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How to succeed in the IT Industry Transfer Window

Football managers know only too well the importance of the transfer window but as Nick Booth finds out there are lessons in the IT world that can be learnt about capturing talent

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It’s that time of year when expensively acquired new team members everywhere are looking to bed in together, after a period of splenetic transfer activity. The recent trading hysteria has seen an unprecedented level of investment, with millions of pounds changing hands and dozens of big names on the move.

No, forget Ibrahimovic and Benteke and Co. We are talking about a much bigger league than that. Man United’s temperamental new striker looks like Ghandi in comparison to some of the volcanic egos in the IT talent market. Recently, all the elements were in place for a ground shaking disruption of the talent landscape.

I asked sales analyst and IT industry expert Gavin McLaughlin to explain, in layman’s terms, what has just happened.

About every 18 months, it seems, pressure builds up under the surface, or the bottom line as they call it. We journalists only really get vague reports of quarterly earnings but the cracks are normally papered over and the readings aren’t accurate anyway. But the hidden groundswell cannot be suppressed indefinitely and eventually the energy leads to an IT channel quake.  

We just had one such an event in June, which reverberated for three months and is only just settling down. It seems the tectonic plates of hope and expectation were jammed up against the immovable object of sales reality, which even started to move in the counter direction in some companies. Eventually, 18 months of dramatic tension creates a massive judder and the released kinetic energy ejects sale teams into the ether and sends them flying across the globe.

“It’s usually triggered in the second quarter of the year when sales figures fall way short of expectations,” says McLaughlin. With aspirations still moving in one direction and reality coming unstoppably the other way, there is a massive disruption in the IT industry. This is when companies start to put out press releases congratulating men called Doug on their move to another company, and welcoming in a new head of sales.

Without mentioning any names, you may have noticed a managerial merry go round in the storage industry recently.

This is where the IT industry’s transfer window comes in. This is a tiny industry - if measured in numbers of sales warriors - and they all know each other. Being fiercely competitive, the top Finishers tend to be very specific about who they work with, since teamwork is built on trust and understanding. So when the manager leaves, they tend to coax all their favourite players to move with them. Which in turn leaves their old company without a salesforce. So they in turn have to raid someone else’s human resources. The IT industry isn’t Dog Eat Dog, it’s more brutal than that. It’s Dog fillets Dog’s entire nervous system.

This is one of the sales channel challenges that McLaughlin wants to solve for clients, many of whom are US companies that use the UK as their launching pad into Europe.

Any company setting up a channel in the UK has a choice of risky investments. They could hire a VP of sales and trust him or her to ‘land and expand’ - usually by bringing in all their trusted lieutenants from previous campaigns. Thus the poor IT company is landed with massive initial costs which, if not recouped in 6 to 18 months, will be fatal. The other option is to hire a sales agency, which recruits people who can only read from a script in situations that usually require some delicacy and sensitivity. Sort of bull sheeters in a china shop.

Option 3 is the new service offered by McLaughlin which, if I’m paraphrasing accurately, is a sort of cloud sales service. His service, An Outside Edge, aims to get the client deals, but gradually train people internally. This nurturing and mentoring is a bit like a football team’s youth policy, where they bring young players up through the ranks. By around 9 months, McLaughlin’s trainers will have hoped to have created a Class of ’92 team that can start pushing for promotion on their own.

Then the client is in for 18 months of glory. After which, the agents will inevitably move in, just as the transfer window opens and the whole cycle starts again. Still, if you’re in a tight situation now, I’d punt the problem over to Gavin. He’s got good feet for a big lad and he promises a decent finish.

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