Revenge of the Nerds: Selling to CIO/CTO Types

 

In the 90’s and early 00’s Silicon Valley had convinced the world that IT should run the show. Remember how hard we worked to get a foosball table into the tech guy’s areas? Bean bag chairs in front of the big TV to play their video games? Special coffee makers? Because if we did not become the workplace of choice, well then we might not get the tech talent that we needed to be competitive…

Ah, how the mighty have fallen…or at least slipped.

With deep corporate cost cutting measures, the promised cost efficiencies of cloud-computing and aggressive off-shoring of tech jobs, IT is feeling a little less hitch in their giddy’up. I’m not preaching a comeuppance to anyone- these things all move in cycles and IT is in THAT cycle right now. What I think is important to understand is the context of how technology people are making decisions now. Make no mistake, IT drives many of the decisions, especially the NO decisions inside of companies. That means you need to know how to sell ideas to them in the current cycle.

Some guidelines…

  • Why your “value proposition” pisses them off – The world of consumer technology is now the context for evaluating all technology. iPhone Apps, microwaves and cars that parallel park themselves have created the false impression that everything technology should now be “just add water and cook for 30 seconds” easy. It should also be free or darn cheap. If your approach is too expensive or complex, it will be impossible to get through their own company’s process. If it is too easy or cheap, the technology professional believes it won’t work…but he might be forced to buy it by the CXOs anyway and then get blamed later.
  • They’re paranoid for a reason – On balance sheets and budgets IT is a big number. When its time to make cuts, you look at the big numbers first. Most companies selling technology solutions have in their arsenal some element of outsourcing. For the technology buyer, this means losing control of budget, headcount and power. No matter what solution you are selling, tech buyers have a sneaking suspicion it is a Trojan Horse of some kind.
  • Know their bias – All technology people have bias. It comes from past familiarity. It could be platform based, operating system based, equipment based. There is a long list of comparative choices… and your buyers have defined their preferences. Do not listen when the words “It doesn’t really matter to me what solution approach you take as long as it works…” come out of their mouth. It matters a lot and the decisions will be influenced by their bias. Figure out their biases.

Strategies for presenting your ideas to technology buyers…

  • No Stranded costs – You are not the first big purchase that they have made. Your solution needs to have some consideration for the last purchases and how much political capital that the buyer had to use to get the last system approved, especially if it was in the last 3 years. Otherwise, you are making your buyer look foolish in the previous purchase and he or she will work against you.
  • Map their turf – People = Power. How will you be changing the scope of the organizational chart with your proposal? Can you show the turf as bigger even if the headcount is smaller? If your approach includes your staff in your company supporting them, show them on their command and control chart even though they are under your management and payroll.  They keep the turf, you get the business. You have to give consideration to the turf.
  • Control – IT professionals are used to getting silence for success and a $#!T storm for failure. Your proposals have to give clear definitions of controls on security, project approvals, system changes and so on.  They have legitimate fears that your promised benefits will happen and you will get the credit for those wins, but any mistake is on them.

IT buyers have gotten very cautious. The world of technology is changing at such a rate that it is hard for them to keep up. Every decision made today can look foolish as soon as 6 months from now when a leap-frogging solution comes on the market that is better, faster, cheaper. Your job in selling to tech people is to know their context and help them feel safe, even though they can’t see around the corners of the future.