Last week I had the honor of joining other mainframers for an annual sales kick off meeting, marking the beginning of our (Compuware’s) fiscal year. While attending this year, I had the following observations about folks in mainframe sales, the state of IT and the power of connection.

About Mainframe Sales

You can teach an old dog a new trick. (I’m one of those old dogs, so it’s OK.) With the introduction of new application performance technology that shows the impact of distributed activity in mainframe environments, Compuware’s mainframe reps were taught terms such as Tomcat, Hadoop and Mongo. No one complained. They listened carefully, asked good questions and took notes.  As Geoffrey James recently wrote, salespeople typically have strong technical expertise and savvy. They are usually the first commercial adopters of new technology and often far more aware of what’s going on than their counterparts, being the first group of people widely adopt cell phones, smartphones, and tablets, and CRMs.

Mainframe sales people have a tremendous amount of tenure.  In fact, these dogs have been learning new tricks for a long time. The average tenure of a sales rep is less than three years. Compuware’s mainframe sales rep has an average of 10+ years. In fact, we celebrated one rep’s achievement of 20 years at Compuware. We’re a tight group with special friendships. Our break conversations are now about kids at college and dreams about retirement.

About IT

IT departments are a complicated maze of interconnected technologies. We were fortunate to hear from several of our customers. While it certainly wasn’t a surprise to hear about their complex environments, it’s fascinating to hear directly from customers just how hard their jobs can be. And these are customers with bleeding edge technology. If only people knew what was going on behind the scenes when someone purchases an airline ticket online or cashes a check with their mobile phone. The IT guys and gals that ensure our daily lives are not interrupted by technology nuisances are modern day heroes.

IT knows where the holes are and they are looking to fill them. Even though they commit daily acts of heroism, IT leaders don’t have all the information they need and have some very big “black boxes” that impede their success.  But when they see technology that can open the box, they get very excited. I heard several stories about clients jumping out of their seats to get a better look during demonstrations. The best story happened right at the meeting: when describing the first time they saw our newest technology, Compuware APM for Mainframe, one customer said of the visibility it provides, “After 14 years of performance testing, it was like angels from heaven came down.”

About Connections

Sales reps need each other. Even though sales reps are extremely self-sufficient, they love sharing their stories and hearing from other reps. They also need to feel connected to their leaders. We heard from Bob Paul, Compuware’s CEO. Bob addressed the team with authenticity, passion and a heartfelt desire to help the team succeed. He is a leader that truly understands the technology industry and what makes sales people tick. Nothing can compare to the value of the connection between a sales rep and the leader of the company they sell for.

I’ll be on year 29 at Compuware this year, can’t quite get my head around that. But I’m excited to see what this year bring will us as technology continues to become engrained in our daily lives. And, I look forward to seeing my co-workers again next year when we will know the fate of the Blackberry z10 and Microsoft’s Surface, yet ponder the “next new normal” of IT. We’ll continue to smugly decry those that predicted the death of the mainframe and those that believe distributed-computing professionals invented the concept of cloud computing. We will share stories of how mainframe customers continue to do more with less. And of course, I will share stories of how I survived my first year as an empty-nester.