The Ultimate Guide to the IBM Summit Program

If you are a student, MBA, or an Early Career Professional (1-5 YoE) and are thinking about joining the Summit Program and want to learn more, you’ve found the right page!

This section is split into two areas:

  1. The Ultimate Guide to the Summit Program – Every Question You Wanted to Ask
  2. My Personal Experience through IBM Summit Program – Blog Post Series

The Ultimate Guide to the Summit Program – Every Question You Wanted to Ask

I have had 30+ 1:1 coffee chats where people asked me about Summit, so I decided to make this giant list of FAQs to answer all of the common questions.

Can you give me the 90-second elevator pitch on the Summit Program?

The Summit Program is IBM’s sales program for new grads or early-career professionals. They basically hire you, put you through 6 months of sales training, put you on a protected quota for 6 months while you learn the ropes of sales, then you’re off to build your career as a sales professional in whichever business unit you landed in.

The reason this is a great opportunity, especially compared to other companies is the training program is truly world-class; very few companies can afford to fly you around the US while paying you a salary, even though you’re not generating revenue. It’s also a ton of fun because you’re doing this with a cohort of people your age who are likeminded. The standard to get into IBM is pretty high, so in your cohort alone, you’ll get pretty familiar with 50+ individuals who were high achievers in their schools or past companies. Lastly, IBM has been a global technology leader for the past 100 years, so you are really joining something bigger than yourself. The brand, the massive amount of resources, IBMers you’ll meet from around the country, inspiring history, wide array of products and services, growth opportunities into many different roles, volunteer and business groups you can be a part of, etc. Overall, it’s something to proud of.

What is the hiring process?

Most candidates will go like this:

  • (Optional) Recruiter phone screen
  • Submitting your resume/cv to the system, doing an online aptitude test
  • Phone interview with Summit Program Manager
  • On-site interview day. 2 interviews with executives, 1 mock sales pitch, and open networking with other IBMers.
  • You receive an offer.

If you are a returning intern, or if you have a referral you can bypass the recruiter call. Summit Program Managers sometimes host university recruitment events to meet students to immediately send them to the on-site. Additionally, IBM recruiters are great because they usually go to every single university across the country (at least in Canada) so everyone gets a chance. I hear that other companies like Microsoft or Google are known to pick their favorite schools and hire from them over and over, which makes accessibility difficult.

I recommend the Summit Program for new grads because I believe the hiring process is consistent. In the US, IBM has been hiring ~250 summits every year. since 2012. In Canada, IBM has been hiring ~20 summits every year since 2015. What the means is that if you target this program prior to the hiring cycle and you work hard, you can get in. That’s what I did. I don’t believe there is a strong risk this program is going away, nor have I heard of offers being retracted or anything odd like that. Overall the process is fair and IBM is known to be an ethical company.

What sort of questions will I be asked during my 1:1 interviews?

Building off my last point, there are no trick questions or obscure evaluation methods.

The most fundamental questions are 1. Why are you interested in IBM? 2. Why are you interested in sales? These are simple questions, but your answers should be passionate and detailed. They want to know who you are.

Along with that, you will get standard behavioral questions. You may also get some role-related or technical questions, but that depends on the role.

Another trick to keep in mind is the “client test” – While interviewing, IBMers are asking themselves “Would I be comfortable putting this person in front of a client?”. What this means is that they are looking for people with polished social skills as well as a strong business acumen. I’ve met hundreds of Summits and the vast majority have great people skills. Even if they were new to the job, they would know how to present themselves and not be awkward in a business situation. For many, this comes natural.

For your Stand & Deliver (mock sales pitch), you are given instructions and multiple days to prepare before you have to do it – so don’t worry about it until you get there. It’s basically a 90 second memorized speech. You are mostly being evaluated for your speaking skills, and some on content.

IBM has always been a leader in diversity. A very unique characteristic of the Summit Program is the 50/50 gender split. They are looking to hire 50% male, 50% female, and have succeeded in meeting that standard (example summit class photo)

How does IBM Organize Its Salesforce?

All salespeople report into a business unit called IBM Global Markets formerly called “Sales and Distribution”. However, most salespeople refer to themselves by directly stating which of the below functions they work in:

SWG (Software Group) aka Software. We sell software licenses and subscriptions.

Example products: IBM Cloud, SPSS Modeler, Cognos, Websphere, MQ, QRadar

STG (Systems & Technology Group) aka Hardware. We sell high-end performance hardware. Since we sold our ThinkPad brand to Lenovo in 2014 we do not sell laptops anymore.

Example products: Mainframe product line: IBM Z, Power Systems product line: AS400, AIX, Linux Machines

GTS (Global Technology Services) aka Managed Services

GBS (Global Business Services) aka Consulting

IGF (IBM Global Financing) aka Financing

What are the different roles available?

Solution Specialist

Technical Specialist

Client Executive

Digital Sales Representative

How do the sales plans / compensation work?

IBM Sales Plans are very complicated due to the complex nature of the products/deals we sell, the amount of IBMers who may get revenue recognition, and because every team has a different plan which suits their department. When I was an intern I once asked my boss “how does your sales plan work?” and he replied “You would need 3 PhDs to be able to figure that out”. He was half answering my question, half trying to be humble about probably making $400k+.

However, your salary is relatively simple while you are in Summit.

Imagine you receive a job offer from IBM and on it it says your annual salary will be $100,000. This is what is known as your reference salary.

The reference salary is the “anchor point” for all compensation related calculations. IBM designed it this way so that if you switch roles, managers, teams, or even countries, the person deciding your compensation will have a benchmark of your previous salary.

For the first 12 months you are hired through the Summit Program, you will be paid at your reference salary. Woohoo! When you land on your team, you are put onto a sales plan.

Here’s an example calculation. Imagine you move into a Solution Sales role that you have been waiting for. It will have a 55%/45% split between base pay and incentive pay. Your OTE is 150% of your reference pay. So your OTE would be $150,000.

This is for US employees.
For Canadian employees, your OTE is 138% of your reference salary.

Solution Sales and Digital Sales are most often on an Individual Quota Plan (IQP) which is a 55%/45% plan like the diagram above. Technical Solutions Specialists are on a 70%/30% plan.

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My Personal Experience through IBM Summit Program - Blog Post Series