How not to sell to a CIO | Three killer mistakes to avoid when pitching a CIO

It's not easy to sell to a CIO. For one thing they have large budgets, and take that responsibility seriously. For another, they are technical and business leaders, paid to sort the wheat from the chaff. A good CIO will not bear fools lightly. They can't afford to. If it is your job to sell products and services to a CIO, you need to have your game together. Here's our guide to how not to sell to a CIO. [See also: Selling to the CIO and selling to line of business IT decision makers]

A key responsibility for CIOs is the procurement of new products and services for their organisation. As a consequence a busy CIO can be on the receiving end of a large number of sales pitches every day. If you are new to a particular executive or company as a client, it can be very difficult to make your pitch. The CIO will know their business better than you, after all.

Even with the perfect product, to make that sale you need to know how to sell to a CIO. And how not to.

A good CIO recognises and understands both the IT and the customer better than anyone else in their organisation. They can challenge your facts and figures, and they will have a clear vision of how they want the business to develop.

Here's our guide for how not to sell to the CIO. (See also: 5 ways to use mobile to get your team to work smarter.)

How not to sell to a CIO: Don't be generic, do be direct

This is not a mass sale. Grabbing the attention of a CIO is not easy, and using basic methods such as an unsolicited Linkedin or Twitter message will not advance your product against other competitors. Neither will a bland pitch about what your product does. In fact, it will hurt you. CIOs don't have the time to look through every profile or read evry message, and they want products to solve specific problems, as Centrica Energy CIO Rod Carr can atest.

Carr suggests a direct approach to contacting a CIO. He says that you should hit him through his office, or direct on his mobile: "If you call the office, you'll get my assistant – pitch her and you might just get it in front of me". Don't have his number? Try harder: "Sainsbury's, Tesco and a million charities got my mobile number somehow. I'm sure you could too."

Keeping the pitch concise and focused on the ways in which the product will specifically help and solve problems for the company involved will garner the CIO's attention. This is the only way the CIO is likely to remember the product, and may lead to a positive outcome from the buying process.

CIOs are inundated with technical sales calls, using basic sales questions such as "What projects are you working on?", or "are there current issues you are having with the technology you are using?" It is a mundane waste of time for the CIO. Ask specific questions which make the CIO think outside the box. Be genuinely interested in the CIO's business and its problems. Give examples of how your product has solved specific issues for other businesses.

Be direct to get the call. And be specific when you are on it.

How not to sell to a CIO: Don't be underprepared

The best way to prepare is to research the business, how the products will benefit said business, and how to tailor your product for that organisation.  A description of the product and how it differs from competitors with the service you are selling is okay, but tailoring that description for the CIO's specific needs is much more likely to generate a sale. You get only one chance at this, and to a CIO an only partially relevant sales call is a waste of time.

As we have already seen making contact with a CIO for a sales meeting is difficult enough. So make sure when you make that call that you have done your research. Be prepared for any difficult questions the CIO may ask about your product.  Know your own product inside out, and gather as much data as possible on your target company so that you can flex its business profile and technical strategy as it is outlined by the CIO.

Research IT initiatives, budgets and technological changes within the corporation. And if possible be a customer of that business: experience the problems your CIO is trying to solve, and you will have a much better chance of helping them to a resolution.

How not to sell to a CIO: Don't undersell, do be concise

One of the main skills in selling is understanding the product or service you are pitching and getting the CIO on board into why your product is the best fit for their company. But it is likely that multiple products will work, and the CIO knows that if they choose your product they will be working with you to implement. This is where you make the sale.

The CIO's time is valuable, and if you are not enthusiastic about the product itself neither will the CIO be. A confident approach to the sale makes the CIO trust that you believe in the product you are selling. Enthusiasm will enhance the engagement of the CIO - they took the call because they want you to solve their problems. So if you have done your research and know how you can add value, make sure they know that is the case. This is not the time for being shy.

Understand your product, and those of your competitors. Be honest about your product's flaws, but positive about its key selling points as they relate to the CIO and their business. And make that sale in a concise fashion. The sales pitch needs to be short and crisp, as Carr suggests: "One minute is about it. If I don't get it in that time, I've moved on." (Read next: How CIOs should use Facebook: 6 tips for all executives using Facebook.)


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 secrets of successful remote IT teams