June 21, 2012

736 words 4 mins read

Bad Idea: Age discrimination by sales people in the tech industry

Recently Lauren and I attended an open house for a Datacenter/Hosting Company. Since it was an open house, there was no set schedule other than the event starting at 4 PM. I mention this because we showed up within a few minutes of the start time at a point in which there was basically no one around except for the Hosting Company staff. You’d think that we’d get a drink, maybe a bite to eat and then the sales people would vulture us… and you’d be wrong. I guess we look too young to be worth anyone’s time.

It started at check in. We, like most of the attendees, had already RSVP’d for the event in advance (using EventBrite) so our names were “on the list” so to speak. We received a grilling for a few minutes about who we were, where we were from, what Snowulf does, and if we had “purchasing authority” (or something very similar). It wasn’t a very lengthy interrogation, so I let this slide. It wasn’t quite the the warm welcome we were expecting, but who knows, maybe they were going to ask everyone.

Let’s get something straight, Lauren and I are both technical people. The entire time we hung out at this open house, we were talking tech. If memory serves, a fair amount of our conversation was covering the finer points of VMWare ESX series technologies and how that compares to “The Cloud”. We knew why we were there, so the conversation never got so deep and intense that we were oblivious to the outside world. Even though I tend to be a bit rough on social nuances, I made sure that my body language indicated that I was receptive to other people stopping by (i.e. I was only half facing the table, half facing the walking route).

I make a point of all this because several sales people walked by and several of them even made eye contact (I’m sure unintentionally, I’m quite the social pariah). They saw us… and kept walking. Every single one of them. Now the question is why? Why did they ignore us?

The only obvious answer is that we both look too young to be potential clients. I may be in my late 20s now, but I fully appreciate the fact that I look younger than I am. The problem is, late 20s should be included as part of the sales demographic. As a Hosting company, or any tech related group (even for corporate clients), you’re going to be seeing a lot of young “kids”. I may not have that CIO look to me (translation: I’m not wearing a suit), but that doesn’t mean I’m a useless peon.

I’ve been an IT Manager for quite a while now, maybe I’m a little farther ahead than many of my similarly aged peers, but that’s still no excuse for sales people to blatantly ignore us. Even in jobs where I’m not “making the decisions” for something as large as hosting, I’m probably involved in the research process. I’m fickle enough as is, No IPv6? Junk. No Biometrics? Laughable security. Do you really want me to toss out your datacenter/hosting/technology product because “Sales droids pretend I don’t exist”?

It may be because I started so young, and continue to be “young” in the grand scheme of things, but it really fries me to see this sort of thing going on in such a forward business sector. Technology is supposed to be leading the way. Programmers that can show up whenever they like, in a sector where gender doesn’t play favorites, skill does.

Lauren and I ended up leaving within about an hour of the event starting. Not once did anyone come up to even see how it was going. No sales people tried to sell us anything. We _really_ wanted to get a tour of the new datacenter space. This blog entry could have been about how cool XYZ Inc’s new datacenter is, but instead we’re discussing an issue I run into time and time again at tech events. So if you’re in tech sales, please, don’t ignore the people who look young. I understand we might not warrant as much attention as someone who obviously looks like a CIO/CEO, but don’t spurn us completely. We might just be running an errand for that CIO/CEO who doesn’t have time to come to some obviously sales/schmooze event.