask for a quick explanation. This builds my credibility because I’m not seen as a slick salesperson pretending to have all the answers.”

In other words: Confidence is key, and humility and honesty go a long way. After all, Meghan Posco, Account Executive, says that it’s critical to remember that you’re already in sales.

“Early in my sales career, I was at a dinner with a client executive, and I was still uncomfortable with the idea of being a salesperson,” she recalls. “I still thought of sales as pushy, less informed and disingenuous.”

She remembers expecting the client executive to share her negative view of salespeople, but he told her a story about earlier in his career that inspired her. Someone had told him that, ultimately, everyone works in sales.

“You have to be effective in sales to be successful in any role in life,” she says. “You have to sell yourself constantly in any job you do. You sell your ideas to your team in a meeting or presentation. You sell your accomplishments to your boss during reviews. You sell your requests in a well-crafted email. I started to see everyone around me, even internal roles, as having a heavy reliance on the same sales skills to be effective. It made me appreciate that sales is more intrinsic to what we all do all the time — and it is a critical skill set to develop, whether you pursue a career in sales or outside of it.”

Overall, to succeed in tech sales, Fossati, McDonell and Posco stress the importance of communication skills, problem solving, prioritization, emotional intelligence, curiosity, grit, focus, competence and developing relationships. But what else does it take to succeed?

We caught up with all three women to learn more about their tech sales career experiences and advice for women pursuing similar paths. Here’s what they had to say.

Can you explain what tech sales is and how tech sales differs from other sales industries?

Posco: Being in technical sales has forced me to confront my ideas of what sales means, so I would invite any readers to do the same. I’m a technologist first, a consultant second and a salesperson third. I have an engineering degree, started as a consultant at Appian and ended up as a sales executive.

The sales processes are complex, so the delivery of client outcomes is pivotal to building long-term partnerships. Enterprise technology sales is really antithetical to the common representation of a car salesperson, for example. 

McDonell: Tech sales is an exciting, fast-paced industry. Everything in our world is going digital. Organizations are embracing technology to differentiate, keep up with customer expectations and adapt to global markets (especially with COVID-19). Add this increasing demand to the ever-changing innovations in technology, and you’ve got an explosion of opportunity! 

Fossati: Tech sales is about effectively positioning the product offerings by highlighting the business value customers can get by adopting a certain technology, whether it be in terms of increased revenues, reduced costs or mitigated risks. Tech sales requires an understanding of the technology itself and the key drivers of tech initiatives.

Could you share the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being in tech sales?

Posco: The best technology is intended to be disruptive and innovative, which means when you’re working with it, you’re constantly in new situations. And not just new for yourself, it can also be new for the client and sometimes for your own company. It’s extremely challenging to constantly work in novelty, but also very engaging and spurs creativity.

By applying knowledge from the past and critical thinking, you can come up with new ideas, content or tools to accomplish what you want. When things work, continue to improve and reuse them, and share them with peers. When things don’t, learn fast and try something different. It’s rewarding to be able to be creative and to see your ingenuity lead to results.

Fossati: I find it extremely rewarding having the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of our customers’ business and grow that community of happy customers. What is sometimes challenging is to get people to fully understand the value you are bringing beyond a pure exercise of cost reduction.

What is your best advice for overcoming the challenges in your field?

Posco: Know yourself and take the long view. First, self awareness is key to being successful in any role but especially in one as broad as this. To be really good at this job, you have to have skills and knowledge that span several domains. The best thing you can do is learn which of your skills and behaviors work and evolve to make the most of those rather than trying to emulate what may work well for someone else who is innately different from you.

My second piece of advice is to take the long view. There will be a lot of short-term losses and failures. However, trust that the investments made over time will pay off with years of consistent success, and more and more opportunity ahead.

Fossati: Never give up — if you are convinced of the value your offering can bring, sooner or later a door will be opened to you by the prospect you are targeting.

How has Appian supported you in your career journey as a woman in tech sales?

Posco: I believe to succeed in a male-dominated industry, a strong female community is crucial 

to provide understanding, advice, and support in the unique shared experience. The culture at Appian has provided me with opportunities of my own but also a community of female role models and peers who have enriched my professional and personal life. 

Throughout my tenure, I have worked alongside uniquely talented technical women (in sales and beyond) who help me grow. From my favorite attorney, who is witty and excels in a highly technical legal arena, to one of our proposal managers, who is a wizard with words, I rely on a handful of incredible women within Appian to get my job done. I’m grateful to be part of such an exceptional community of women. I’m also grateful for the male leaders who advocated for me and opened doors for me along the way. Here’s to all the great men supporting women.

McDonell:  I came across Appian armed with a degree in music performance and zero exposure to computer science. Appian hired me as a business development representative, which taught me the basics of selling enterprise software and piqued my interest in technology.

Appian recognized my drive to become more technical and sent me through a two-week product training course. Appian also set me up with a job rotation in customer and event marketing. Over the next year of networking and taking on extra projects, I discovered my dream job: Solutions Consulting, the perfect combination of tech and sales. 

During my time as an Associate Solutions Consultant (ASC) , I did a six-month coding bootcamp outside of my job at George Washington University. This course gave me a hands-on sampling of full-stack application development. Even though it wasn’t required for selling a low-code platform, it boosted my confidence and expanded my technical vocabulary. The Appian tuition reimbursement benefits helped with some of the cost. 

Within nine months of being an ASC, I was promoted to the field and have been a Public Sector Solutions Consultant for two-and-a-half years. I’m backed by the confidence, experience, education and responsibility Appian has given me and I learn more every day! 

Fossati: Appian is extremely good at offering opportunities to people willing to step in and then supporting them over their career. I got training around the offering, the sales techniques, how to leverage on the external and internal teams, presentation skills and more. This is an ongoing process part of a continuous improvement journey. Besides that, Appian encourages affinity groups where, among the others, women can have specific occasions to network, exchange experiences and support each other.

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