Selling to software developers

In an increasingly pressured environment, CIOs may delegate procurement tasks to developers. But selling to them means a whole new sales approach.

Chris Ogden, entrepreneur and MD of software development and support services firm RubiBlue, believes the balance of buying power is swinging. Now, he says, the ‘king maker’ in terms of IT purchases could be anyone from the business owner to the software developer, depending on the business’s level of maturity.

Ogden sees a growing number of companies where the CIO or head of IT is not involved in day-to-day IT buying decisions as they focus on more commercial, business-related issues. “Smaller projects don’t require the CIO/CFO to be involved at all, other than approving final sign off, if necessary,” he says.

Christopher de Kok, Rational Lead for IBM MEA, says in South Africa, the decision-maker is still the CIO, by and large. “But, we do see more influence coming from the line of business. This is largely a result of the pressure on businesses to transform their investments for greater business value and use their investments as cost-effective enablers of innovation and success. The development team becomes core to this if they open opportunities for improving effectiveness, predictability and productivity.”

Mark Gillon, Business Development Manager at Altech Isis, agrees. “The CIO is still usually the person who signs off on a purchase,” he says. “But, you might find in a very large enterprise that the CIO is not a domain expert in every area of his or her portfolio, in which case the developers may be the section experts who make recommendations on IT purchases. In my experience, around 60 percent of the time, the CIO makes the decision.”


Finding out who makes the buying decisions comes down to doing your homework. De Kok says: “You need various channels into an account to understand who, when and how to approach an organisation.”

Gillon adds that ideally, a reseller or integrator has extensive experience in the industry it is selling into and has researched the potential customer. “You need to understand the challenges and environment they operate in, as well as the structure of the organisation,” he says.

Grant Vine, Technical Director of Cybervine IT solutions, has been ‘on both sides of the fence’ in terms of IT sales. “Any salesman needs to do his homework beforehand,” he says. “You have to make an effort to know your clients – right down to things like when their financial year is, so you know when to talk to them about new products ahead of their next budget cycle.”


Gillon says no matter who you are selling to, showcasing a random catalogue of solutions is not the answer. “That’s like throwing a plate of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. If you walk in there and say ‘we see these are the issues, let’s put a proactive plan in place to solve them’, they will be more reactive to what you have to say.”

Vine is a strong believer in approaching techies to drive buying decisions. While they may not sign off on a purchase, they are often the people who will promote the concept to those who do, he says.

“For techies, seeing is believing,” says Vine.

“They are generally at the cutting edge of technology, and they know where and how to check up on your product. They will want to test it. They will ask tough questions, so you’d better have the answers. So a pure sales pitch won’t impress them. Pure sales people can sell anything from IT to manure. The thing with  techies is, they can smell manure.” Vine believes this is where a pre-sales consultant with extensive technology expertise proves invaluable. “Techies like toys,” adds Vine, “so if you can get a product for them to play around with, you are more likely to get their buy-in.”

Vine says he tends to look to the young developer and the IT manager as a starting point.

“Usually, the IT manager has a good rapport with the techies and is still in touch with the challenges ‘at the coal face’. You’ll often find the IT manager really just wants to know ‘what will this cost?’ while the techie wants to play with the toys and make his or her work easier. The CIO tends to have been out of the hands-on environment for a few years, and what is  troubling him or her, is really only a problem because people are complaining about it.”

Ogden says: “From my own experience, developers constantly look for better and newer ways to do things. Once they have found objects, products, technologies or hardware configurations that work for them, they will re-use them until there is a better solution found. When it comes to platforms, much like politics, each has their own opinion.”

De Kok says: “From an IBM Rational brand perspective, we have always adopted a bottom-up approach, rather than working the top-down route. We focus on helping the development team have the conversation with the CIO on the business benefits and the opportunities for improving the team’s effectiveness, predictability and productivity.

“Developers are looking for solutions to solve their particular need. Developers on projects are very task-orientated, but the project managers will want to look at how many tasks can be implemented for the budget that is available.

“Developers want tools that are easy to use, but powerful enough to do the job. So the solutions must solve their functional needs, but you also have to show how the solution fits into the greater picture. Development is not just about developers – it’s about the business analyst, architects, developers, testers, build engineers, deployment and release specialists, operations, etc. In fact, everyone involved in getting the development product from requirements to release.”

What platforms they are looking at depends entirely on which platform they are developing on, de Kok notes. “Ideally, you need supporting development solutions for all the roles that will cater for all platforms from Windows to Unix, Linux, zOS, iOS, etc. It’s a challenge if the Microsoft .Net, Java, Cobol, RPG, and so on, all use different tools for a system that might comprise applications developed in each of these languages.”


Sales functions have changed, say vendors. While freebies and golf days may be a ‘nice-to-have’, they aren’t what ultimately clinches the deal. “Those are just relationship-builders,” says Gillon.

Vine adds: “The most important factor is doing business in an ethical way and becoming a trusted advisor to your customers, with effective post-sales delivery. Sales approaches are built on relationships.”

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