Are Sales People Really Needed?

SalesmanMy former-EDA-salesperson friend had just finished his lunch when he leaned back in his chair and said:

“Listen. You’ve been on both sides, in EDA and a customer. Lemme ask you a question. Do you think sales people are really needed?”

At first, I was really shocked to hear this question, especially from someone who had been in EDA sales for the last 10 years. After all, you don’t hear plumbers asking if plumbers are needed. Or doctors. Or auto mechanics. Even folks in professions that are experiencing job losses, such as journalism, hardly ever question the value they bring.

I let the question sink in for a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, and answered the only way I could. With another question, “how do you mean?”

As it turns out, my friend was not really having a deep identity crisis. He was just trying to understand why EDA companies, including his former employer, seem to view direct sales people, especially him, as expendable costs, easily replaced with inside sales, marketing campaigns, and online sales methods.

Put that way, it’s an interesting question to consider. Although I have never been a “bag carrying” sales person, I did spend the better party of 14 years on the EDA side in some sort of sales support or semi-sales role. And I still have many friends in sales or applications engineering roles. Were my friends and my old jobs becoming obsolete? Are new technologies, ones that connect customers with companies directly (blogs, forums, etc.), making sales people unnecessary?

On the other hand, I’ve spent the last 3 years of my career back on the other side of the fence, in the customer world. I’ve had the opportunity for many interactions with folks whose shoes I used to wear. Certainly, some of these folks do provide value, marshaling corporate resources to address a tool issue or providing methodology assistance for a new technology. There are also the dirty parts of the job. Without sales people’s efforts, many opportunities would die an early death in the hands of lawyers, accountants, and purchasing reps, or at least they would not occur as quickly as they do.

At the same time, we cannot deny that technology is replacing the need for sales people in many of our other daily purchases, especially consumer electronics. We do all of our research online. We compare product specs on web sites. We seek out product reviews by trusted tech gadget bloggers and ratings by actual customers. We compare prices online and make our purchases with a click. No sales person in the loop.

You’d be correct in pointing out that buying an EDA tool is not like buying a digital camera. Still, there are changes going on in EDA as well. This blog and those of many of my colleagues are now considered product research resources. The work I’ve been doing recently with Xuropa has been aimed at moving part of the sales process, specifically product evaluations, online.  And forums such as TechBites are springing up to provide independent opinions. So maybe there is some cause for my friend’s concern.

As I’ve had time to consider this question since our lunch, I’ve come to feel that salespeople are still needed and will be for some time to come in EDA. Good salespeople know how to find customers, to manage sales campaigns, to manage complex issues, and to ultimately “close the deal”. However, many of their up-front functions will be taken over by other methods, driven by thechnology. As a result, the salesperson will increasingly encounter a more educated customer, one that knows he has alternatives, and one that feels more in control of the sales process than before. Salespeople will have to adapt to that type of customer.

We finished up our lunch and our discussion without reaching any definite conclusions. On the way to our cars I asked him, “mind if I blog about it?”

“Sure.”

So, what do you think? Are sales people really needed?

harry the ASIC guy

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6 Responses to “Are Sales People Really Needed?”

  1. Ray Salemi Says:

    I think you answered your own question with this faint praise: “Certainly, some of these folks do provide value, marshaling corporate resources to address a tool issue or providing methodology assistance for a new technology. There are also the dirty parts of the job. Without sales people’s efforts, many opportunities would die an early death in the hands of lawyers, accountants, and purchasing reps, or at least they would not occur as quickly as they do.”

    While your article treats this as a throwaway value, it is the key value of EDA sales. Technology is only one part of the question. The other to parts are business need and relationships.

    You really can’t work through the other two without sales people.

  2. BottTech Says:

    Funny… my sales guy says his software is so damned good that us ASIC engineers are not necessary.

  3. Jeremy Ralph Says:

    There are a lot of quirks with EDA selling and if someone knows the ropes they can provide a lot of value to the EDA co. and the customer. Each large EDA deal is a very complex process which is driven by the customer’s development cycle, budget, and politics. I think a good EDA salesperson could help the customer engineering team to expedite the purchase of a tool that is needed for an upcoming project. Engineers wanting a new tool can get discouraged by the internal bureaucracy sometimes. The EDA salesperson needs to really understand the dynamics of the decision process. Provided there are EDA sales people that can accomplish this (and if you know any send them my way :-), how do you compensate them and keep them interested?

    On the other side of the argument, the cost of the traditional sales channel is quite expensive and contributes to the cost of the product. What is the cost of selling in EDA and is it efficient when compared to other industries? What is the return on attending DAC? What is the return on flying to visit prospects face-to-face for meetings which could be conducted online? What is the cost/benifit of onsite evaluations, support and customization?

    Lots of questions and few answers here. I do believe that more of an online pretense for tool evaluations - without requiring any software to be downloaded or installed by the customers - is the way forward, like what we’re doing with SpectaReg Online, and what Xuropa is doing with online Labs.

  4. Jim Price Says:

    I’d start with a comment that, hopefully without sounding too corny, a good ’sales’ person is actually a ‘great’ relationship manager. Having spent the first 15 years of my professional life in technical sales, I spent the great majority of my time trying to understand my customer’s business, and the balance of my time marshaling company resources to determine if and how we can construct a legitimately valuable solution that is compelling to the customer’s technical AND business challenges.

    In our era of almost everything being a commodity or nearly so, the right vendor selection is one that demonstrates alignment with the customer problem, post sales support to ensure the solution lives up to its promise, and and a future relationship that makes repeat engagements even more effective and valuable than the initial engagement.

    None of the following get accomplished with inside sales (no disrespect intended), or with online sales.

    There is an art to being a great relationship manager, and kudos to those ’sales’ reps in EDA or other industries that practice their profession well.

  5. John Eaton Says:

    Harry,

    Did you read Dilbert the day after you posted this?

    http://www.dilbert.com/2009-12-01/

  6. A Talk With An EDA Consultant | Chris Gammell's Analog Life Says:

    […] is clearly the “soft skills” of how to deal with people, especially customers, and understanding the sales process. For me it was a pretty easy transition because I had some aptitude and I really had a passion for […]

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