Monday, January 25, 2010

How should vendors engage with the CIO

For IT Vendors, CIOs are a very sought after audience. As a result, they always solicit face contact with the CIO to pitch their wares, hoping to get a foothold in the company. These vary from license sellers (paper licenses or shrink-wrapped), hardware vendors, consumables, networking, security, applications, custom development, maintenance, testing services, manpower augmentation, staffing services, consulting, strategic alignment, and so on.

If I were to create a comprehensive list (which I will do some day), it would probably run into multiple pages! CIOs endeavor to keep these individuals and companies at bay, as they seem to be interested only in selling, and nothing else. Also, consider the fact that CIOs would only be listening to vendor pitches and groveling through the week, if vendors have their way.

Vendor pitches range from “the cheapest”, “cutting edge”, “better than the other”, and in a few rare cases, “solve business problems”. The majority fail to engage in a dialogue or listen, as if they have the entire routine by rote — the moment they are in front of the CIO, the Play button is activated! Unfortunately, only a handful of vendors understand the realities of your company or industry. The typical vendor repeats stories that may be out of context (based on experiences with companies or geographies, where the challenges are dissimilar to those faced by you).

With IT budgets either about to lapse (in a few cases) and new budget preparations (for most of us), vendors endeavor to wrangle their way into our minds. These heightened pitches tire the CIO, and in many cases fail to gain traction of any kind. The story repeats itself many times over, with the results remaining the same.

Albert Einstein said it very well, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Vendors should stop selling, and start listening to their prime customers — the CIOs — on what they are working on, and then help them succeed. According to the Peter Drucker quote, “A customer never buys what we sell”. This is more so in the case of IT.

Every time a vendor approaches a CIO, his understanding of the CIO’s need should supersede the need to sell. Just the fact that you have a solution, does not imply that I have the problem!


  1. Anonymous1:31 AM

    Right on point. I'm smiling as I was like this during my early career days. Sometime later in my career I employed a 30:70 model for client meetings, where I'd only speak for 30% of the time, unless when I'm doing a presentation. Same goes for business lunches / dinners.

  2. My business has always been listening to my customers, whether the CIO or the clerk, and then trying to help solve the real problems after thinking about it. Unfortunately, the best listeners often have a hard time getting in to talk to the senior managers whose problems they can solve. Fast-talking sales people do not help the situation either.