CIO Ian Pitt has an advantage when it comes to pressing his case for IT investments: He once worked in sales.\n\u201cThat taught me how to pitch, how to use the right language, to aim for the right pressure points, because you can\u2019t just say \u2018trust me.\u2019 You have to say why what you\u2019re planning is good for the company,\u201d Pitt says.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2020 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\nThose skills can come in handy, now as much as ever. A Gartner Research survey of nearly 2,000 CIOs found that IT budgets will be up only slightly, an average of just 2%, for 2021 over 2020. And with competition for cash to pay for projects tight, CIOs will need to sell their colleagues on planned IT investments.\n\u201cIt\u2019s rare for an IT leader to have an endless flow of cash coming in; there\u2019s always pressure to keep the spending flat or to do more with less,\u201d Pitt says. \u201cBut there is a time when you have to go for new spend, when you have capacity-driven spending, or new regulations that have to be met. So it\u2019s then when you have to put yourself in the position of a salesperson.\u201d\nThat\u2019s when Pitt, now CIO of tech company LogMeIn, leans into those lessons he learned while working in sales. He says he has learned to build a solid case for the spending, avoid using scare tactics, and explain the plans in plain English.\n\u201cWhat I\u2019ve found in the past is, as long as people understand the reason behind something, they can get behind it,\u201d he adds.\nHere Pitt and other experienced IT leaders offer seven strategies for selling IT investments to the rest of the C-suite.\nTalk about the business benefits\nCIOs should start every sales pitch with the busines benefits \u2014 not the technology itself \u2014 front and center.\n Wolff Strategy Partners\n\nLarry Wolff, founder and CEO, Wolff Strategy Partners\n\n\n\u201cThere is no such thing as an IT project. Everything IT does must be for the measurable benefit of the business,\u201d says Larry Wolff, founder and CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners and a former enterprise IT exec. \u201cThat includes software products, customer service improvements, infrastructure upgrades, etc. Once the CIO has that mentality, selling improvements to the C-suite starts to get easier and more effective.\u201d\nUse business terms, not IT jargon or tech acronyms. \u201cTechnology has no role in a technology pitch,\u201d Wolff says. And keep the presentation focused and brief; people will ask questions if they want more details to help them decide whether to support the spending request.\nPitt uses that approach, citing as an example the time he pitched his executive colleagues at a past company on the need to invest in a cloud migration project. Pitt says he focused his pitch on how cloud computing could help the company get its products to market faster while also ensuring better compliance with regulations and privacy requirements. He didn\u2019t try to explain cloud technologies, even though in those early days many business leaders didn\u2019t fully grasp the concepts, nor did he dive into the difference between the public or private cloud.\n\u201cThe C-suite didn\u2019t need to understand the difference; they needed to know that they had to change to meet the demands of the business,\u201d Pitt says.\nPitt\u2019s presentation worked, and he got not only the support he sought but the cash needed for the migration.\nShow the IT investment\u2019s strategic value\nShowing how new technology spend can not only bring business benefits but also align with the organization\u2019s strategic objectives will further bolster C-suite support for an IT investment. To do that, Wolff advises CIOs to focus on answering several key questions:\n\nWhy should we do this?\nHow does the improvement align with and support the business strategy?\nWhat risks will this mitigate?\nWhat\u2019s the ROI?\nWhy pursue this now?\n\nA CIO\u2019s ability to formulate and articulate strong answers to such questions can be the difference between getting money to invest and having to do without. As Wolff explains: \u201cIf you can\u2019t justify the strategic value, then there\u2019s no reason to do it.\u201d\nPitt agrees, saying that CIOs who have determined and can document how their proposals deliver strategic value can sell those plans with confidence. \u201cYou don\u2019t want the CEO to ask, \u2018Are you sure this is the right option?\u2019 and then reply \u2018I need you to make the call.\u2019 That\u2019s not good,\u201d he says. \u201cA successful pitching should be, \u2018This is what we should do because the solution is right.\u2019 You should only seek an investment that\u2019s absolutely right for the company.\u201d\nGather good data\nTalking about business benefits and articulating strategic value are critical to making a successful sales pitch for IT investments, but hard data goes even further toward closing the deal.\n Gregory J. Touhill\n\nGregory J. Touhill, adjunct faculty member, Carnegie Mellon University\u2019s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy\n\n\n\u201cIt is about selling your ideas, but being able to show the data to back it up,\u201d says Gregory J. Touhill, an adjunct faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University\u2019s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy and a former federal government CISO from the Obama administration. \u201cIt\u2019s about saying, \u2018Here\u2019s the base line, here\u2019s what we\u2019re proposing, here\u2019s what it will cost, here are the return and here\u2019s the breakeven point.\u2019 Boards and executives at all levels want to know when they\u2019ll start to see results, what returns they can expect, and what are they key performance indictors to measure.\u201d\nWolff concurs, advising CIOs to have a spreadsheet with financial backup available and ready to share.\nThe C-suite can be persuaded by other information sources, too, so CIOs may want to have other evidence on hand. Touhill says executives often want to have testimonies from other organizations that have implemented similar technologies to learn from them how their projects panned out. \u201cWhen there\u2019s testimony from a near peer or someone they trust, they\u2019re more likely to embrace the proposal,\u201d Touhill says.\nTeam up with a colleague\nOne of the best strategies for selling the C-suite on technology investments involve the CIO actually stepping aside.\n\u201cThe most successful CIOs are the ones who can get allies to help them make that sales pitch,\u201d Touhill says. That makes sense, as the CIO is expected to make investments that make the business better \u2014 whether it\u2019s by reducing costs or streamlining operations or improving customer experiences. So given that IT investments benefit one or more of the executives within the enterprise, the CIO should enlist them in making the pitch.\n\u201cTogether you have to make that case to the broader organization on how this brings value, how this aligns with the strategy and the returns on investment this will provide,\u201d Touhill says, adding that \u201cif you can\u2019t convince the business owner on those points, don\u2019t bring it to the rest of the C-suite.\u201d\nTee up support in advance\nThe most effective CIOs start gathering support for their IT investments long before they formally present their plans to the full C-suite and the board by making rounds and discussing their ideas. Veteran CIOs say they meet with their colleagues in advance of those formal presentations to informally discuss their ideas, the reasons for them, and the financials \u2014 a process that helps all involved avoid surprises as proposals move forward.\nTouhill knows the value of this preliminary work. He was briefing the general counsel on one of his proposed investments, having already garnered support from the CFO, the procurement team and the executive whose business unit would be the primary beneficiary of the proposed project. \u201cI thought it was a pro forma prebriefing, but the general counsel gobsmacked me with some [concerns],\u201d Touhill remembers.\nThe general counsel informed Touhill that the project as proposed would not meet the regulatory requirements in some of the foreign countries where it would be deployed, an issue that the other executives hadn\u2019t identified but kept the general counsel from supporting it. Having learned about the issue, Touhill was able to remedy the problem before going before the board and know that he had both the endorsement of key allies and well as a stronger proposal, too.\n\u201cHad I not checked with him, I wouldn\u2019t have known to address the issue in advance. It could have derailed the project or lost some credibility,\u201d Touhill adds.\nBeware of hidden opposition\nEven with advance work, CIOs must watch for concerns that could keep the C-suite from approving the money needed for proposed projects.\nIn a previous role Touhill had laid out the business case for a particular IT investment that would consolidate systems and eliminate some shadow technology that had snuck into the enterprise.\nHe says he thought he had lined up the necessary allies \u2014 namely the CFO and the business line exec \u2014 only to learn when actually making his pitch to the board that the business line leader opposed the plans because the IT investments would lower head count in his department.\nAnd because that executive had a strong rapport with leaders on the board, Touhill didn\u2019t get the money requested for the technology he needed.\n\u201cI just didn\u2019t read the tea leaves as well as perhaps I could have,\u201d he says, adding that the experience taught him to be more sensitive to the internal dynamics of the enterprise. \u201cWe didn\u2019t have our ears attuned to the layers [within the department]; we didn\u2019t address those people\u2019s concerns and juxtapose them against the organizational interests.\u201d\nBuild credibility\nThe CIOs who consistently get the funding they need for their IT investments aren\u2019t necessarily the most gifted at sales but are the ones who have built up their credibility and earned the trust of the board and their C-suite colleagues, says Diane Carco, president and CEO of the management consulting company Swingtide and a former CIO.\n Swingtide\n\nDiane Carco, president and CEO, Swingtide\n\n\nTo do that, these CIOs give thorough information when they\u2019re seeking funding for new technology, accounting for all costs associated with the project \u2014 such as the cost to retire old systems \u2014 so they offer accurate ROIs that they actually deliver. They lay out the expected pros and cons as well as how they plan to optimize returns and minimize the risks. They also articulate why, despite the potential challenges, that the investment is absolutely worth making.\nAs a result, other execs and the board trust those CIOs when they ask for cash, Carco says.\n\u201cThose kinds of actions build the credibility, and you have to have credibility to sell. Those actions also help you prevent the future problem of being surprised by something, which harms credibility,\u201d she says.