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CIO Perspective on Selling and Marketing to CIOs

Ken Gaebler

Selling and Marketing to CIOs
Selling and marketing to CIOs? It's not an easy task, but these tips will help you get an audience with a CIO and make the most of it.

I've written in the past about selling to CIOs, and our firm, Walker Sands, continues to specialize in, among other things, helping our client partners who want to reach CIOs.

Since I first wrote what has become a very popular article on CIO selling tips, we've continued to experiment with new techniques and approaches for getting in front of CIOs. We also keep an active dialog going with the CIOs we know to understand their take on the best ways to reach CIOs.

With that idea in mind, I recently reached out to Shouvik Dutta, who serves as the CIO for AGI-Shorewood Group (ASG), a $1.0 billion specialized global printing and packaging company.

Shouvik and I had previously shared the honor of serving on the Board of Directors of Lumity, a Chicago nonprofit that provides financial and technology solutions to other nonprofits. Last week, he was kind enough to share his thoughts on this topic of selling and marketing to CIOs.

In his email response to me, Shouvik offered three simple tips for technology marketers and sales reps who want to sell to CIOs:

#1 Connect via a Relationship -- Shouvik notes that the best way to sell to get an audience with him is "through a contact - through Linked in with someone I know giving an intro." This is consistent with what we've consistently said in the past: the days of cold-calling our long gone. Marketers and salespeople who want to connect with CIOs must build a deep personal network that in turn has connections to CIOs.

#2 Solve a Problem for the CIO -- Shouvik encourages marketers to "understand my needs instead of just providing a product or a service." To do this right, you need three things: empathy, market intelligence and consultative selling skills. Empathy allows you to implicitly understand common CIO challenges and frustrations and speak to them. Market intelligence involves learning about a CIO's specific goals and challenges before you contact them. A little bit of research can go a long way in showing that you are not selling without first understanding the needs of the other party. Finally, consultative selling skills allow you to ask probing questions that serve to illuminate the CIO's most-pressing challenges and goals, giving you insights that may not be accessible via research but that you can then provide solutions for, assuming you actually have solutions.

#3 Be Honest When You Don't Have the Right Solution -- Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If your offerings cannot solve the CIO's problem, be forthright and say so. As Shouvik notes, "be willing to say that given my needs your solution might not work - thereby building a relationship." When vendors act in the best interests of CIOs -- even if it means forgoing a sale -- that credibility will pay dividends in the future, when you do have the right solutions for the task at hand.

According to Shouvik, the biggest sin of those who sell to CIOs is not understanding what the organization in trying to accomplish. Don't "try to sell me something without understanding my business requirements," he notes.

In this era of solutions-based selling, you would think this would be obvious to most marketers and sales reps. But we are often surprised at how many well-respected tech companies still lead with product features, rather than with marketing messaging about how those features solve real-world problems.

Even for those firms that focus on solving CIO problems, many market in "broadcast" mode, delivering the exact same message to every CIO. The reality is that every business goal, problem, or challenge has its own nuances based on the specifics -- e.g. organizational context, industry context, competitor context, etc.

The bottomline? Until you understand those nuances and tailor your marketing and sales messages accordingly to the needs of an individual CIO, you'll continue to underperform your true sales and marketing potential.