Selling to the CIO

by john on May 24, 2003

If you sell technology products or services chances are you have been taught to sell to the business unit leaders instead of the IT(Information Technology) leadership such as the CIO or CTO. The reasoning for this is a belief that IT will be too enamored with the technology behind your product rather than the ROI to the organization. Unfortunately this stereotype is correct often enough that you probably are better off to skirt IT if at all possible.

It’s IT organizations that are solely focused on technology that lead to articles like IT Doesn’t Matter in the current Harvard Business Review. As someone who makes his living in IT and who believes in the importance of IT to organizations articles such as this disturb me, even as I recognize the reasons for why they exist.

Bob Evans from InformationWeek has written a couple of articles referring to the HBR article, the latter one including a couple of choice quotes from GM’s CIO Ralph Szygenda:

“Nicholas Carr may ultimately be correct when he says IT doesn’t matter,” Szygenda began. “Business-process improvement, competitive advantage, optimization, and business success do matter and they aren’t commodities. To facilitate these business changes, IT can be considered a differentiator or a necessary evil. But today, it’s a must in a real-time corporation.”

“…But the application of information systems in a corporation’s product design, development, distribution, customer understanding, and cost-effective Internet services is probably at the fifth-grade level.”

Well, if IT doesn’t matter, I guess they’ll just stay stuck at that fifth-grade level.

On the other hand, if the focused and strategic applications that they support and that Ralph is describing do indeed matter, then there’s plenty–plenty–of progress to be made.

The best run IT organizations are technology-savvy but are business-savvy as well. They serve as the central nervous system to an organization which allows each business unit to focus on their own business while IT serves to unify the business requirements leveraging technology solutions where appropriate. They focus on business process improvement, considering the overall needs of the organization as they do so. The use business process management tools such as swimlanes. They utilize framework such as CobiT and ITIL (see CobiT definition blog). The best IT organizations recognize that technology is not always the answer.

Do your best to get to the Cxx level execs when selling your stuff but if you do get stuck with the CIO or CTO do recognize that it’s not always a bad thing – you may just be selling to someone that’s more than a tech-head and who may actually understand the needs of the entire business and who may just be your strongest ally, if you have the right stuff.

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A Work In Progress May 25, 2003 at 7:24 am

Weekend Reading

A few things I’ve read this weekend.

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