Before you reach out to a CIO – or any tech leader – to pitch your product or service, you need a plan.
That would seem to go without saying, but HomeEquity Bank CIO Alizabeth Calder told a recent meeting of the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council that she is constantly amazed how frequently sales representatives show up for an appointment totally unprepared.
“It’s clear when they start talking they don’t know about me and they don’t know about my business,” she said. “They have a message track to deliver and by gosh, they are going to deliver it, regardless of its relevance.”
As an example, she recounted a meeting with a sales rep that was selling the virtues of a control system. Three times she asked him how it fit in with bank regulations, but he ignored the question and kept on pushing to the end of the pitch.
“It was quite clear he didn’t understand the industry. If he didn’t understand where his product intersected with the primary banking regulations, how could he expect me to take him seriously?”
Calder, who has previously served as a CIO at IBM, Air Miles and CML Healthcare, said the most successful sales efforts are the result of a combination of research, resourcefulness and respect.
Getting the attention of a CIO
“If you are going to call a CIO, at least know something about them,” she said. “Look them up on LinkedIn, see what groups they are involved with. Read the target company’s website or search for recent news article where you might get more insight into the company’s activities or priorities.”
That research should provide a nugget for at least a short conversation that builds rapport before the pitch begins.
Once you have earned a CIOs attention, she said you have to move quickly to keep it. You need to have a flexible agenda, and intelligible message and be able to demonstrate that you can work with a shop of comparable size and activity.
“I’ve walked away from too many coffees with no idea what the person was saying: there were so many buzz words,” she said. “If you are going to use jargon, explain it.”
With a hint of a smile, she said pictures go a long way. They give the CIO something to focus on. “Don’t make me work hard. Use examples that are relevant to my business.”
All CIOs have egos, so if you don’t understand a certain point of the business, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for an explanation, she said.
Keeping the attention of a CIO
Once you’ve established a relationship, continuing research is required to keep it fruitful. Some suggestions to ensure a strategic relationship with a CIO rather than a short-lived transactional one include:
- Share relevant case studies
- Think through the CIOs pain points as part of being prepared, so you can tie your pitch to what they care about
- Share what’s happening in the market. Information is gold, especially to smaller companies
- Keep your products relevant
In a closing note, she said it is critically important to talk with CIOs about their planning cycles.
“There’s no point showing the perfect solution after the budget has been locked in. That’s just going to be frustrating for everybody.”