Technology vendors who have been successful over the long term all have something in common: they know how to sell to chief information officers.
They understand that the work isn’t over after the handshakes and signatures — effectively managing and nurturing a vendor-CIO relationship requires attention.
I’m a VC now, but my five CIO stints over the past two decades have taught me plenty about the before and after of the enterprise sales process. My daily conversations with existing CIOs reaffirm these insights and shed light on other important steps.
I’ll tackle the relationship-nurturing piece further down. First up, here is what CIOs look for in solutions and how you can tailor your sales approach accordingly.
CIOs sponsor and decide, not buy. CIOs rarely make decisions unilaterally. They will most often sponsor a buying decision in collaboration with key members of their team. The mistake most companies make is going straight to the CIO without buy-in from the leadership group immediately under them. Build confidence with that team first. From there, you’ll have better insight into whether the product you’ve built fits into the overarching strategy the CIO has put into place.
Begin by getting alignment on the actual deployment. How are things working? What could be better? Starting here signals that their needs supersede your own.
CIOs care about value. Make sure your ROI is definitive. People are always willing to pay a premium to solve problems, but you have to be prescriptive about what you do. And whatever that value prop is, be sure it’s aligned with the CIO’s larger vision. CIOs want solutions for the longer term, so think about how you position your product as a long-term solution rather than a reference-point solution.
Most CIOs already suffer from tool fatigue, managing a budget that includes hundreds of SaaS applications. If you want the CIO’s attention, position your offering as one that will continue to add value over time. Show that your solution can scale and that you have a vision for the future. CIOs are often wary of procuring products they think may disappear or be acquired.
Talk about your deployment plan. Make sure you have a clearly articulated plan for deployment and change management. Many CIOs will say no to a solution simply because their teams aren’t set up to deploy well. Think about how you can deploy a solution and add value without relying on the customer’s resources.
Remember that a CIO’s team has been building, buying, deploying and managing solutions long before you showed up. How does your solution fit into the team’s process and, more importantly, how do you deploy successfully?
Have your references ready. Have a reference that’s relevant to the CIO before you reach out. CIOs expect to be sold to and cold-called; it’s not a surprise when it happens, nor is it jarring. But it happens a lot, and to break through the noise, it really helps to have a peer CIO who can reference the solution.