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For the last 25 years the classic Type A personality sales person has figured prominently in just about every significant deal involving IT. They may not always have known a whole lot about IT, but usually they were proficient at establishing relationships and gaining the confidence of customers.

But at the economy has turned, selling products has become exceedingly difficult. Customers are not really in the mood to acquire new products and technologies as they continue to postpone projects. They are, however, interested in IT services that help them get more value out of what they have, which is borne out once again in Hewlett Packard’s latest financial results.

Given this situation, there’s also a shift happening in terms of what types of sales people are going to be most effective. The Type A personality that banks more on relationships to sell products is having a very tough time. Increasingly, many of them are being laid off or moving into other fields lest they become the digital equivalent of the Willy Loman character from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

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Instead of relying on high-priced salespeople with expensive tastes to sell products, many solution providers are relying more on low-key field sales engineers that are more effective at building relationships with customers over the long term. While the typical Type A sales personality tends to think in terms of transactions, the field sales engineer thinks more in terms of relationships. This is crucial psychological difference because most revenue is coming from existing customers and increasingly the services being provided by the solution provider are becoming automated.

In order to sell additional services, or for that matter products, solution providers are going to need to have a keen understanding of exactly what the customer requires. That means that the person representing the solution provider has to have a lot of technical knowledge to credibly recommend additional services and products.

In effect, the nature of the relationship between the customer and the solution provider is changing. There will always be some requirement for a Type A salesperson to land new accounts. But as a percentage of the overall sales organization, these types of people are going to be a relatively small number of specialists dedicated to that activity, versus expensive sales people that get paid a monthly commission on every piece of revenue that flows through an existing customer, especially when an increasing percentage of that revenue stems from ongoing automated services.

Times are especially tough for the Type A sales personality and a lot of them are holding out hope that things will return to normal once the economy changes. But many of them should also recognize that the way IT is delivered and consumed has fundamentally changed. This will have more of a profound effect on them then any downturn ever will. And given that, many of them need to start thinking now about how to reinvent them selves before they become the modern equivalent of the traveling salesman.