For many B2B technology and data companies, selling to CIOs is a foundational requirement.
The chief information officer (CIO) might be the right person to talk to for specific software and technology sales. It can be hard to get past all of the gatekeepers and address the CIO directly. When you do talk to this c-suite decision-maker, you will have to keep it on-target and make it worth their time.
The CIO is the one who can often approve budgets to purchase products like the one you are selling. I-CIO reports 60% of CIOs have access to the main boardroom as high-level decision-makers. They have the authority to sign-off, which bypasses a lot of time typically spent attracting and converting lower-tier workers, before moving up to their management teams. And bypassing them cuts through a lot of the red tape and slow-moving decision-making that usually plagues enterprises.
However, this approach can be difficult. Sometimes there is no CIO, especially for small- and mid-sized businesses who typically don’t have enough in-house work to bring on someone for this high-level position. And, sometimes bypassing the system can backfire because you are seen as pushy and irritating—the one that can’t follow the rules and use the proper channels.
But, if you can push your way past the first tier of employees and present your rock-solid case to the CIO, you will shorten your sales cycle and may even increase your deal size. CIO’s often have the ear of the CEO, especially for tech spend.
So, if your product or service is tech-related, let’s jump into how to sell to the CIO.
Selling to the CIOs
CIOs are slammed and selling to CIOs is difficult and delicate. Some of them are getting hundreds of cold pictures every week. How can you get through and stand out from the crowd? Here are a few approaches for getting through to have a direct line to the CIO.
Through Lower-Tier Staff
The most common path to get to the CIO is through the staff—or the gatekeepers. This certainly adds time to your sales cycle, since employees will “filter” through the options before they ever get in front of the CIO. This would mean you have to sell at least two groups—the gatekeepers and the CIO at a later point.
Sometimes it can help to have the team on board. These lower-tier employees may have some pains that you hadn’t thought of in your pitch and can help solve with your offering. The more people you have on your side, the better.
A Network Connection
If the CIO is someone you personally know from an event or other part of your life, you may be able to use that connection to get their ear. This method holds the most risk since you can damage a relationship or look like an opportunist without the right approach.
You need to be authentic and transparent if you go this route. Don’t make the relationship seem like a means to an end. It’s important to feel this out with more of a soft-sell approach at first. If they don’t bite, you need to go back to the drawing board and consider a different approach.
Other CIO Recommendations
Getting word-of-mouth recommendations from a peer is one of the most powerful ways to hook a lead. If you can go in backed by a trusted peer (especially one in the same industry), then you are in a really good position to make your pitch. Most CIOs will trust people who have the same problem as they did.
This is why you should always be asking for contacts and referrals any time you make a sale. Use the CIOs you’ve converted to reach new leads.
You might be more in sales than marketing, but content marketing is still a huge weapon in your arsenal. The right content is geared toward the higher-level decision-makers. For CIOs, this content is typically data-filled and might include more graphics than text. White papers and case studies can showcase how your product solved their pain.
You can use content to do a lot of the early leg work with many cold leads. Most of the time, these offer a more concise and easy-to-reference resource that the CIO can refer to when considering the case. When the lead has warmed up to the idea of your solution, getting the meeting and working through any questions is much easier.
Your Pitch for selling to the CIOs
In some ways, the CIO pitch is like any other employee pitch. But, CIOs are typically more
Know Your Lead
Don’t EVER make your discovery call to the CIO. Asking basic questions about what systems they already have in place is a huge time-waster. It only shows the CIO that you did no homework and are hoping for a quick sale.
You should already know the company, what technology they are using, and their pain points before making the call. You will still need to do discovery, but don’t do it when you have the CIO’s ear. The more you clearly understand their situation and struggles, the more impressive your sales pitch will be.
Despite your best effort to glean information from sources online or lower-tier employees, you still may have some information gaps. If you do need to ask a few questions of the CIO, make sure they are all thoughtful and aimed strictly at their needs as they relate to your product. Don’t waste time by getting basic information about the company that doesn’t play into what you offer.
Know the Industry
You don’t know what you don’t know. If you aren’t familiar with the industry of your client, it will be painfully obvious. You need to have a good grasp of the industry trends, terminology, challenges, and compliance issues that your leads face or you are shooting blind.
And, if you are trying to earn the trust of your lead, that isn’t the right way to do it.
You can build trust by knowing what they are facing within their industry and having a good grasp of priorities for the company. Sometimes, you can even point to the leading competitors to make your case for change.
Talk Goals and Priorities
When you understand the CIO, company, and industry, you can talk about the most important things. Understanding the top priorities changes how you pitch the CIO. Some of the primary goals might include:
- Optimizing their current IT and tech
- Improving team performance
- Hitting major goals for the company
- Disaster prevention and security
- Building up skills of their IT department
For Selling to CIOs, focus on the Value
Don’t focus on your product or what you offer—focus on what they get. Keep your focus set on the things that matter to the CIO. You may be able to move past short-term pressures and speak to the long-term strategic challenges as well. While 85% of CIOs said digital was “nice to have” in 2019, by 2020 every company learned their digital tools were crucial to their company success. Moving into 2021, most CIOs are hyper-focused on digital growth, operational agility, and cybersecurity. Understanding where you can fit into these top priorities for a long-term value is going to be a big selling point.