Why Selling is More Important Than Ever for CIOs

July 01, 2016

Contributor: Susan Moore

CIOs will have to employ the same sales techniques as vendors to remain viable.

CIOs face a challenge. The democratization of IT decision making within enterprises, and the growing influence of vendors, means that CIOs no longer "win by default." Instead, they must convince other members of their organization of their value.

The enterprise market once dominated the product design decisions of almost all technology vendors. The CIO had incredible power overseeing sourcing decisions, facilitating implementations and dictating the pace of technology upgrades.

“ CIOs now operate both in partnership and outright competition with IT vendors.”

The past decade, however, has seen the growing autonomy of line of business managers and individual employees to make their own technology decisions. In addition, vendors now have increasing influence on an enterprise’s digital direction. CIOs now operate both in partnership and outright competition with IT vendors.

According to Brian Prentice, research vice president at Gartner, thriving in this environment requires CIOs to "sell" their unique value proposition within their own organizations.

“CIOs must be able to offer a comprehensive perspective on the digital future of the entire organization,” says Prentice. “Non-IT workers simply don't need IT departments to explain things as they once did.”

Engage in solution-selling

To ensure the continued relevance of the IT department, CIOs will have to employ the same solution-based sales techniques as technology vendors.

The notion of "selling" will strike many CIOs as distasteful — as something beneath the dignity of their office and of the service that their team provides for the organization as a whole. But it's important to understand that solution-based sales methodologies are simply structured conversations aimed at identifying:

  • Exact nature of the problem
  • Cost of the problem to the organization
  • Whether the cost of the solution is more expensive than that of the problem
  • Who else is affected by the problem
  • What perceptions exist about what needs to be done to solve the problem
  • Political and power dynamics between holders of potential solutions to the problem

Framed in this way, what CIO wouldn’t want to engage in some form of solution selling? What CIO couldn’t identify at least one initiative that failed because the stated problem turned out not to be the real problem? Or because unforeseen political dynamics stalled a decision at the last moment?

“Use solution-selling techniques to relate your organization's IT needs to the unique value proposition of the IT department,” says Prentice. “Your intent shouldn’t be to manipulate, but to optimize outcomes for all stakeholders.”  

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