Why CIOs Must Become Trusted Advisor

September 19, 2017

Contributor: Susan Moore

A great trusted advisor uses a formal approach to selling, persuading and overcoming resistance.

The CIO at a premium hotel known for its excellent customer service tried to convince the executive team to digitalize the customer experience.

She met with significant resistance, her peers worried that it would dilute the experience. After spending six months researching, cultivating and persuading stakeholders to buy into her idea, the CIO couldn’t comprehend why anyone would resist the idea of empowering customers through a new digital experience.

Leigh McMullen, managing vice president at Gartner, says most CIOs have to work on becoming a trusted advisor because the skills involved are greatly different from the engineering and problem solving skills that helped them master their current role.

Leigh C. McMullen is a Distinguished Vice President, Analyst and Gartner Fellow in Gartner's CEO and Digital Business research team.

“Some people have a knack for becoming trusted advisors, but many CIOs aren't so lucky,” McMullen says. “CIOs need to become trusted advisors to the rest of the C-suite to help their enterprise thrive in an uncertain digital future.” CIOs who’ve moved beyond simply being managers to becoming trusted advisors have great latitude to innovate and drive change. Meanwhile, those who focus on the table stakes of IT find themselves under constant budgetary and operational pressures. Any CIO can realistically set “trusted advisor” as the goal. McMullen says there are three key abilities they need to develop.

Selling a compelling vision

CIOs have one of the hardest selling jobs. You’re selling an idea — a vision — rather than a product with features, functions and styling. Persuading established business leaders to try something new, rather than to double down on what has worked in the past, requires a compelling narrative full of emotional triggers.

The tactics of persuasion

Trusted advisors don’t play off a script. Scripts don’t allow for listening. Think about your own trusted advisors. They make a personal or professional difference in your life without working off some “pathway to the sale” program. The hard part, of course, is figuring out what a person’s problem is. People are rarely upfront about their problems or desires.

“ Trusted advisors don’t play off a script. Scripts don’t allow for listening.”

This is where the tactics of truly great salespeople come into play. Rather than applying a formula, they use tools that amplify their ability to get to the root of the prospect’s problem.

Overcoming resistance

The best efforts to sell and persuade may still be met with significant resistance. This can be exceptionally frustrating for “engineering brains” who believe they’ve found the ideal solution, only to be met with what they view as a perplexing and illogical reaction. With practice, resistance can actually be used to explore and develop ideas, and ultimately reach a common understanding with shared goals. Overcoming resistance well, with style and dexterity, adds to your cachet as a trusted advisor.

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