CIO as a broker is sales challenge to vendors

A wider range of influencers on technology buying decisions calls for a complete rethink of sales and marketing by many vendors

The evidence is in. CIOs and their departments are influencers and therefore just one component in the selection and acquisition of enterprise technology. Results from the 2019 annual CIO Survey by Harvey Nash and KPMG are therefore challenging to many, not all, in the technology vendor community. 

Technology vendors are cemented into outdated and unachievable sales methodologies that will fail to achieve results. The reason being, these methodologies bear no resemblance to the move by the CIO and IT to being influential. 

Much of the Harvey Nash CIO Survey confirmed my own thinking and experience.  Over the last 11 years it has become clear that CIOs and IT will have to move away from command and control and towards a shoulder-to-shoulder partnership. The majority of the CIOs that I work with are more than sanguin about this situation, they welcome and have adopted the move to influence. Freed from the shackles of being the operator, CIOs and IT team members are able to truly embed themselves within the organisation and discover what really matters to end users and customers. As a result (and in combination with the latest cloud and development tools) technologists are able to listen, learn, experiment and deliver solutions to small, but ever so irritating pain points in procurement, financial management, product delivery, supply chain and customer service, to name just a few from recent interviews.

Influence is won in the hard battle of the relationship; and strong relationships require authenticity. No successful CIO or IT team can judge a member of the organisation and their challenges. All challenges, initially, have to be treated as equal. There is of course a requirement for the organisation to categorise and prioritise pain points and their solutions. Those that impact revenue quickly rise to the top of the to do list. But often a truly embedded IT team can create quick fixes, or use a Friday afternoon to create a creative solution to pain points that are lower down the priority list. It is this collaborative focus that creates authenticity and a strong empathy and relationship between technology and the business. 

Sadly, too few technology service providers approach relationships with the same level of authenticity. I say too few, because there are some very exciting and respected organisations that will work with a FTSE giant and a cash starved charity side by side with the same care and attention to every project.  Many in the technology service provider community though still judge a CIO by the number of servers or locations their technology touches. This outdated view ignores economic reality, technology is shrinking the physical footprint of many industries. It also ignores the findings of the 2019 CIO survey, which demonstrates that IT decision making is a collaborative process. A wide variety of line managers and influencers will be involved in each and every technology procurement decision. With that being the case, technology service providers need to learn from the CIO community and develop all the skills and methods of becoming influential.

Those organisations who are aware of this are adopting a vision of broad horizons. They understand that an organisation in the buying cycle needs awareness; it needs to understand what services are on offer; there is a need to have heard genuine user stories (possibly good and bad, we live in an era of fail fast and learn). Having learnt who a vendor is; there is a need to like the service provider. The CIO of a major professional services firm recently told a forum that the technology stack is increasing, becoming more complex and required to do more than ever. So the relationship with the provider has to be strong and honest. We have all heard and lived through the false promises of hard sell, today organisations require a partnership with shared risk and reward.

If a service provider is known and liked, the opportunity to be trusted increases. The ultimate sign of trust is a contract. Having secured the contract, being trusted is a daily exercise. But suppliers that are trusted find the first two steps; that of being known and liked, less of a challenge. In one forum I operate, CIOs share recommendations, those recommendations get seconded by other CIOs. But criticism is as powerful as a recommendation. There are service providers who are not talked-of in a positive light.

So the technology service provider community finds itself at an interesting junction. Does it want to reflect the massive change in the way enterprise IT operates and be part of their journey? Or do vendors want to continue on the same path? 

Back in 2008 if it had been said that by 2019 the annual CIO Survey will show a complete culture change in the way CIOs lead and IT operates, most would have said you are mad. But it has happened. The journey is only just beginning, the wider involvement of all parts of the business in technology decision making will continue at the pace of a serverless deployment. Those vendors and suppliers who are aware of this will thrive. They will thrive because they engage, they listen, they don't judge, they don't sell, they invest in community and relationships.