Selling to the CIO of an organization is big business. With budgets in the millions of dollars, influence on an organization growing every year, and the impact to operations front and center, organizations who offer services and products know that influencing the CIO can make or break their business. But for you to reach the CIO and get their attention and interest, there are some things that don’t work, and some that do.
I can tell you from experience that a good majority of technology companies are failing in their efforts to reach the CIO. If my inbox and voicemail are any indication, there are way more opportunities than there is time, and the cacophony of voices is just blending into one steady hum of noise. But despite evidence that shows that cold calling just doesn’t work in this industry, the companies keep trying. In fact, companies have gotten so persistent that they risk alienating the very person they want to develop a relationship with.
This post isn’t a rant. In fact, it’s intended as a help to those of you who are involved in the sales process. With many great products and services out there, the last thing you want to do is make it to ‘the list’ — the list of those companies that a CIO just won’t deal with.
First, let me share a few real world examples of how NOT to market to the CIO:
- The random ‘follow up’ email– You know the one. The email goes out with the first name of the CIO, and acts as if we’ve talked before and you are ‘following up’ from a prior conversation. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’ve never heard of the company, the sales person, or in some cases, the product they are selling. While there is a Junk folder in my email, you’re are only forcing me to look at one more email and move it so I won’t see emails from you again.
- The ‘White Paper’ offer– The internet is a wonderful communication tool, and the things you can learn as you research are endless. Many companies choose to offer various white papers and documents that touch on important and interesting topics. But in many cases, there’s a hitch. If you want to read this paper, you need to give them all of your contact information. Nine times out of 10, that is enough to turn me away because I don’t want the forthcoming onslaught of emails, cold calls and guilt trips that come with it. In fact, just tonight on LinkedIn, I saw someone who mentioned that they didn’t want to download an Executive Briefing about IT Strategy because of the amount of information required to access it. Share your information without strings attached; we’ll come to you if it connects with us.
- The cold call– This definitely doesn’t work, so save the dime. Most CIOs I know don’t ever answer their own phone from an external number because it’s almost a sure fact that it will be a cold call. And telling my Assistant that I asked you to call, I know you, or the ‘Corporate Office’ asked you to call (yes, it happens more than you think) won’t get by her. She’s heard every story, so don’t bother.
- The unexpected ‘gift’– This one is really interesting. You get some random item in the mail (I once got a remote controlled car… without the remote! You had to have a sales call to get that part!), usually something that you could have lived without, and within a day or so, the calls start coming. The hope is that you will feel guilty for taking the item (most of the time it is given to someone else) and will take the time to have a meeting with the sales person. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for the item, and definitely don’t feel obligated to talk with you just because you sent it. Sorry!
- The repetitive email thread– This is one of my favorite. You get an email from a random sales person, and in it they ask you for some time this week or next, and ask that you just offer them some calendar options so they can reach out. If the emails go unanswered, within two weeks you will get a ‘follow up’ email making sure you didn’t miss the last one. Surely it must have gotten overlooked, but they know how precious your time is. If that email goes unanswered, another one is guaranteed mentioning that they have tried a couple times, and know how busy I am. (In one case, I continued to receive an email from the same sale person [automated I am sure] for over 6 months. In EVERY email, they offered to bring me a toy if I would just meet with them! I finally responded with a friendly note asking them to stop emailing me, and I never heard back from them again. Amazing!)
- The ‘I was in the area’ cold call– On more than one occasion, I have gotten a call from the front desk telling me that someone was here to see me. Of course, the name never seems to ring a bell, and I go out front to see who it is. I’m suddenly faced with a sales person who ‘happened to be in the area’ and thought they would just drop by. Of course, calendars are typically booked all day, and stopping to meet with an unexpected visitor just isn’t going to work.
I know there are many other ways that CIOs are contacted, but these are just a few that come to mind. In the spirit of making sure this isn’t a rant, and knowing that you may be a sales person who is trying to make a living, let me give you a few ideas of things that may, in fact, work.
- The referral– If there is one thing I know about CIOs, it’s we are quick to share wins with each other. If we find a product that works for us, and does what we expected it to do, we ARE going to tell others about it. Our network is generally strong, and we have many opportunities to share successes. I am more willing to meet with someone who has a product that someone in my network is using. So if you are having success with an organization, ask the CIO to make some recommendations for you. If the product is good, we’ll talk about it and might just call you instead of you having to call us!
- Knowledge curation– Many CIOs are readers. We scour numerous blogs, news feeds and industry magazines looking for new ideas and solutions to the business issues we’re facing. If someone were to be able to curate some of this news into a summary email or feed, without strings attached, I’m likely to read it, and be appreciative of the effort it takes. One such place is com. It’s a great resource for the latest news and industry issues, attracts a great number of CIOs, and allows us to share with each other. Offering up insights and updates, no strings attached, goes a long way to generating interest in your product or service. Instead of mailing a tchotchke, put your money into sponsoring a site like this.
- Sponsored forums– Everybody likes to get away from the office every now and then, and having an opportunity to meet with fellow CIOs is always a bonus. Find a way to host a forum that touches on a relevant and timely topic, and you may gain the attention of a room full of CIOs. But it’s critical that it doesn’t turn into a data gathering exercise for your organization. I know everyone wants to be sure there is an ROI for their efforts, but you almost have to view this as a community service. Bring folks together, share knowledge, and then let the community reach back to you. If you have been a great advisor and knowledge source, people will call.
- Industry events – One of the best ways to get to know a CIO is to get to know them on a personal level. One way to do this is to get to know them at events that are definitively NOT for selling like an industry gathering. Your local HIMSS Chapter meetings, CHIME events, or other business events are great places to meet CIOs and get to know them. But beware. If you attend these just in hope of making a sale, you might be disappointed and find them quickly backing away from you and heading the other way. The best thing you can do is just get to know them, learn about their organization and them as a person first. Once you have gained that trust, then you can talk about what you have to offer. If you start with the sale, you’ll lose them quickly.
I am sure there are many other effective ways to reach out to the CIO and sell your product. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that some organizations might take umbrage with my assessment that cold calls, random emails, and other techniques don’t work. And I realize I might only be speaking for me. But hopefully, this advice will help you connect with the CIO just a little easier!
In the end, it takes all of us to be successful. We need CIOs who can help organizations select the right tools to help their business grow, and we need great products and services to help the organization meet its mission. But to get that sale, you’ve got to make the right connection with the right person. Try some of these ideas and see if you aren’t more successful.
I’d love to hear from some of the other CIOs. What are the techniques that work best for you? What techniques definitely don’t work?