Engaging the CIO is no direct path to IT purchase success

There was a time no so long ago when most IT vendors generally thought the surest path to a successful sale was to simply reach out to the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Today, surprisingly there are many who still believe the CIO is the single most important IT purchase decision maker within an enterprise company and the sales rationale for these vendors goes something like this: you need only convince CIOs of the merits of your products and technology to make the deal.

Those in the know have for a few years recognized the changing role of CIOs and the rise of second-line IT managers as key purchase influencers. The CIO isn’t what he or she used to be and is no longer – and for some organizations never was – the only IT purchase influence source that matters. Since the beginning of 2008, I’ve presented this line of thinking to more Canadian IT vendors than I can count, in the hope of helping them understand how CIOs are thinking these days, what interests them, how to engage them, and why more effort needs to be expended on influencing others within business.

I’ve cited two sources of research in my discussions. The first is IT World Canada’s State-of-the-CIO annual survey, which in 2008 gathered the thoughts of more than 230 IT professionals who declared themselves the most senior of IT executives within their companies. Approximately 38 per cent of them have the title, CIO.

Our research tell us that CIOs say they spend most of their time interacting with CXOs and other senior businesses executives, they focus on strategic business planning and strategic systems decisions. Precious little time is spent learning about technologies and managing day-to-day IT crisis. In fact, only three per cent of those surveyed cited IT proficiency as a skill pivotal to their success, demonstrating how detached they are from engineering and technology. CIOs increasingly see themselves as the champions of innovation achieved through the use of IT, making this a great topic of discussion and where sales conversations might focus.

CIOs are generally moving away from their IT orientation, even though most in Canada come from a background of information technology. The role is and has for many years been changing to something more akin to other senior business professional positions. You’re wasting your time talking techie with many CIOs.

The IT organization within many businesses is changing and witnessing the increased rise of individuals such at second-line IT managers, who are now key influencers in many stages of the IT purchase process. IT World Canada in April investigated IT purchase influence through a survey of Canadian business executives conducted by Harris/Decima researchers. We recently published a report, called The Path to Purchase: Assessing IT Buyer Influence, which among other things shows to what degree various individuals and groups in Canadian business influence stages in the purchase process.

What has become abundantly clear in both research studies is the importance of IT managers as key influencers. They’ve stepped in to fill the void when it comes to the need for businesses to understand technologies and the IT vendor community. They’re an essential voice that you need to get to know.

There’s a whole lot more detail in our research findings and I’ll continue to tell the story this year. Perhaps you’re interested in obtaining our research reports. These are available for a modest cost.

It’s often said that when it comes to the purchase of IT services and solutions, customers want “one throat to choke.” However, when it comes to vendors looking to engage a customer in an IT purchase, there are many hands that need to be held.

Dan McLean is the research and editorial director for IT World Canada. He can be reached at dmclean@itworldcanada.com.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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