Five years ago, when Adam Selipsky started marketing Amazon's web-based storage, computing and database services, now commonly known as "the cloud," a lot of executives would ask him, "What does this have to do with selling books?"
"My response was, 'It's the same technology we use to sell them,'" said Selipsky, vice president of marketing, sales and product management at Amazon Web Services. "There was no popular term like cloud computing at the time."
Since then, cloud computing, the service of providing remote data storage and processing as a utility, has mushroomed across the globe, creating a huge market to sell it. Businesses spent $21.5 billion on cloud computing services last year, according to research firm IDC, and will boost that spending to $72.9 billion by 2015.
Those companies have stopped asking why they should buy cloud services, and instead have started asking how, said Amit Singh, vice president of Google Enterprise. Singh's team recently made deals to sell Google's cloud services to InterContinental Hotels, McClatchy Newspapers and the state of Wyoming, among other companies and institutions.
Deals like those are opening up a slew of opportunities for job seekers. "The job market for selling and marketing cloud services has become a beacon of light in an otherwise dismal hiring environment in the U.S.," said Singh. "Right now there are many opportunities at the companies that sell cloud."
The most popular providers are opening more offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The Google Enterprise team currently has more than 1,000 employees, divided between finance, technology and sales located in offices around the world. Amazon has continued to add staff at a rapid rate during the past year, with open positions for enterprise account managers, small- and medium-business reps, technical product specialists and solutions architects, among others.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other U.S.-based cloud companies are growing their sales teams. Rackspace, which was founded in San Antonio, Texas, as an IT hosting company 13 years ago, has expanded its operations to Australia, the U.K., the Netherlands and Hong Kong as its reputation has grown. Rackspace now employs 3,712 people with a sales staff of about 400. It has another 35 sales positions to fill in the U.S. and overseas, the company said.
"As the demand for cloud services continues to grow, our need for more people will grow with it," said Rackspace Cloud Specialist Matt Wilbanks. "Our sales teams are typically the first contact a customer has with Rackspace and we want to demonstrate what 'fanatical support' means from the very beginning."
Salesforce.com, based in San Francisco, is "aggressively hiring right now to fill sales positions all over the world, from account directors to entry-level sales reps," said Woodson Martin, vice president of Salesforce's employee success division. The company's careers page lists 235 open positions under sales, 16 under marketing and another 54 under sales engineering. The locations of those positions range from California to France to Singapore to Tokyo. "It's becoming easier and easier to pick a country and go sell from there," said Martin.
For those just starting out in selling cloud services, a good place to find a job is at third-party companies like Cloud Sherpas that offer cloud integration solutions, or at cloud sales training programs like Sales Optimizer.
"There are tremendous opportunities not only in sales, but also in consulting and user support for those getting started," said Nik Nikic, founder and CEO of Sales Optimizer, a Salesforce partner that acts as a farm system for talent in the cloud market. The company offers a 12-month sales training program for job seekers focused on combining the right communication skills with the right technical skills.
"We put our recruits through a five-day administrative class where they learn the technology and then we put them to work doing low-level consulting with one of our teams," said Nikic. "At the same time we teach them all of the right selling skills, so within a year they know the technology, they know how to consult and they know how to sell, which makes for the perfect sales rep."
The opportunities to sell cloud run the gamut in terms of the experience needed and the salaries offered. Entry-level jobs in cloud sales usually start at between $45,000 and $55,000 a year, divided between a base salary, hourly pay and a commission percentage for every successful sale, Nikic said. Top-level sales positions at the big name companies pay between $200,000 and $1 million a year.
Amazon, Google, Rackspace and Salesforce recruit many of their entry-level sales reps right out of school or from training programs like Sales Optimizer. Prior experience in technology and software sales is always a plus for those looking to get into the cloud market, but the most important prerequisites are strong communication skills, the ability to understand how cloud works and a knack for building ongoing relationships with customers, said Nikic.
"You have to make it tangible and real. A good sales rep will likely bring an iPad or a laptop to an executive and show them how cloud services work," said Robin Robins, who has over 15 years of experience providing independent IT sales training, including for cloud integration services. "These CEOs and CFOs want to know how moving to the cloud will help them in their business, but they also want to understand what it looks and feels like," she said. "When you explain to them the speed and the cost savings of switching to cloud, it immediately becomes a no-brainer."
Those who want to sell to large corporate clients like Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo need a strong understanding of that particular industry whether it's finance or consumer goods. Most entry-level sales jobs are geared toward small businesses, but the opportunities to work with bigger clients exist if newcomers can handle the challenges and talk the talk.
"If you just came out of school we probably wouldn't put you in front of GE," said Singh. "But at the same time it's less about seniority and more about your potential and interest levels. Younger people typically know more about the latest technology, so we have absolutely no problem encouraging someone with a little experience to go after a big client if they show the potential."
Those opportunities will grow in number as more businesses look to upgrade their IT systems and move away from cluttered in-house hardware. But until cloud becomes the only standard for storing and processing data, informing potential customers will almost always go hand in hand with making a successful sales pitch.
"There is still a long way to go in terms of educating future customers," said Selipsky of Amazon. "That's what makes this such an exciting opportunity for the folks in sales and marketing. We will likely see growth for another decade."
Write to Damian Ghigliotty