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CIO Speak

Ajay Dhir
President, CIO KLUB
CIO - JSL - Ltd

What CIOs want from Vendors ? Candid Advice from a CIO !

Though I prefer to use the word ‘Partner’ in my communication, I believe that the Vendor community is a very important part of the eco system in which the CIO operates. With pressure continuing from the Business to Cut Costs, Improve Efficiency, Add Value, keep the Headcount Lean and Infrastructure Agile, CIOs are grappling with a mix of Managerial and Leadership issues while they have to ensure that the Technology deployment runs smoothly 24/7. Quite a challenge though, and here, the Vendor (Partner) community plays a very important role in supporting the CIO with the range of services and products that are appropriate for his requirement and keeps the ship sailing smoothly.

In my experience of over 27 years in the IT Industry in India as well as Abroad, I have many times reflected on the topic of CIO-Vendor Alignment, how the Vendors can align themselves with what CIOs want, and, how the Vendor community can approach CIOs to have a meaningful and win win relationship – as I say, best and worst practices can make or mar the relationship !

When it comes to winning business from CIOs, there is vast room for improvement in the approach tactics of Vendors. CIOs are particularly critical of unsolicited phone calls and email, and, lack of sales preparation. According to a recent survey by one of the leading CIO Forums, just one out of five senior IT executives is willing to spend any time talking to vendors on an unsolicited basis. A detrimental cycle is then created – sales people push even harder when response and conversion rates are lower than normal, and frustrated salespeople become more aggressive, both of which actions cause more annoyance in the part of their targets.

If you look at the top 5 items on the list of issues that CIOs face while interacting with Vendors, they can be summarized as follows :

  1. Unsolicited Telephone Calls / Emails
    Issue - This is a big pain area whereas unsolicited emails and telephone calls eat up a big part of the CIOs time and attention, very often being a distraction and sometimes a nuisance.
    Recommendation - Instead of using mass mailers which lose their significance / identity or just end up in the spam / junk folder, or making calls on direct numbers or worse still on the cell phone, sales persons should send personalized emails and then seek permission to call. If the mail is not answered, so be it. Direct calling and without any permission or preparation starting to speak, is a sure cause of being switched off. Another issue is of telephone etiquette – most of the calls are made in a very intrusive and aggressive manner – something that just puts one off immediately and closes the door for the future as well. Have your sales people or tele callers trained in soft skills and telephone etiquette, this is the first impression and touch point with the CIO – can make or mar the impression and the relationship indeed.
  2. Lack of awareness and adequate research on the company, prior to the sales call
    Issue - Many calls are received which are vague and ambiguous, showing very clearly that the caller is not aware of the company, the business, the CIO and many more important factors. Sometimes, callers pretend to call from the OEM or the Principal, or are just using Social Engineering techniques to extract information from others and then make the call, all this is highly suspicious and creates a feeling of mistrust.
    Recommendation – Learn which companies use systems which are compatible with your offerings. Supplement this by doing research on the Internet about the company, it’s business, the IT landscape and what are their business / strategic plans. This is invaluable while doing the first case discussion and then presenting your value proposition, it may interest the CIO and make him feel that you have spent quality time in knowing more about his organization, rather than a blind call which will not result in anything positive. Besides the Internet, there is a plethora of resources like news reports, blogs, newsletters, professional organizations, social forums, tradeshows, conferences etc. which can be used to know more about the prospect. It is more difficult to know primary business goals and objectives, yet it is critical. Most of the CIOs will authenticate the fact that they don’t do business based on what a vendor thinks is good or what he wants to sell, but the business is done based on a clearly articulated strategy.
  3. Lack of a quantifiable case to make a value statement – value propositions : what buyers want and what sellers propose / do
    Issue – One of the biggest gaps between buyers and sellers is their respective definition of ‘value proposition’. CIOs tend to see it as a framework enabling them to quantify their potential ROI, while vendors think it’s a pitch or a positioning statement.
    Recommendation - Vendors with an ‘inside - out’ perspective of their market are inclined to believe that they offer beneficial solutions even without much factual support for this belief. Vendors would be extremely wise to listen to what their buyers want and how their products or services would help the CIO and his organization achieve specific business or / and IT goals. Careful research and listening can help create an ‘outside - in’ point of view. Try to understand the CIOs business / strategic / IT goals and then align the solution offering with a quantifiable and measurable ROI.
  4. Referential Cases
    Issue – CIOs are very well influenced by reference case studies and where the proposed solution has been deployed successfully. Many times, it has been seen that a good product is unnoticed simply because it lacks the branding or an endorsement of a senior professional CIO or an organization which is know and respected in the Industry.
    Recommendation – Try and get the endorsement in an ethical manner of leading CIOs / senior representatives of organizations where your products and / or services have been successfully deployed. This goes a long way and supplements your efforts in building credibility and a good image in the marketplace.
  5. Ethics, Conduct and Integrity / Bypassing the CIO hierarchy
    Issue – Breach of the written or unwritten code of conduct for Ethics, Conduct and Integrity is absolute taboo, it must not be attempted. Besides breach of trust, it is also a recipe for sure shot disqualification and blacklisting for future. Another irritant that crops up is when vendors see that the CIO is not accepting their products or services, and then try to bypass him by accessing other members in the organization and trying to either do an independent push or have pressure applied on the CIO from ‘above’ or ‘across’. This is also never appreciated and no CIO worth his salt will accept this type of behavior or tactics.
    Recommendation – Never breach the code of conduct while engaging with the CIOs. This is a respected community and a very close knit fraternity, word travels real fast and any attempt in doing such trivial things will boomerang and create real havoc. Understand the Ethics policy of the organization as well as your own, and carefully understand the “don’ts”. This will alleviate a lot of pain and suffering that comes in later when things go wrong and no chance of unnecessary maligning. Another very important – in your quest for a sales deal, respect the hierarchy of the CIO and the sensitivity of the relationship, at no point should this be compromised or bypassed, it will never work out. Learn to lose a deal as gracefully as you would love to win it, who knows, you may get a call from the same CIO or the organization after some time, good impressions always last long.

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