Soon after I became a CIO, I asked my CEO why he made so many sales trips.
“I have executives in charge of sales, but that doesn’t replace the one-on-one face time value of meeting personally with our customers in their buildings,” he said, “In fact, I still find that one of the CEO’s job responsibilities is to be the 'salesperson in chief'."
Over my years as a CIO, I have found the CEO’s observation to apply to CIOs as well.
Here’s how CIOs do sales:
• They meet with end users and key decision makers to understand the needs of the business, how technology can address these needs, and what is needed from IT to meet company expectations. Then, they follow up with the same people to assess customer satisfaction levels with IT and the responsiveness of IT service functions.
• They reinvent IT as a service organization that commits to SLA-level responsiveness to the business, and they regularly review the trouble tickets that come into the help desk to determine which systems and applications are generating the most business pain so the problems can be fixed.
• They seek out IT business analysts who have soft skills in communication and negotiation as well as systems expertise, because those are the folks who can work effectively and cooperatively with end users.
• They regularly make the rounds with the CEO, the board, the CFO and other C-level executives to sell IT initiatives and prepare the way for IT budget requests.
• They assess their IT teams to ensure that those who have the people skills are on the front lines with the users, and that those who lack these skills are assigned to more internal IT functions.
• They understand that new systems aren't going to solve many business problems unless they synergize with the business processes that they operate with, and users can easily understand how new systems work and successfully use them.
• They never cut a new system over without checking off a line item for system training and “user burn-in.” Once systems are cut over, they monitor the new systems for several weeks thereafter to assure user adoption.
• They maintain an open door to their staff and their business users, and are receptive to new ideas.
• They get to know the people whom they work with on a personal level, which enables them to build open and trusting relationships.
As you can see, this is quite a substantial laundry list. Yet, when I looked at it, I realized that these were the bases that I regularly touched as a CIO, and it worked. What I didn't expect were generally disagreeing opinions from fellow CIOs.
“Users don’t understand IT, and they don't need to,” said one peer, “But they think they do because they can operate an iPhone... What we find in system requirements meetings is that they have absolutely no idea of what IT has to do to facilitate the infrastructure for a new app. We’d rather just do this work ourselves and then hand them a system or a prototype.”
Granted, users don't have IT’s technical depth, but this feeling of exclusion can rapidly breed feelings of distrust which in turn get in the way of system acceptance and ultimately user satisfaction. What you get as a CIO at that point is a political communications breakdown that is far costlier to system development, user adoption and perhaps even your own career.
The flip side -- and the natural challenge to many CIOs -- is that they are coming from highly technical backgrounds that did not demand communications, listening, and other selling skills. Many have to get out of their “natural skin” to develop in these areas, and they find themselves personally battling against the wind.
Unfortunately, companies are no longer in a position where they can afford CIOs who are averse to communicating, listening, working with their users -- and selling -- on a daily basis. Companies can't afford this because today’s rate of business change and the relentless pressures of competition are too great.
Tom Hopkins wrote in How to Master the Art of Selling Financial Services, “Mastering the art of selling involves mastering the craft of providing your clients the education, products, services, and personal contact before, during and after the sale that they want, need and, more important, deserve. That’s how you succeed. That’s how you’ll not only survive and grow in this business, but will thrive, prosper, and achieve greatness through it.” However, his comment but it equally applies to CIOs.
Mary Shacklett is owner of Transworld Data in Seattle. She is an experienced IT professional, writer, and IT, marketing and advertising consultant. Mary has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin, a master's degree from the University of Southern California and a doctorate of law from William Howard Taft University