How to Sell to the Two Types of IT Managers

By Geoffrey James

IT managers come in two flavors: technical and financial. The typical technical manager is an engineer who has risen through the ranks to a management position. The typical financial IT manager has a background in business or finance and possibly an MBA. These two types of IT managers have different ways of looking at software purchases. If you want to increase your success, you’ll need to understand how to sell to both types.

Technical managers are interested in how a particular product or solution might solve their technical problem. You have two goals with these managers. First, you must convince them that that you have a workable solution to their problem. Second, you must convince them that by solving the technical problem you will not create additional problems, such as difficulties with system integration, system compatibility, infrastructure failure and so on.

Selling to technical managers means helping to clarify the problem and then proposing a workable solution. Technical managers are looking for expertise from a sales rep, so you want to position yourself as a consultant who otherwise would be paid to provide the same value you’re providing for free during the sales call. Your main concerns are your technical credibility and your ability to envision a workable solution to the managers’ problems.

You must approach financial IT managers differently. They get enough techie talk from their own employees, so you should bypass discussions of technology and feature or function. Financial managers assume that one of their technologists will vet your solution. They are more interested in how much your software is going to cost and how long it will take for the software purchase to achieve an acceptable ROI. In this case, your value-add is the ability to have at your fingertips multiple, valid ways of calculating and expressing ROI.

For most large software sales you’ll encounter both types of managers, each of whom will be involved in the final decision. The likelihood of a successful close will increase if you bring the two types of managers together for the final decision after you meet with each one separately.

The above is based on a conversation with Michael Bosworth and John Holland, co-founders of CustomerCentric Systems and co-authors of Customer Centric Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2003).