How to Sell to the CIO in 2020

By William Archie Ray, Enterprise Account Executive, OpsRamp

Why is it so tough to sell to the CIO?

Well, just think for a moment about how complex and pressurized the CIO’s job has gotten over the years. The CIO must take into account the intricacies and implications of hybrid, multi-cloud environments, security and governance requirements, and cost-containment pressures.

Why CIOs Hear So Many Sales Pitches
There’s also the extreme innovation happening right now across IT. New vendors are emerging to educate CIOs about machine learning, edge computing, the Internet of Things, and multi-cloud and hybrid cloud technologies. That creates message mania.

Meanwhile, application and tool sprawl has spun out of control – particularly among such teams as marketing, IT operations management (ITOM), and DevOps. CIOs and other IT decision makers have many stakeholders and influencers contributing to the overall strategy and buying process.

With so many teams onboarding tons of tools and platforms, IT can’t manage technology assets in a cost-effective way or gain value from the data. The data is everywhere, which means it’s hard to discover, cleanse, normalize, aggregate, and use it to help the business.

It can be difficult for salespeople to figure out how to successfully sell to the CIO in this kind of environment.

You might think the last thing the CIO wants to hear is your sales pitch for yet another application to add to the mix. But you still have a job to do. So where do you begin?

Questions All Salespeople Should Ask When Selling to CIOs

  • Figure out who you’re really selling to. Is it the IT leader? The CIO? People in other departments? Or some combination of all three?
  • Find out who needs to be involved in discussions, at which stages. Your initial conversations may not need to involve the CIO but other people on the buying team.
  • Can you help the CIO simplify the strategy and gain buy-in from multiple parties?
  • Can you find a way to become a strategic partner rather than a vendor?
  • How do you demonstrate the value of new, modern technology when IT just wants to cut costs?

New selling environments call for a revamped selling strategy. Here are four tactics to help your sales team create winning relationships with the CIO.

1) Use data to gain a deeper understanding of the customer environment.
A 2018 McKinsey report sums up the need for a data orientation to selling: “B2B sales has evolved from an art to a science. By that we mean that sales is data-driven, enabled by digital tools, underpinned by advanced analytics, and focused on really understanding the ‘what, why, and when’ of the customer.”

To that end, start with gaining insight into the customer’s marketplace, such as competitive pressures and business needs. What regulatory and compliance requirements come into play? What is the culture of the workforce, and how do they like to do business?

Finally, conduct a thorough technology discovery process, mapping out all the organization’s applications, tools, networks, and services such as cloud providers. With a complete picture of the customer’s environment and objectives, salespeople can start conversations on common ground with the prospect and team.

2) Champion a collaborative, inclusive buying process.
The IT executive no longer operates in a vacuum. Not only does he or she need to involve other key IT leaders – including the individuals who direct infrastructure strategy, development/DevOps, and security – but leaders across the business.

When selecting new IT tools, for instance, that means the sales executive needs to work with DevOps and ITOps teams. If selling to marketing organizations, leaders from sales, customer service, and marketing should be at the table with the CIO.

Depending upon the company and the initiative, there are times when even the CEO should be involved. It’s more important than ever to understand the culture: who affects buying decisions, who are the most important stakeholders, and what are the internal politics that can get in the way of valuable discussions and decisions. A good salesperson can help the CIO navigate these choppy waters as a trusted, external advisor.

3) Steer the conversation away from tools and tech to strategy.
As you build a comprehensive perspective on the prospect’s organization, you are now in a position to bring some clarity on needs versus wants – cool and new toys versus products that can boost business performance and marketplace value.

Help the CIO think in terms of business alignment and goals. Be responsible: If AI is a factor in your solution, that’s great, but temper the desire to focus on the technology rather than zoning in on specific use cases and scenarios.

Don’t forget to discuss cautions about the limitations or difficulties a customer may encounter. Let’s face it: No enterprise software is truly easy to implement, deploy, and optimize.

4) Simplify sales tools and control the data.
If you’re selling strategy and simplification, operate the same way internally. Modern sales organizations use dozens of different marketing and sales tools  –from chat to CRM to analytics and more. This leads to chaos and a drag on productivity.

It’s hard to filter the noise and gain 360-degree views of opportunities and accounts. Consider how your team can get rid of duplicate tools, and then integrate remaining tools and data silos to create a single channel that supports the sales process. Hiring a digitally-astute sales operations expert to manage this initiative is a sound investment.

A Bright Future for Enterprise IT Sales
Given the amount of change in IT right now, it’s an exciting time to work in enterprise sales. By developing a new approach based on data, inclusivity, and simplification, sales leaders can become the partner to whom the IT leader comes back time and again.

William Archie “Rusty” Ray III is an enterprise account executive at OpsRamp.