They say there are two types of IT sales people, the "hunters" and the "farmers". Most users of computers could probably easily identify these sales stereotypes. Hunters help their organisation secure new clients. These are the people who send you unsolicited mail or call you up out of the blue to try and excite you about their company's IT offerings. Farmers manage and cultivate existing business relationships. They are probably best known as account managers and their challenge is to secure a larger proportion of your total IT investment.
Whatever their role, the major challenge for any IT sales person is qualifying every potential sales opportunity. Because a lost sale is such an unprofitable and unrewarding investment of their time, most of the best technology representatives tend to be extremely cautious when deciding whether to pursue a particular sale. Above all, most reps recognise that few IT customers are willing to be guinea pigs; they will demand to see evidence of similar implementations by the vendor.
This can mean that many potential uses for IT solutions take a considerable time to be realised. Often both vendors and customers can recognise that a certain technology has other applications in new areas. However, the customer is usually reluctant to be the pioneer while the sales person recognises that this hesitancy will make a sale unlikely.
I came across a case in point on a recent visit to New Zealand. I was the guest of a good friend who is a salesman for a geographic information system (GIS). I mentioned to him that a number of members of IDC's InTEP management group recognised that a GIS could assist in their marketing activities. For example, it could help chart the locations and profiles of customers and so assist in decisions such as where to site premises such as shops and branches.
While recognising these applications for a GIS, his response was that these uses of the technology are still relatively embryonic. His major clients primarily use the system to map infrastructure items such as pipes and wires.
He saw that the initial function for which GIS was developed, namely to automate the drawing offices of utilities, local governments and railways, still represented the bulk of his company's GIS business.
This experience is borne out in IDC Australia's annual survey of local IT Managers, the "Forecast for Management" study. Respondents were asked to identify whether they were using a GIS or whether they had plans to use it in the next two years. The major users of it were from local and State government.
Just under 37 per cent of GIS users came from these categories. On the other hand only 1 per cent of GIS users came from the retail sector while just over 2 per cent came from banking or credit unions.
At first glance low usage of a GIS in these sectors appears surprising. After all, nearly all the major banks are currently embarking on a major rationalisation of their branches. It would seem that a GIS could help them identify the location of key customers to ensure they are not impacted unnecessarily by any branch closures. Similarly, shops live or die by the old real estate maxim of "location, location, location". Without using a GIS to pinpoint the appropriate socio-economic groups, population thresholds or competitor locations, how on earth can a retail organisation be sure of where best to site their stores?The issue, of course, is that if none of your competitors are using a GIS for this purpose you have to be the guinea pig who proves or disproves the concept.
In the turbulent working environment of the 1990s that is a position few of us would relish. However, until someone is game enough to test the waters it seems that the potential benefits of many technologies like GIS will remain unfulfilled.
Maybe IT vendors need to think about how to mix a few pioneers among their farmers and hunters to help open up these new markets for their solutions.
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