Transition from technology to sales? Tell me your story.
September 27, 2011 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I have 15 years of experience building web applications, programming in interesting subject domains and leading programming teams. I enjoy software development, but it doesn't utilize my social skills very well and I think I have a unique blend of technical talent and communication skills. I'm looking for the next thing and I'm wondering if it might be sales in a technical field.

Part of my inclination toward sales is that the pay is formula based and it stands to reason that if you do it well you can earn more. I genuinely enjoy getting to understand what other people need and craft solutions for it. My wife used to do professional sales (covered territory with specific clients and prospects) so I'm familiar with some of the upsides as well as downsides.

I'm interested to hear from others who may have transitioned from technology roles where you build systems into sales. What did you like most about it? Least? What surprised you most, good or bad, about the transition? Would you do it again? Do you feel that your technical skills have languished? If so, does that pose a problem for you professionally or personally?

These are just some examples of thoughts I have about this. I don't have a specific industry or company in mind at this time, but that isn't to mean that I'm purposeless in the question. At this time I'm interested to hear some transition stories and lessons learned to help determine if I should get more serious about this.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, it sounds like you could be a fabulous web technical producer if you're good at project management. Good tech producers are gold.
posted by smirkette at 8:17 AM on September 27, 2011

Actually, you sound perfect for a sales engineering role. It would allow you to work directly with customers solving problems, but will depend on your technical skills, so they will stay in play too.
posted by COD at 8:22 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider going into management, either of developers or projects. It will scratch both itches.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2011

Project Management, specifically PMP certification.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2011

You're going to need to decide whether or not the part that appeals to you about sales is the compensation model, or the client facing. There's lots of disgruntled, overworked sales engineers who aren't on quota and get paid the same regardless of how big the deal is.

Personally, if I was mainly interested in just being compensated per unit work, I'd skip tech sales altogether and go for something with fewer moving parts, shorter sales cycles, and lower barrier to entry. If you're just after the client facing, there's lots of need for people who can translate from civilian to nerd and back.

From what I've seen of people who've made the switch, technical aptitude has almost no correlation (or even negative correlation) vs. sales talent.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2011

From what I've seen of people who've made the switch, technical aptitude has almost no correlation (or even negative correlation) vs. sales talent.

This is very true. It's hard to enough to sell for a living. Having the technical competence to know that what you are telling the customer is BS doesn't make it any easier. I sometimes wonder if tech companies keep their sales force stupid on purpose.
posted by COD at 9:26 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't tell you about sales, but I can tell you about some other possibilities.

Partly it depends what kind of social skills you want to use, what social itch you want to scratch, and what you want your typical day to be like. Business analysis and consulting will get you out and about, working with clients as well as tech teams. Leadership roles are good if you're interested in longer term relationships with people, and you get a kick out of coaching and developing people. Being a trainer seems to suit some people with tech and social skills very well too, and a lot of them seem to be able to combine "teaching others to do it" with actually carrying on "doing it" themselves.

But yes, the less you use your tech skills, the more they will languish. And at some point you might find yourself feeling the reverse of what you are now, i.e. "I'm using my people skills and loving that, but I'm now hankering after writing code and some meatier intellectual challenge."
posted by philipy at 11:24 AM on September 27, 2011

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