Targeting the IT decision-maker

While the roles of the CIO and the IT director are markedly different, IT decision-makers today make their buying decisions along very similar lines. And if you want their buy-in, you’d better be offering strategic value.

In a fast-paced world of digital disruption and pressure to move faster to innovation, IT decision-makers need knowledgeable solution partners who can deliver business differentiators and measurable return on investments (ROI). The IT decision-maker has to account for buying decisions and prove the value to the C-Suite. This means selling to these decision-makers is a whole new ball game.

Mervyn Mooi, director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics, says there’s a difference between an IT director and CIO, and understanding this is important. “Although both have a mix of technical and business skills and experience, the IT director is 
more geared toward pure ICT management (infrastructure and hardware or software products and services), whereas the CIO has the additional accountability of information management. The CIO is usually elevated
 to the highest rank in the organisation,
with overarching oversight responsibilities, including that of ICT products and services.”

Mooi says old-school golf day bonding and client getaways are not effective sales levers in today’s business environment. “In modern- day medium to large organisations, personal hobbies, likes and dislikes of these individuals are not factors that would swing the decision-making with regards to procurement, because of tight governance and democratic processes that decisions are subjected to,” he says.

“Bear in mind that organisations tend to remain with existing vendors unless their products and services are dated, unaffordable, wasteful, the service quality erodes or
the products and services don’t fit the organisation’s current or future strategy. So, any shift must be compelling in terms of ROI, strategy fit and benefits,” says Mooi.

“Regardless of whether the CIO or IT director holds budgets or delegates their duties and responsibilities to business and technical managers, decision-making is usually collaborative, using all of these relevant parties’ inputs, experiences and status quo risks and opportunities (and maybe from all necessary levels within the organisation). This is a standard process, that usually results in better and informed decision-making. There’s usually conflict in the process between the decision-makers, but it’s for the best, as a challenged and tested decision is more fitting than an unchallenged one.”

Reinventing the sales approach

For channel players striving to stay relevant in a changing environment, such as how cloud is disrupting traditional channel models, sales and marketing must work hand in hand, says SYSPRO MD Mark Wilson. This is particularly true when seeking buy-in from the CIO.

“Ideally, in every sales engagement, the
 first thing you want to do is understand the strategic requirements of the business you’re selling into – so you’d like to engage as high as possible in the decision-making chain to map your brand and solutions to their requirements. If you start lower down the value chain in 
the IT department, you tend to be reverse-engineering the sale."

But getting a foot in the door of the CIO’s office isn’t easy.

“People tend to think they can just pick up the phone and sell to the CIO, but it doesn’t work like that anymore,” he says. “The role of the CIO has evolved significantly over the past ten years, and CIOs don’t keep the lights on, they don’t buy technology and they don’t take cold calls.”

What CIOs do, says Wilson, is make strategic, forward-looking buying decisions, thoroughly research a range of appropriate solutions, and prefer to engage with respected and recognised industry experts.

Wilson says: “If you’re aiming to go in at CIO level, you could leverage existing relationships, or perhaps get referred by the CIO’s ‘lieutenants’. But you need to go in with someone positioning you as a thought leader who can bring value to the organisation.”

Once you’re in the door, you’ll have to prove your organisation has the skills and resources necessary to deliver real strategic value, says Wilson. The days of sales made on the strength of a PowerPoint presentation are over.

Building a name CIOs trust

Becoming a ‘household name’ that inspires trust among ICT buying decision-makers involves a coordinated effort on the part of sales, marketing and support. Sales today are equal parts ‘push’ and ‘pull’, which means the brand has to be visible and credible, proactive about presenting solutions that will work for the customer, and highly service- and support-oriented.

Wilson says ‘pull’ activities create excitement and credibility for the brand. “It helps for the brand to be visibly associated with the sector, producing thought leadership articles, speaking at events and serving on industry bodies,” he says.

Ongoing relationships are important too. “CIOs and IT directors want a few strategic relationships they trust. So channel players need to build up account-based marketing plans or have account-based sales directors who work to build the right level of relationship with the customer. Channel players must engage both at a decision-making level and a business operations level.”

The channel model is no more complex than it was ten years ago, says Wilson. However, what has changed is the impact of digitalisation and the cloud, and the role of CIOs. “With the arrival of the cloud, people
can just go online and get a commodity-type solution. And the role of CIOs has become more strategic. This means the channel must be presenting more complex solutions, and must be capable of offering the right level of skills and resources to the customer. Here, skills becomes a critical differentiator – if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s a deal breaker, whether you’re talking to the CIO or the IT director.”

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