Why CIOs Must Become Trusted Advisors

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.

LMcMullen_article_body_image“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.

The CIO Executive Communication Guide

Speak the language of the C-suite to communicate the business value of IT

Get Free eBook

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.

Gartner clients can read more in “The CIO’s Trusted Advisor Playbook: Selling and Persuasion" by Leigh McMullen

Get Smarter

Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo™

Hone leadership skills, refine strategies and discover the innovative tech to power your digital transformation.

Explore Gartner CIO Conferences

2019-2021 Emerging Technology Roadmap for Large Enterprises

We gathered expertise from IT professionals across 198 organizations to benchmark adoption stages and risk and value factors for 108 infrastructure and operations technologies for this year. The emerging technologies profiled are spread across six technology buckets: compute and storage, compute and storage (cloud), digital workplace, IT automation, network and security.

Read Free Gartner Research


Get actionable advice in 60 minutes from the world's most respected experts. Keep pace with the latest issues that impact business.

Start Watching