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The Biggest IT Skills Shortage You (Probably) Haven’t Heard About

March 29, 2016, 6:38 PM UTC
Photograph by David Woolfall—Getty Images

When you think about the tech skills that are most in demand, what most likely comes to mind are things like cybersecurity, mobile app development, and data science expertise — all “hot” skills, for sure. But, no matter how terrific a product is, the old saw is still true: Nothing happens until somebody sells something. “Salespeople are just as crucial to IT companies’ success as techies are,” says Tawheed “T.K.” Kader, founder and CEO of sales-support software maker ToutApp. “It just doesn’t get talked about.”

However quietly, tech companies are engaged in a fierce fight for sales talent. Consider: Second only to engineers, sales roles are the toughest to fill, according to a new survey of executives at 300 tech companies with 200 employees or more. About 70% say finding experienced sales talent is “very competitive,” and 80% are paying top dollar to attract more of it.

“As tech companies scale, servers and storage capacity may be infinite, but there’s still a limited number of humans they can hire and train to sell,” Kader observes. With software companies projecting 45% growth this year, according to a separate study by, demand for people who can sell what tech companies create is only going to grow, especially in Silicon Valley. Job openings for salespeople on the West Coast have risen 16% since last year, the study says, versus 11% in the rest of the country.

To get more sales talent, IT employers are trying out a couple of new approaches. For one thing, they’re casting a wider geographic net. Since the competition is stiffest in California and New York, Kader says companies are starting to look at smaller cities — especially Austin, Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City — to tap the talent pools there. And more than one in three (42%) sales managers in the report said they’re also focused on recruiting more women.

Note to the Class of 2016: Tech companies are stepping up their hiring of Millennials and new grads, and providing a new kind of on-the-job training. While an experienced IT salesperson would probably start dealing with customers right away, newbies now go through a two-part program that segments the sales role into two parts, Kader says. “First, you do pure prospecting, including cold calling and developing new leads,” he explains. “Then, after six months or so, you ‘graduate’ into consulting with customers and closing small deals.”

Salespeople from fields other than tech are increasingly welcome, too. “You’d obviously need to add the technical knowledge,” Kader says, “but sales skills themselves are highly transferable, since the main requirement for successful salespeople in any industry is a high EQ.” Evidently. The most-mentioned two qualities sales managers look for in sales job candidates, says the study, are resilience and empathy.