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CIO Tells Us How to Sell to CIOs

Sridhar Ramanathan

By sridhar ramanathan
Posted on October 2009 in Channel Development

I had a great conversation with my dear friend and neighbor, Walt Thinfen. He’s the Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Visioneer, a high tech company here in Pleasanton, California. I took the opportunity to get his thoughts on how our clients and other technology vendors could do a better job of selling to the CIO. Listen in on this conversation for some great gold nuggets some of which might really surprise you.

Tell us a little about your role as CIO of Visioneer?

Visioneer provides a broad range of scanning solutions for the desktop, distributed and departmental document imaging markets as well as the mobile and remote business scanning segments. In 2003, Visioneer combined its leading scanner technology with the Xerox brand recognition to develop the Xerox DocuMate product line. Visioneer and Xerox DocuMate high-performance business scanners and imaging software solutions offer users speed, image quality, advanced paper handling and ease-of-use with exclusive Visioneer OneTouch® technology. That means we make desktop, portable, and workgroup scanners. As CIO, I am responsible for Visioneer’s Global IT function as well as and our support organization.

What sort of technology and services do you buy?
We buy hardware (servers, desktops, storage, networking equipment and firewalls), software (SAP ERP and Business Objects, Epicore CRM, Microsoft Exchange) and telecom (Nortel for unified communication). We also buy services such as data center hosting, remote application monitoring, network management, and even applications delivered as a service (Droisys and Protera).

What are some dos and don’ts for selling to a CIO?

It’s important to recognize the CIOs are very different from sales people. We are more analytical not as emotional so we don’t respond well to rah rah stuff. We depend of facts and figures because we are very process oriented. If a sales rep wants to connect with me, he needs to do his homework and know what business I am in, what problems I likely have, and uncover my needs and only then should he pitch a product that solves a specific problem for me. And finally, respect the CIO’s time. Get to the point.

I would also strongly recommend that sales people stay engaged from the pre-sale phase all the way through to the implementation. I find it very frustrating when companies transition personnel from pre-sales, to implementation, and to technical support. The disconnects between these teams are very very obvious to me and disruptive. I find that some of the folks downstream of the sales rep are clueless about my business goals and all the needs I already expressed to the sales team. The sales rep does his song and dance then disappears. That’s very bad for the relationship and even hurts results.

What collateral or information do you find most valuable?

Vendors do, of course, need to do all the usual things like webinars, trade shows, datasheets, whitepapers, analyst briefings, etc. But I actually find the most valuable ones are opportunities to speak with fellow CIOs whether it’s on the golf course or in customer reference calls. I never turn down “lunch and learns” and events where I can have quality time with a peer. Remember the absolutely best thing for a CIO is word of mouth from another CIO. That’s why I have agreed to be an SAP customer reference. It helps them but it also helps me as I get to speak with peer CIOs. I like to ask colleagues “so how’s this working in your own shop” and “how did you solve this issue?”

How does a vendor get you to be a customer reference?

Well I have to be a happy customer first. Then they need to provide an opportunity to speak with other CIOs. You know, we CIOs are actually a very talkative bunch. Just get us together, let us react to your product roadmap, and facilitate questions. That’s it. I’m also a member of a CIO group called the Office of the CIO, and this group meets monthly share experiences etc. I’m happy to share more about this wonderful organization.

How important are analysts like Gartner Group, Forrester, and IDC to your in purchase decision?
Not very. I find that they do not have the hands on experience that we do. Of courses vendors do need to cultivate a relationship with them to keep their product visibility up.

Tell me a memorable story of a particular buying process?

Well I’m afraid my more recent experiences have not been too pleasant. I was recently working with a vendor in the iSCSI SAN market. They sent nice people seemingly very interested in our business. They tried hard to understand our needs, my urgency, and working within a tight budget. They helped me identify the right solution which I then bought. That’s when the frustration began. The vendor shipped us off to a completely separate business unit and even farmed out the implementation to a third party company. It got worse from there. The third party botched up implementation. I tried calling the sales rep but he was onto the next kill. I had to escalate up the flagpole to the VP sales to get the original pre-sales team back in here to straighten out the implementation. Ironically, I would’ve bought more if hadn’t been for the poor handoffs and transitions. This is why I feel strongly that vendors really ought to have at least one person stay in contact with the customer from purchase through to deployment.

So have you ever had a great buying experience?
Yes. My best purchases are with Dell for servers. We simply order what we want, they ship it out, and we plug it into the rack and it works. The best purchases are actually the ones that have no involvement with the supplier. The minute it requires vendor involvement and a system integrator then things gets convoluted and more chances for things to go wrong.

Who’s involved the purchasing process?

My team defines the technology roadmap. We identify, select, and negotiate with vendors. I take the contract to the CFO to ensure the contract has acceptable terms and risk. Then it goes to the CEO for signoff before purchasing cuts a purchase order.

How do you justify a purchase?

I justify purchases based on how it would increase or maintain our revenues. I look at the impact to revenue with and without this purchase. How does it reduce operations costs both capital and operating expenses? How does this mitigate risks? I look at risks such as PCI compliance, credit card theft, and especially risk of downtime affecting orders.

Copyright (c) 2009 Sridhar Ramanathan