Monday, November 26, 2012

Hierarchical selling or Stop Selling part 3

The number of people who associated with the behaviours I wrote about in StopSelling part 2 brought home the realisation that the nemesis is a lot more widespread than I thought. Even more interesting part is the longevity of the issue; few readers reminisced their younger days ranging from a few years to a few decades when they behaved like that. It would appear that learning on selling IT has not evolved in the last few decades while the roles of the buyers have.

Every encounter in recent times across multiple vendors selling diverse range of products and services demonstrates consistency. In a competitive industry where decisions are not just based on price but also on quality of service or product, the difficulty faced by the decision makers and the CIO is to give a clear and unambiguous decision. Vendors need to learn to accept clear communication and respect the decisions conveyed to them. Eons back having spent some time in sales, I know it is difficult to accept a loss of sale.

When you have spent a long time in the decision making role, relationships between CIOs and Tech Company CEOs are formed. These are leveraged on both sides in difficult times and also to pitch for a good deal or going beyond the contractual obligations. The alignment of objectives creates win-win situations and builds healthy respect between individuals and companies. Conflict arises when multiple relationships vie for the same business and their attempt to leverage this with the team and the CIO.

In Business-to-business engagements, hierarchical selling is practiced by every company. Engagements start with Account Managers talking to IT teams defining the solution, the discussion progresses to involve layers upward until the CIO and someone senior (VP, SVP, BU Head, CEO) agree and sign off endorsing the deal. Companies that do not get the deal make desperate and largely futile attempts to influence the outcome. I am not against this, however when a company overdoes it not willing to accept the verdict, they get the CIO’s irritation and look like bad losers.

More than 5 years back a company had me talk to their sales team on “What CIOs want” or “Selling to the CIO”. I repeated this discussion with many large and small companies over the years with good results acknowledged by the attendees. Recently I had multiple meetings with leaders from the same company who could not accept that the decision had gone in favour of a competitor. Somewhere along the way with attrition the learning withered away. Or is it pressure of difficult times ?

I believe that for things to change collectively we all have to work together; the CIO will have to be consistent in the way they give the message of success or lack of it. Transparency in evaluation, engagement and stating decision making criteria upfront will create a better platform for everyone. Complementing this, the vendors need to not rue over one transaction that did not go their way and work towards bouncing back such that relationships do not feel the strain.

Let me share an anecdote: An Account Manager desirous of his CEO meet the CIO tries to schedule a meeting based on his CEO’s calendar. Attempting to influence the CIO’s Assistant he brushes aside protests on the CIOs unavailability on the proposed time. He pushes her to reschedule other appointments to accommodate his CEO. When that does not work, he calls the CIO to meet the CEO while the CIO is in the general area where the vendor office is located. Even when the CIO declines, he insists and goes ahead. When the CIO does not turn up, he chides the CIO to say he cut a sorry figure with his CEO. No guesses on where this relationship will end up !


  1. Arun, You blog post made me jog back my memory lanes as well, when I was heading enterprise sales for Novell India. Its true, most sales folks are bad loosers. Its their DNA. Good sales folks map the acoount, peg appropriate influencers at various layers of client organization and methodically work on de-risking the "deal loss". Effective sales folks are a rare breed. I am amazed by the anecdote in the last para of your post, I would typically insist on the sales guy be removed as my relationship manager. One of the big three had posted a relationship manager to my account in the post, who would in his own head shape potential opportunities into concrete deals, even while we were debating on its priority. He would throw heavy corporate resources at it and would end up looking quiet stupid when the decide not to constitute these into a project. Had to get him off my account.

  2. Arun, this is a kind of thing where in each business deal be it projects or some other procurements with vendors & business partners will provide us with an unique experience so to speak of. Many a times the fault lies with both the entities unknowingly. A CIO's role is of at most important as to drive the decisions that he/she evaluates thoroughly for the benefit of the organization & tackle whatever influencing factors that a vendor or other organizational elements may post.