An ambitious CIO came up with an excellent idea for one of the business units. He did some due diligence on the Net, sent out e-mails, made a few calls and built up a pretty decent business case for his proposal. The executive running the business unit even liked the idea. Alas, he didn\u2019t find it compelling enough. The conversation\u2014and the CIO\u2019s initiative\u2014fizzled out.\n\n"Michael," said the frustrated CIO, "I just couldn\u2019t persuade him to take the next step. How do I get buy-in?""Dude," I responded, "stop selling buy-in. Your IT shop has to get itself out of the buy-in business and start practicing \u2019sell with.\u2019" IT should avoid being the organization\u2019s "sales leader" for technology-enabled productivity and change. Persuasion can\u2019t be\u2014and shouldn\u2019t be\u2014your core competence. Salesmanship is not your friend.Too many CIOs invest too much time and energy trying to get colleagues and peers to buy in to IT initiatives. They\u2019re pitching and wooing and selling with every ounce of charisma they have\u2014which, for IT executives, tends to be on the lighter side.If you\u2019ve got the charm, loquaciousness and skill to sell iceboxes to Eskimos, what the heck are you doing in IT? You should be raking in commissions on the vendor side. But if you truly happen to be a gifted salesperson for internal IT initiatives, chances are your problem is expectations management. You do such a fine job selling that the actual implementation ends up as either an unhappy anticlimax or a bitter disappointment. Not good.The most effective IT executives I\u2019ve observed have learned (usually the hard way) that the pursuit of buy-in is a chimera. What works is subtler but demonstrably more powerful: Turn the IT client into a sales partner. Get the client to sell with you instead of buying from you.That means don\u2019t waste time trying to persuade someone to adopt your idea or implement your app. Instead, figure out ways to get people to help sell that idea or implementation to someone else. Former Apple exec and current venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has called this "turning customers into evangelists." I call it "turning customers into VARs"\u2014value-added resellers. IT clients and customers should be viewed\u2014and treated\u2014as resellers of IT\u2019s systems, services and reputation, not just as customers.Consequently, IT should never be driving a CRM or sales account management system implementation within the enterprise. Never. Instead, IT should be getting the sales and marketing vice presidents to champion those initiatives with IT\u2019s open\u2014but clearly subordinate\u2014support.The truest test? The CIO shouldn\u2019t be making the CRM case before the CFO and the CEO\u2014that\u2019s marketing\u2019s job; that\u2019s sales\u2019 job. The CIO should be the person most responsible for making it easy for sales and marketing to make that case.Don\u2019t Lead, EnableWhat does enabling sales look like? A talented webmaster rigged up an internal Salesforce.com account management knockoff for his division\u2019s sales teams. Within six months, the salespeople wanted a bit more support and functionality from the bootlegged ASP. Their boss went to IT for money and manpower. The CIO heard about it.The creatively opportunistic CIO shrewdly decided to cut a deal. He brought the webmaster, the sales manager and a couple of the salespeople to the attention of the sales VP to demo their working system. The sales VP was impressed. So the CIO suggested that the sales VP go to the COO and CFO and push for a rollout of an enterprise sales ASP. The CIO would say how impressed IT was with sales\u2019 initiative and point to the bootleg ASP as a prototype for a successful system. The sales VP agreed. He did a successful job selling. He didn\u2019t buy in to IT; he sold with IT.In an ideal world, the only thing the CIO should have to say at that presentation is, "I think they\u2019ve made a terrific business case for scaling the system, and I\u2019m confident we can implement exactly what they\u2019ve proposed in a time frame and a budget that\u2019s doable. They\u2019ve done a superb job defining what they need to make this work. We look forward to making it work with them and for them."In an ideal world, the CIO would then sit down and shut up\u2014albeit with a smile, a wink and a nod.In other words, IT shouldn\u2019t be a change or transformation leader; it should be a change or transformation enabler. What\u2019s the essential difference? For the purpose of this column, leaders are those individuals most responsible and accountable for setting the right objectives and ensuring the right results. Enablers, by contrast, are those individuals most responsible and accountable for providing leaders with the tools, techniques and technologies for achieving those objectives and results. Enablers make effective leadership practical and probable.Bluntly put, CIOs shouldn\u2019t be leading CRM or supply chain precisely because, in the first and final analysis, they are not ultimately accountable for determining and assessing the metrics of success. What effective CIOs should do is push people in the organization to figure out what IT should best be enabling.In an ideal world, the CIO\u2019s most valuable influence would be enabling leaders in other parts of the organization to achieve their enterprise potential in partnership with IT. More than a few operating executives have complained to me about CIOs who insist that this new upgrade or that new app is going to make their lives easier. They feel like they\u2019re being sold. Are they right? Or are they cynical?What these operating executives suspect is that IT is pushing these initiatives to make its own business life easier. Bidding for buy-in inherently distorts the perception of IT as a partner. Even worse, having the CIO positioned as a "leader" often creates a sense of rivalry with the other C-level executives. Sometimes rivalry creates a healthy sense of competition. Frequently, however, operating executives feel that "visionary" CIOs view their colleagues as operational extensions for their digital ambitions.The best way to confront this issue is to rebrand the CIO as a process enabler rather than a business leader. CIOs can do this by helping seed scalable initiatives throughout the enterprise that can be harvested as future partnership opportunities. Explicitly restructuring the IT budget and deployment process around the notion of CIO as junior partner rather than primus inter pares (first among equals) would also help.The greatest virtue of annihilating buy-in as a business driver is that it requires executive leadership to take greater responsibility for shaping digital initiative implementations. The CIO succeeds not because he\u2019s good at persuading colleagues about the value of IT but because he\u2019s good at getting colleagues to persuade each other to explore IT\u2019s potential.Michael Schrage is codirector of the MIT Media Lab\u2019s eMarkets Initiative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.