Centiq’s enterprise consultancy and system support services transform the performance and economics of organisations’ technology infrastructures and related business systems. The company consolidates, virtualises and optimises computing environments, delivering smarter IT, business analytics, cloud deployments and helpdesk capabilities at reduced cost. Headquartered in Nottingham, the company has a 12-year track record of success with blue chip and mid-range customers in the technology, retail and wholesale, manufacturing, business services, local and central government, finance and healthcare sectors. We spoke to Glyn Heath, Managing Director, to find out more about the IT services industry.

Why do you think the IT services industry is attractive to graduates of various academic backgrounds?
Our new graduates see their move into IT as future proofing their career. We recruited six new graduates all from non-IT degrees. IT is seen as a relatively buoyant sector with prospects and remains reasonably well-paid compared to other industries. We received hundreds of applications, interviewed 46 candidates and eventually put six on a 26-week training programme. The trainees who were recruited in August will not be set sales targets until April 2011.

How do you think the sales force is changing in IT?
I joined the IT industry 20 years ago when IT companies were making margins of 300 per cent. Times have changed and it is much harder to make money in a more competitive market. Buyers are more demanding and discerning on the value it will deliver. End-users have become more rigorous in committing to new IT projects; big promises on return on investment don’t wash anymore. The attitude of the IT industry sales force needs to change but some people are resistant to this or unable to change, believing that they can simply stand by the fax and the orders will flood in.

New sales people aren’t encumbered with this history. They can cultivate a new outlook where spending needs to be justified and made compelling rather than the old school assumption that ‘IT sells itself.’ This steep learning curve has helped both our existing and more experienced sales force look again at their sales techniques so it has benefited everyone. One of the existing sales team is an IBM graduate trainee who went through IBM sales school. It is interesting to see how being bound to too much sales methodology isn’t particularly conducive to today’s need for customer engagement.

Is graduate training important or should new starters learn on the spot?
From our experience a formalised graduate recruitment programme is crucial to success. You are just playing a numbers game if you expect new starters to go straight into selling and learn on the job. We designed a long term training programme and involved the whole company with staff and classroom based training and organised work with partners. We consciously took the decision not to set targets for the first nine months of the programme until April 2011 because we didn’t want to set unreasonable expectations on what they could deliver.

What is the best way to find the best graduates?
I would definitely recommend going to a specialist as it is too risky and time consuming to do it yourself. There is a degree of snobbery when it comes to graduate recruitment but we weren’t looking for Oxbridge achievers or serious academics with IT or business degrees. We use a specialist graduate recruitment company as a filter mechanism, interviewing candidates and working out what motivated them, what made them tick. We ultimately chose from a shortlist of exceptionally strong and motivated graduates.

How has the graduate recruitment affected your business?
What has been most noticeable is that the graduates have brought a different atmosphere into the workplace—injecting positivity, optimism and energy, and created a buzz. We haven’t set expectations beyond what they could realistically achieve so no-one has been disappointed. It is critical to develop their sales skills without artificial pressure. I’m actually thrilled with how it is turning out and would encourage other companies to take the plunge. It has restored my faith in people having seen such a high level of commitment to the business.

Have you done a training course before? How do they compare?
We did actually take on two graduates about five years ago and only focused limited training on product orientated knowledge—without equipping the new starters on selling or understanding the wider commercial dynamics of the market—providing no context. Both recruits only lasted six months—I think this speaks for itself. It is crucial to get the rest of the company behind a training programme. When we recruited five years ago, the majority of the team got on with their day jobs. Now, the whole company is involved— this has a huge bearing on success.

Do you see yourself as a techhie or even a geek?
I’m a closet geek and do get excited about the latest technologies. The new graduates are all techies in terms of having the latest consumer technologies. They were initially resistant to getting excited about commercial technology but I’ve seen them starting to show real enthusiasm about some of the new technologies they’ve learnt about—not that they’d admit it to their friends!

What market sectors are you getting involved in? What are the differences between them?
We’ve given each individual a different market sector to focus on—really get under the skin of it, understand the language and the key issues. We also considered a geographical split but early indications have shown that the first approach is really paying off. The graduates have fully immersed themselves in their different sectors using the relevant trade press, LinkedIn special interest groups, Twitter conversations and so on. We were adamant that we didn’t want to pitch the new starters against each other which is often the case in other companies. Our key focus sectors are health & education, local and central government, professional services, construction, retail & wholesale distribution, and finance. What is emerging is a tailored approach with targeted messages and offering, pitched from our portfolio of technologies.

How do you think the CSR will affect small businesses?
Companies are in a transition period, recalibrating their thinking and trying to understand the changing market conditions, after the Government’s spending review and VAT increase, to name just two things. For small businesses it is opening up new opportunities—forcing the issue of what companies should be doing and prioritising. The positive side has been the opportunity to identify new business and contribute to something.

What could the government do to support the growth of small businesses?
Some incentive for tax relief on new job creation would go a long way. Small and medium sized businesses are the engine room of the economy but don’t make the headlines like bigger corporations that open new stores and take on new large workforces. We recently took on two new recruits which is only a drop in the ocean, but if many other SMBs are doing likewise this adds up to a considerable amount of new employment. The government should look to create new incentives for SMBs to invest in their workforces in the way that we have: this could be through innovations such as NI contributions that encourage growth and employment.