How Vendors Should Sell to CIOs

selling to CIOsLet’s face it. As CIOs, you are a desirable target for vendors of all stripes. Sell the C-level executive and you’ve made it. But how should vendors sell to you? What steps should they take and what advice would you give them?

Good perspective on this issue comes via ITAfrica.com. In a blog post promoting an upcoming seminar called, “Selling to the CIO,” the site offers 7 tips. See if you agree with them.

The first advice revolves around understanding the CIOs challenges. This perspective seems to nail the biggest challenge a CIO faces: “At the end of the day, it is all about understanding that the modern day CIO wants to move up in the world of business. And he/she will only be interested in investing their time into something that will essentially meet this requirement.”

ITAfrica’s second bit of advice is vendors should meet face-to-face with prospective buyers. Consider this less than perfect advice. Most CIOs would probably like an initial pitch over the phone or via email. Then they can take the time to digest the message and set up an in-person meeting.

The next point seems obvious but it’s something most have experienced: vendors need to know what they are selling. Know the answers or how to get the answers quickly. CIOs are at the pinnacle of their professions. They don’t have time for salespeople not at the top of theirs.

Specialization is also another strong selling point. Successful vendors can’t be jack of all trades with knowledge a mile wide but an inch deep. They need to narrow their focus and make their knowledge deep.

The following advice is along the same lines. Basically preparation is always key but so is this old chestnut of good customer service: always follow up. Good relationships are two-way streets. As ITAfrica advises, “Once you successfully sell to the CIO, you may think that the deal is signed and the commission is the bank; however, you still need to keep them as well as the client happy. Keeping both the client CIO and client happy is crucial when it comes to gaining a great reference.

“Remember, that in technology selling the vast majority of sales to CIOs are driven by reference accounts and referrals. Without positive references and referrals you will essentially be back in the position you started in, which is trying to figure out how to sell to the CIO once again.”

There is also some good home-grown advice. Peter Yared, CIO, CBS Interactive, wrote a guest column on the topic of selling to CIOs for the Wall Street Journal. He said, “A pitch, whether from a small startup or a multinational corporation, should always concisely state the following:

  1. Description: What the offering specifically does, how it’s different from competitors and how it can help a CIO. Ideally this includes some tangibles, such as screenshots or performance graphs.
  2. Validation: What stage the product is at and who else is using it.
  3. Process: How can the offering be purchased, what the typical on-ramp looks like, and how much it costs.”

He added, “The way to truly understand how and why an enterprise purchases technology is by gaining the ability to understand how IT departments at medium to large-size organizations work, how decision-making actually happens and how vendors can avoid getting in their own way.”

Here’s one final piece of advice that might be most valuable to an IT vendor. Hire people with IT experience. As Yared observes, “While IT vendors spend their time trying to sell to IT departments, they rarely have anyone on staff that has actually worked in an IT department. IT departments have a certain culture and the best way to sell to them is to understand how they work.”

What advice would you offer? Comment below.

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.