Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO, How to sell to CIOs, Improper Selling Tactics, Selling IT, Selling to the CIO
This is the first part of the series of articles on improper selling-tactics adopted by vendors while engaging with the CIO. Read the next part, How to accept a ‘No’. Also read: ‘How should vendors engage with CIOs?‘
Recently, I had interesting discussions with a couple of “technology experts” separately brought in by their respective companies to help us design the best possible solutions. There was no correlation between the two opportunities or the technologies that represented the solutions; the behavior of the experts representing very large companies was indistinguishable like they were twins separated in early childhood but grew up to mimic each other in their approach to providing a solution to an opportunity.
After months of “engaging” on various opportunities to create new innovative differentiators for the enterprise with many vendors, the narrowed down list comprising the two vendors decided to bring in their technology architects. They needed to hear the expectation from the horse’s mouth and clarify the requirement before proposing the solution. I do not believe the problem or the solution is relevant here but the overall approach, methodology and intent is the focus; so I will restrict to the human side.
Now when you have a set of experts in the room, the expectation changes; for the benefit of everyone I repeated the proposition and outlined the need and the want. Everyone nodded and the expert asked a few pertinent as well as tangential questions. Addressing them and moving on to the framework of solution design the patience level of my team started waning until the experts decided to present the final solution using a set of slides. Very quickly the dam broke and …
The experts knew the subject and how their solution works, its limitations in real life situations. The discussion and clarifications were to validate if the solution would fit in, which is fair. Having said this, the direction the dialogue took was totally different. Instead of working with the team to flesh out the solution, the experts started a sales pitch on why we should choose their solution! Any interruptions were brushed aside with an air of “I know what is best for you and let me tell you why”.
The relationship managers sensed the total disconnect and tried to intervene without success. The experts in overdrive mode bulldozed ahead ignoring body language and voices of protest. It took some effort to close the meeting which was making no sense or headway. Trying some steps in damage control, the account managers separately mentioned that they will revert to the team with options to take the initiative ahead.
With no acceptance or alignment of the solution a discussion on the Bill of Material (BoM) is a sheer waste of everyone’s collective time. The ROI or TCO matters only when the customer acknowledges that the solution is appropriate for the enterprise. You don’t sell until you know that your solution has acceptance and that it meets requirements and business goals. Was the need to sell so desperate that they risked alienating a reference customer or professional arrogance that consummates such behavior?
In the current economic scenario the pressure to sell is evident on almost every company; that does not condone such tactics and behaviors; their pervasiveness scares me. I believe that vendors need to work with their customers to evolve any solutions and gracefully walk away should there be a stretch to fit their wares. It would be an undesirable situation where their key customer the CIO is not willing to come to the table or shuns these meetings. Maybe it is time to start exploring vendor-IT-business alignment?