Saturday, 27 June 2009

How to sell to a CIO (aka tips for tech companies)

First published in CIO New Zealand.

Before I took up the role of CIO at The Warehouse I was a partner with Deloitte Consulting. As with most professional services firms my role was a mix of selling and delivering services to clients. Because of this when I joined The Warehouse I was quite open to meet with potential service providers to see what value they could add to us.

I was unprepared for the onslaught however. Every week I get many phone calls and emails from companies who have a great product or service to sell. When I respond to these calls I find that they never provide me with value for my time. As a result I now work diligently to avoid all and any approaches from companies wishing to sell me something. While this preserves my time I am convinced that there must be solutions out there that will help our organisation and talking to the owners of those solutions seems like a sensible way to find out about them. The question is how can I do this in a way that adds value rather than destroys value?

I have talked with other CIOs about this issue either in person or online over one of several social network groups I belong to and I have discovered that I am not unique. This is a very prevalent issue so to try and cut through this here is Owen’s tips for how to successfully sell to a CIO.

Do your research before you come to see me. Doing your research shows that you are serious about us as a client because you have invested your time. As a publicly listed company our business strategy is available in public domain if you are prepared to look. Don’t stop at the company level either. Research what is going on in our IS team. For better or worse I have a reasonably high profile and so there is a lot of information available about what we are trying to achieve.

I don’t buy technology I buy solutions to business issues so when you come and see me sell me a solution to my business issue. Selling technology isn’t a bad thing. It just doesn’t work for most CIOs. If I like your business solution I probably won’t buy straight away. I will probably refer you to one of my team and someone in our business outside of IS. You will then need to sell to them to as they will need to live with the solution day by day.

Listen and act on what you hear. If I ask you to change a proposal or to pitch it in a particular way trust that there is a reason. I will tell you if I can but I can’t always tell you. If I do this it’s a great sign as it means I’m interested and one of the best ways to build a relationship is to show that you have listened and responded to my needs. If you can’t for some reason then be up front and acknowledge it. I’ll appreciate the honesty and think of you next time when you may be able to help me.

Be honest at all times. If you aren’t it will only come back to bite you and your organisation. In particular, don’t tell me how important I am to you and that you want a long term relationship with me if you don’t really mean it. If you are successful in winning business with us I will find out if you are serious the first time I ask for a change to our arrangement and you begin to quote the contract to me. This lacks integrity and you are unlikely to win any additional business.

Never tell me I’m strategic because every time someone has said that they very quickly try to increase the price or decrease the discount I receive.

Finally, for me pitching via email is better than by phone. I don’t answer the phone but I do at least browse all my emails. If you follow some of the guidance above and I like what I see you might get a response and a chance to pitch your solution to me or one of my team and that might just lead to value for everyone.


Daniel said...

I couldn't agree with this more - I operate in financial services (particularly in the leasing of ICT equipment) and it is easy to forget you're not the only person calling prospects. More importantly, in my case, the finance/lease isn't the true need, nor is the equipment itself, it is what the equipment facilitates that is the true need.

Honey said...

Owen, thanks for a great article. I too agree wholeheartedly with what you have written and hope those looking to gain our business read it and take another look at their approach. In the daily situation of trying to find good solutions for business problems there is too little time to spend with those suppliers who couldn't care less what your actual challenges are but do care a great deal about their bonuses. If only they could begin to understand that a genuine desire to understand and partner with a client can in turn translate to those coveted bonuses with minimal effort.

Anyway, thanks again Owen and I look forward to reading more.

Mike said...

Hey Owen, I originally came across this article in the CIO magazine just the other day while in a waiting room. It coincided nicely with a book I was reading 'Think like your customer' by Bill Stinnett. However he took a good chapter or so to explain what you did so well in the article. Very clear and too the point. It was really good to see book theory is true in the real world and explained by someone in your position.