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 – Here I will cover all the FAQs about the program
  2. My Personal Experience through IBM Summit Program – Blog Post Series – Here I share my personal experiences with the program, you can see a blog post with photos of what it was like for me

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. Once hired, they put you through 6 months of sales training, put you on a protected quota for 6 months while you join your landing team, then you begin your career as a new sales professional!

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, variety of products and services, growth opportunities into many different roles, volunteer and business groups you can be a part of, are all MASSIVE! There are so many things to be proud of.

What is the Salary?

Summit Interns in Canada: $20-$28/hr based on experience and city
Undergrad students who received offers in 2017 for Solutions Sales Specialist in Canada: $72,500
Undergrad students who received offers in 2017 for Solutions Sales Specialist in San Francisco: $83,000
Undergrad students who received offers in 2020 for Solutions Sales Specialist in Canada: $75,000
Undergrad students who received offers in 2021 for Solutions Sales Specialist in Canada: $80,000
Undergrad students who received offers for 2022 for Technical Sales Specialist in Boston: $87,500

I have verified all of these numbers by looking at the official offer letters sent to me by candidates. Here are a few trends to keep in mind: IBM increases salaries by ~$2.5k a year to keep up with the market. High cost of living cities like SF and NY pay more than low cost ones like Dallas. US Summits get paid more than Canadian Summits.

What is the hiring process?

Most candidates will follow this process:

– You apply online or meet a recruiter or the Summit Team at a university hiring event

– You interview with a a recruiter over the phone

– Submitting your resume/cv to the system, doing an online aptitude test

– You interview with the Summit Program Manager over the phone

Final Round: 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. In 2019, they were held at UofT, Ryerson, Schulich, Rotman and Queens. In 2020, these are all virtual. 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 them more difficult to get into.

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 a story behind each one.

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)

What are the major business units at IBM?

What makes IBM unique vs competitors is that we are both a product company and a service company. Think about Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. These are all pure tech companies – they build products, then sell them. Think about Deloitte, Accenture, EY, Mckinsey. These are all service companies, they don’t build any products, companies outsource service work to them.

IBM is both a technology company and a consulting company in one.

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. There are five major business units or revenue centers for IBM. These are how we make money.

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

This software helps businesses run more efficiently like Air Canada’s check-in system, RBC’s mobile banking app, or Loblaw’s supply chain system.

Software is divided into “brands”. For example AI Brand, Cloud Brand, Analytics Brand, HR Solutions Brand, Cybersecurity brand etc.

Within brands we have actual products. These are named products you can go on the website to buy. E.g. You can buy SPSS Modeller for 20k/year, etc.

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

STG (Systems & Technology Group) aka Hardware. We sell servers. A server is a computer whose sole function is to serve other computers. It is not used for personal use, like a laptop. For example, imagine you had a web server running for a website like Everytime you try and access Netflix, the servers send the video stream to you. If the web servers were to go down, you wouldn’t be able to access Netflix.

IBM sells high performance servers that help businesses run. The type of servers that businesses need when they have a million users and they uptime of 365 days a year. They can never crash otherwise customers would get upset.

Hardware brands: IBM Z, IBM Power Systems

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

GTS (Global Technology Services) aka Managed Services

Managed services are when a company outsources its IT Department to another company. Imagine the IT Department of Air Canada. They have dozens of contracts with hardware vendors, software vendors, telecommunications providers. Rather than manage all of these contracts, you can outsource it to IBM, who will give you an SLA (Service Level Agreement) guaranteeing 95% uptime, and will negotiate rates with all of these vendors for you, since we already have wholesale relationships.

Have you ever called a company for support and the call was routed to a call center in India or the Phillipines? That’s managed services, for call center support.

Note: As of 2020, this will be spun-off to a separate company in 2021.

GBS (Global Business Services) aka Consulting

We have a technology consulting practice. We compete against Deloitte, Accenture. IBM started as a product company, but got into the consulting space by buying PwC’s consulting arm in 2002 for $3.5billion and renaming it Global Business Services.

IBM differentiates itself from other consulting firms by focusing on the massive deals, like SAP or Oracle implementations, that take multiple years and dozens of people to complete; which in turn are so big that other companies often don’t want to compete.

The new grad program for this is called Entry-Level Consulting. I highly recommend a career in B2B Tech sales over one in tech consulting, because I feel that in tech sales you actually get to take part in setting the strategy when talking to clients. In tech consulting, you are often strapped onto a long-term strenous project and have to do grunt work for a year or two, before you get to do something cool. Sales also pays more, but doesn’t have to work crazy hours. I have friends that took both paths, and I see my friends in sales having more opportunity to make an impact on customers and run their own deals. If you can do management consulting, it’s different though.

IGF (IBM Global Financing) aka Financing

This our internal bank to be able afford our solutions, without having to front large upfront costs. It’s our smallest business unit.

How does IBM Organize Its Salesforce?

Solution Specialist

A solution seller focuses on selling a specific product line (i.e. brand) into a specific territory. For example, you could be a Cybersecurity Solution Specialist covering commercial accounts in Ontario. A Solution Specialist are often not as technical as Technical Specialists (below) and they will often bring them in on their calls to help progress the deal. You are responsible for the full sales cycle, from prospecting to close.

You are measured on revenue per quarter. E.g. $100k per quarter.

Technical Specialist

A Technical Specialist focuses on becoming a subject matter expert on a product line. For example, you could be a Technical Specialist on Data & AI or Digital Business Automation. Technical Specialists are expected to have deep expertise on the product and will be called onto deals by many sellers to do product demonstrations, advise on architecture (show how our product plugs into their the IT solutions they already have), and answer any technical question.

Technical Specialists are not involved in the beginning or end of a sales cycle. They are not involved in prospecting nor the closing/price negotiation phases of a deal. They are primarily involved in the solutioning discussion that happens in the middle.

Technical Specialists are on a Team Quota Plan. Team Quotas mean that if your team does very well, but you’re still learning and not contributing a lot to results, you can still hit your quota. It also means that people will generally “work as a team” more often, because your results are tied to one another. Ultimately, your quota achievement will be reliant upon how well your Solution Specialists do in their territory. Your job is to help support them as much as possible but since you are not the “closer”, you can only indirectly impact revenue attainment.

Client Executive

A Client Executive is assigned to a territory or a customer instead of a brand of solutions.

Client Executive on a Client Team.

TD Bank has a team of 6 Client Execs whose job is just to manage IBM’s relationship with them, as they spend millions of dollars with us each year. A Client Exec is not tied to a particular brand, for example if the client says they want cloud, the client exec will call a cloud seller to come present. Your responsibility is to become an expert on their business, so that anytime a new customer project comes up, you can bring the right IBMer into the opportunity. Client Execs are the type of sellers that “live at the offices of their clients”, often visiting multiple times a week, taking them out to lunches or dinners, and so forth.

Client Executive on Assigned Territory.

A Client Executive can also be assigned a territory. For example, there have always been one Summit that covers Commercial Accounts in Ontario, and Commercial Accounts in British Colombia. A Commercial Account (as opposed to Enterprise) is a smaller account, meaning they don’t spend a lot with IBM. Their job is to call all of the accounts, manage the full sales-cycle, figure out what solutions they need, and call other sellers to pitch their solutions.

Digital Sales

Most new grads go into digital, in one of these two roles. Digital Sales was formerly known as “Inside Sales”. Its called Inside Sales because you work inside of the office, as opposed to field sales or outside sales where you go outside to meet clients in person. However since so much of telecommunications now are digital, they rebranded the department. Many people can just sell using video chats and not have to meet up in person.

DDR – Digital Development Rep

This role is similar to a “Business Development Rep” that you would find at any tech sales company like Salesforce or Softchoice. Your primary responsibility is prospecting. You are expected to make 65 calls/touches a day. This can include phone call, email, LI messages or taking inbound chats on the website.

You will also work closely with the IBM Marketing department, as they will hand you campaigns. An example campaign is, imagine 1000 people downloaded a whitepaper about IBM Cloud. Your job is to call all of those prospects within 30 days to gauge their interest and qualify them.

Qualifying them includes creating a BANT chart (budget, authority, needs, timeline). Once you’ve completed this, your job is pretty much done and you hand the opportunity off to a sales rep to a sales rep within IBM or a business partner for them to close.

You are measured on calls per day, # leads generated per quarter, average value of lead, and win revenue %.

DSR – Digital Sales Rep

This role is similar to the above, except you are measured on revenue closed instead of leads generated. Therefore you spend more time going outside to meet with clients.

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.

Question 7 - What does the sales process look like at IBM?

I would say it is extremely dependent on what type of sales role you are in. But generally speaking, all sales fall into renewals (existing customer buys the same thing), cross-sells (existing customer buys a new thing), or net new customers.

Question 8 - How is it different from other large corporations?

IBM, SAP, Oracle Cisco, HP, Dell share a lot of similarities as being large multinationals that can get bureaucratic.
Microsoft, AWS, Google Cloud, Salesforce have all had extremely strong revenue growth over the past 10 years and are generally seen as market leaders.

See my post on Tech Sales Landscape for a more deeper comparison.

Question 9 - What Opportunities Are There To Get Involved Outside of Your Day Job?

IBM has dozens of employee resource groups to get involved. They range from cultural groups, to professional ones, to charitable ones. Here are a few to mention:

EANG (East Asian Networking Group), SANG (South Asian Network Group), Carribean Network Group, etc.

Blue Core Coaching – This was my favorite, its a community of practice that teaches you performance coaching by doing it live with others in a workshop. The leads of the program are all ICF certified.

ECF Employee Charitable Fund

Question 10 - What Are Some Unique Aspects of IBM Sales Culture?

Education – IBM invests in educations at all levels of your career, from new grad to executive. For example, GSS, Masters Degree, Manager Training, and Executive Training in Harvard

Patents – IBM is a world leader in publishing patents, and if you are technical they will pay for you for each patent you publish.

Remote Work – IBM has been doing remote work for over 20 years. Even before the pandemic, it was normal to only go in the office once a week. While you’re in Summit its often to hear “I only see my manager once a month”, or less.

Relocation – I had colleague that moved to Ottawa. When I was covering Vancouver, my manager asked me if I want to relocate there. They are very flexible about relocation.

Age – IBM generally has a pretty mature workforce. It can often feel like “making friends with your parents friends”

Question 11 - What Are Some Unique Aspects of IBM Sales Culture?


Question 12 - Should I choose Technical Sales or Solution Sales?

Solution sales is good if you want high earnings potential, you like making deals, and like the hustle and bustle of selling. Your job is to find the business win.

Technical sales is good if you want more predictable income, you like diving deep in the technology, and you don’t want to deal with as much stress. Your job is to find the technical win. You will become a subject matter expert and can get industry recognized certifications that are valued.

I personally started in Technical Sales and then switched to Solution Sales because I realized I was not passionate about going deep on the technology. I didn’t want to spend hours learning the product and tinkering with things to learn how they work.

Both can be pretty good paths but there are some pros and cons to each.

In tech consulting your measurement is utilization e.g. number of hours you bill to the client. In sales, your measurement is usually revenue or number of deals closed. The reason why consultants sometimes work like crazy is because they are literally measured on work hours.

Every B2B tech company hires salespeople, but they don’t always hire consultants. So in my opinion the exit opportunities are better in sales. E.g. When I pivoted to Shopify my path was pretty clear as I could just join their sales team.

In tech consulting the career growth is extremely predictable and linear (Analyst, Associate, Manager, etc.), whereas in sales it is more of a “choose your own adventure”. If you push for a promotion or territory you will get there, if you don’t you can just stay in your role and try to overachieve your quota the next year.

Question 14 - How do I Know What Team I Will Land On After I Graduate From Training?

The Summit Program Manager evaluates your background, skills, and how you did throughout GSS. You are given a list of the open teams, and can rank them 1-5. From there, your Manager makes the final decision.

Tip: Networking plays a huge aspect on this, because if you can find a manager that has a hiring ticket for a Summit, then you can largely influence the landing team decision.

Question 15 - How do I Know What Team I Will Land On After I Graduate From Training?

When you apply to Summit you’re either applying to the Solution Sales or Technical Sales path. I’m assuming you’re applying to the Solution Sales role if you’re asking this question.

You do not have to have a technology background to land this role. They are looking for candidates with a strong business acumen and sales skills. 

In reality, once you know what product line you will be selling, you will have to self-study to learn how to pitch it. For example if you’re selling cloud you can learn from all the internal training material or asking other reps. You can even do external certifications (I did the AWS Cloud Practitioner in my case). Your clients are always gonna have technical questions but you just need to know enough to be competent, you don’t need to get into the weeds. During a discovery call you shouldn’t need to bring your Sales Engineer. You call them for your Demo call or architecture call.

Question 16 - Is IBM a fast paced or slow paced company?

I would say IBM is “slow-paced” for a handful of reasons.

  • IBM is a 300,000 employee company, so company wide processes are slow. For example it takes the first month each year for the company to re-organize its sales strategy and issues quota plans to the reps. Salespeople don’t really want to start selling until they know what exact products and territory they will be compensated on. So in my experience, many sales teams are not able to start selling until January 30th.
  • You are given quarterly quotas or half year quotas. E.g. Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, or 1H, 2H. Modern SaaS companies have monthly quotas which which tends to pick up the pace of work. I know some companies that measure weekly call volume… its kinda micromanagement but it tends to make you feel more “urgent” each day.
  • The majority of IBMers are age 50+. I’m not saying that means everyone works slow, but it’s not gonna be a wolf of wall street environment where majority of folks are in their 20’s, have no lives and are willing to grind it out until dinner time. However you can determine your own pace of work.

Question 17 - TBA?

The Summit Program Manager evaluates your background, skills, and how you did throughout GSS. You are given a list of the open teams, and can rank them 1-5. From there, your Manager makes the final decision.

Tip: Networking plays a huge aspect on this, because if you can find a manager that has a hiring ticket for a Summit, then you can largely influence the landing team decision.

Question 18 - Can you give me a list of past and present Summits so I can see their career trajectory?

A lot went to other cloud sales organizations like:
Amazon Web Services – Jordan, Mezin, Manthan
Google Cloud Platform – Jenny, Alison
Microsoft – Sameer, Warren Pereira
Salesforce – Jay, Susan

Others went to midsize companies or startups
Cloudflare – Clyde Noronha – Bernie Uche
Ada – Thomas Price
Convictional – Kyle Tymo

Disclaimer: Blog is solely my personal opinion and experience and not reflective of IBM as a company.

My Personal Experience through IBM Summit Program - Blog Post Series