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Top 10 do's and don't's of selling to the CIO

12th Oct 2014
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Selling IT can be difficult. There are so many different technological puzzle pieces that fit into an organisation, all with varying shelf lives, compatibility factors and USPs. But successful sales people know that it's not just about selling the technology when it comes to IT, but selling to the correct decision-maker as well. 

In other words, sales people can know their products and services inside out, but if they don't know the person they are selling to and what they want in order to come to the table armed with the right tailored information, then they have lost the battle even before it has begun.

In order to make sure you don't fall into that trap, here are some of the top tips of selling to CIOs that will help make that all-important sale:

  1. Don’t make a discovery sales call to the CIO.
    The worst approach when selling to a CIO is leading with, “Tell me a little bit about [the technology that you are currently using, projects that you are working on, issues that you might be having].” Across the board, the CIOs would rather you to know about them and their company before they even pick up the phone. Using a data intelligence solution, you can prepare to sell into an organisation by reading the company profile, gaining an understanding of the organisation’s specific business and technology landscape as well as organisational structure and budgets. With a good system, you will be alerted to current IT initiatives and leadership changes. From this point you can formulate how your solution solves the prospect’s issues and how it will improve their IT environments.
  2. Do know the industry of your targeted CIO.
    Not only should you be able to speak to the specific needs of the CIO and his company, but those of the industry as well. Being well-versed in industry trends, terminology and current issues shows your prospect that he can trust you to understand his priorities and environment. Earn even more credibility by being able to reference and discuss industry reports and analysis.
  3. Don’t try to be and sell everything to everyone.
    With their busy schedules and demanding workload, your approach should be tailored to the CIO’s specific circumstances or you will be just wasting their time. CIOs like having a very focused sales pitch. I've known a CIO who instructed the vendor to speak to her about very specific topics and solutions, and he ended up giving a very generic pitch during the presentation. Another had the opposite occur when he was dealing with a vendor that had a large portfolio of products, but knew that the CIO was only interested in two of their solutions. The vendor only presented the two solutions discussed and nothing else. Who do you think made the sale? Concentrating on the CIO’s specific needs or pain points – not all of the others that you can solve – shows respect and builds trust.
  4. Do know the organisational chart of your targeted prospect and identify the CIO’s “Lieutenants.”
    Each CIO will have people on their teams that vet new and existing technologies. Think of these as “Lieutenants.” They are the second-in-command and the first line to shoot down solutions that won’t work, alert the Commander (or CIO) to any potential obstacles a solution may present, and the ones you want championing your solution. CIOs lean on these individuals to identify needs and evaluate solutions for specific business challenges. These direct reports have the ears of the CIO and a strong influence (or often buying authority) over the selection process. Use accurate IT org charts to map out the entire IT department and identify the “Lieutenants” at your target accounts.
  5. Don’t underestimate or take for granted the power of the 'Lieutenants.'
    These direct reports hold a lot of weight in the selection process, often pitching the product to the CIO themselves. One CIO stated that he spends 10% of his time talking to personnel to learn about technologies that they do not already have deployed. Convince these “Lieutenants” of the value of your product and you’ll gain insider help with selling your solution to the CIO. Knowing that time is always of the essence when it comes to selling to a CIO, arm the “Lieutenant” with the information necessary to effectively present your product in a short window of time.
  6. Do ask for referrals and use them.
    As the old adage suggests, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Nothing is more valuable than a referral from one CIO to another. CIOs really trust their network. When you close a deal, ask the CIO of the company to refer you to three other CIOs. These referrals will get you red-carpet entry in the door. However, it’s then up to you to make the most of your next steps when selling to the CIO.
  7. Don’t be afraid to miss a sales meeting.
    No, I don’t mean blow off the sales meeting all together. I simply mean know when to just send your engineering staff. The CIOs on our panel described some of their best sales meetings as being very technically focused and involving only engineers. However, if you are going to be there, don’t just let your engineer do all of the talking. Always be providing value and show respect for the CIO’s time.
  8. Don’t send mass, generic emails to your CIO contacts.
    Let’s reiterate again: CIOs are busy. And they get a lot of email. In some cases, over 50% of a CIO inbox can be from vendors! You must provide value to stand out. Make your messages short and very specific. Refer to recognisable customers and communicate your value proposition as succinctly as possible. Your subject line is key – make it very relevant and personalised.
  9. Do send your emails early in the morning and make sure that they are mobile-optimised.
    By the time a CIO gets to the office, he doesn’t have much time (if any) to read email. Catch him before he starts his day – on his morning commute or before he leaves the house – by sending emails before 8 am. Also, make sure that your emails are text-based or mobile-optimised as they are probably being read on a smart phone.
  10. Don’t forget about the product itself.
    It should go without saying that a good product is necessary when selling to a CIO. If you have a good product, the CIOs will find you and/or are more likely to take a call or schedule an appointment to meet with you. On the marketing side of things, be sure to manage your brand’s online reputation and make it easy for those looking for you to find you and get the information that they need.

Here is the bottom line: CIOs are busy people. Their time is valuable. You need to be prepared, show respect for their time and provide value. Find solutions that can help you not only identify the key decision makers, but also give you access to their 'Lieutenants' and sales intelligence, providing multiple points of entry, insight on the current IT landscape and shortening your sales cycle.

Henry Schuck is CEO of DiscoverOrg.

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