Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Selling to CIOs

L-R: Joe Lynch from Arch Mortgage Insurance, Henry Schuck from DiscoverOrg, and Savio Thattil from Sephora

This week at VMworld, DiscoverOrg held a Meet-Up event titled “Overcoming Roadblocks When Selling Enterprise IT.” The panel discussions offered insight into how successful sales people not only identify and access the key decision makers at targeted accounts, but also tips about how to effectively sell to CIOs in the first place.

If you are already benefiting from DiscoverOrg’s powerful organizational charts and company profiles, you have the names and contact information of the CIOs and their direct reports. But what do you do with this powerful data to be most effective? Our panel including the CIOs of Sephora, Arch Mortgage Insurance and Charlotte Russe answered that question and discussed the ins and outs of how to sell to them.

The Meet-Up event offered the IT sales and marketing professionals in the room a great opportunity to ask questions of the panel and gain insight into the process of selling to the CIO. We wanted you to have the opportunity to benefit from some of the event’s key takeaways. If your organization sells IT, you will want to read on for the panel’s best advice for Selling to CIOs:

  1. Don’t make a discovery sales call to the CIO.
    The worst approach – we learned – 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 on the panel want you to know about them and their company before they even pick up the phone. Using a data intelligence solution like DiscoverOrg, you can prepare to sell into an organization by reading the company profile, gaining an understanding of the organization’s specific business and technology landscape as well as organizational structure and budgets. With DiscoverOrg’s Triggers 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 environment.
  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. Two of our CIO panelists mentioned the importance of having a very focused sales pitch. One had an experience where she had 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. The other CIO 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. Make today’s sale today, and let it pave the path for tomorrow’s.
  4. Do know the org chart of your targeted prospect and identify the CIO’s “Lieutenants.”
    Each of the CIOs that we spoke with have people on their team that vet new and existing technologies. One of the CIOs referred to them as his “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 DiscoverOrg’s 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. One CIO said that over 50% of his inbox was from vendors! You must provide value to stand out. Make your messages short and very specific. Refer to recognizable customers and communicate your value proposition as succinctly as possible. Your subject line is key – make it very relevant and personalized.
  9. Do send your emails early in the morning and make sure that they are mobile-optimized.
    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-optimized 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. DiscoverOrg’s database 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.

One last interesting point to note, the CIOs mentioned that more and more often the CMOs are making the bulk of the IT sales decisions these days. Don’t worry. DiscoverOrg is one step ahead of the game. Be on the lookout for the DiscoverOrg Marketing database, arriving in Fall 2014.

Keep the discussion going! Share additional Do’s and Don’ts in the comments below or on Twitter at #DOsellIT.

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Henry has over 11 years of experience managing the sales and marketing activities of fast growing Information Technology more

  • Scott Shy

    Great content! “You only get one chance to make a first impression” is especially true when pitching the C-suite. Preparation, respect, confidence, specificity, and brevity are so important when talking about how you can benefit an organization. Most CIOs are actually looking to have great conversations, but their inboxes get flooded with garbage daily. If your approach has value, there`s a good likelihood of being referred to one of their trusted “lieutenants,” if not with him/her directly. One tip: if you do get referred down, as if it`s okay to keep them apprised of any meaningful progress. They will generally want to stay informed, and if there is a good fit, you`ll be a known entity when it`s item for them to sign off!