Indianapolis seems to have no shortage of tech visionaries or of developers who can write code for ingenious apps and software platforms.
And metro tech firms are finally attracting gobs of venture capital — upwards of $240 million last year, according to TechPoint, a nonprofit devoted to boosting the state's tech industry.
Outside the glare of these victories, however, experts say there is a shortage of those who directly contribute to the bottom line of tech firms: sales professionals.
“We’re at a very aggressive growth mode, like many technology companies,” said Jenny Vance, vice president of sales at marketing tech firm PERQ. “It was getting to the point all we could do within the tech community was to trade talent back and forth,”
To grow the talent base in sales, a handful of companies partnered with TechPoint this summer on a "Sales Bootcamp." The six-week program, which included coaching by a Sandler sales training coach and work experience at four local companies, last month graduated its first class of 18 participants.
They ranged from recent college graduates to those seeking to change careers. So far, at least five of them have been hired, including Joshua Rodgers.
“I’ve actually been a bartender for the last eight years. I’ve always had exposure to people and I enjoy talking to people,” said Rodgers, who attended Indiana University in health business administration.
“I just wanted to get into something that had a little more potential for growth and career,” added Rodgers, who this month was hired by Indianapolis-based Sigstr, which develops branded email signatures.
The other Indianapolis tech companies participating in the inaugural class were Angie's List and Interactive Intelligence.
For boot camp participants, “this is a low-risk opportunity,” said Kevin Vanes, Sigstr’s vice president of sales. “In hindsight, I would have killed for such an opportunity in college.”
But the inaugural Sales Bootcamp was not without its challenges. For example, Vanes’ 20-employee firm was simultaneously remodeling its offices on Monument Circle.
“In full transparency, I almost pulled the plug. I thought, ‘I’m going to invite 18 more people in here?’” he said.
Putting participants to work, doing everything from setting appointments to reaching out to clients, also had some potential risk for the company. The upside was that he and his team at Sigstr got to know the participants and their work, making it easier to make an informed hiring decision.
There’s always the risk, “are they going to realize two months in that it (sales) is not for them?” said PERQ’s Vance. And there’s also the issue of whether the person fits the company’s culture, she added.
Muhammad Yasin, director of marketing at PERQ, said TechPoint wisely kept involved while participants worked at the company, rather than simply dropping them off at the curb.
The weekly routine involved one day of group training and four days working in sales at a company to apply lessons, such as the need for thorough understanding of a product and exactly how it fits into a client’s infrastructure.
Those accepted into the program were able to participate for free, thanks to a grant from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
The potential reward is strong, not only for upward career potential for participants who get hired but for tech companies that ultimately need more than just a secret sauce to survive.
“These are the people contributing to top-line revenue,” said Vance.
That’s not lost on Rodgers, who said he sees unlimited potential with hard work.
“I like how young and invigorating the tech industry is. I didn’t have coding experience or anything like that. But there’s such a huge need in Indianapolis for sales.”