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IBM to beef up software sales staff

Big Blue will hire 500 salespeople, CNET News.com has learned. Each rep will be paired with a member of the company's consulting unit.

IBM is enlisting its army of consultants to sell more software.

The computing giant will boost its software sales team by 500 people this year and pair each new hire with a salesperson from its Business Consulting Services division, an IBM representative told CNET News.com. Currently, IBM's software sales staff numbers about 13,000.

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Company says demand
comes from professional
services unit.

The move is meant to advance IBM's industry-specific sales approach. By combining consultants with knowledge of specific industries, IBM will be able to better tailor its products and services to meet pressing business problems, according to the company.

IBM reorganized its software sales force along industry lines last year. Salespeople were trained to have both technical expertise in IBM products as well as knowledge of particular industries.

As part of this approach, Big Blue is creating packages that combine several software products for about 15 industries. For example, IBM has a suite of finance-industry "solutions" that are designed to help customers quickly address common tasks, such as setting up an online banking application.

IBM is also urging its software sales staff to sell larger packages of products from across Big Blue's software portfolio and from its consulting services unit. Instead of having representatives sell a particular software brand, such as WebSphere, the company is building up the ranks of salespeople trained on ways to sell a combination of software products and services, according to an IBM representative. About 1,000 software people will have this multiproduct sales training by year-end.

According to a recent Forrester Research report, the company's ongoing shift to multiproduct solutions and services has its downside.

The report said that IBM's "have it your way" sales approach can obscure the software division's overall product direction. The report also noted that at least two IBM customers ended up with products from IBM or its partners that they did not understand or choose.

"Pledges (from IBM) to transform your business are not a substitute for a clear product vision," Forrester analyst John Rymer advised. "Take the upsell bait only when you are actually undertaking a big business transformation."

An IBM representative on Thursday said that IBM sells software along brand lines for customers accustomed to doing that in parallel with its industry-specific-package approach.