CIO Point of View – Rob Strickland

As much as I like my point of view and think I pretty much have most things dialed in, deep down, I know I’m clueless.  Accepting this drives me to get others points of views and surround myself with people smarter than me.

Understanding this and to bring some diversity of thought to this blog, I’ve decided to start a series, called the Executive Series.  The Executive Series will be interviews with Executives from varying industries and positions.  The objective; get their thoughts on sales.  Do executives like aggressive sales people?  What do executives look for in sales people?  What do they want in a vendor partner, etc?  Sales people have to sell to executives.  We might want to know how they think and what they want.

My goal is to do this fairly regularly.  But, until my pipeline of executives blow up it will be sporadic.  Not knowing will keep it fun for a while.  You’ll have to keep checking in to see who the next executive is.

The first Executive Series Executive interview is Rob Strickland.  Rob is the former CIO of the Weather Channel, Teradyne, DishNetwork and most recently T-Mobile, USA.  Rob is currently the President of Strickland Consulting.

Rob is an outside of the box thinker with a key commitment to customers.  One of my favorite terms he coined is WITCE (What is the Customer Experience)  Rob has a unique perspective on business, I think you will like his suggestion to sales people.

As a CIO what’s the best way for a sales person that’s not a current vendor to get your attention?  What do they have to do to get a meeting with you?

Generally some form of sponsorship from an existing relationship (or supplier) is the best way to move beyond a cold call.  A CIO’s day could be totally consumed by entertaining vendors; everyone is wanting to sell you something – which would leave no time in the day to work on the company’s business matters.  To establish a good reason to venture into the Office of the CIO, I strongly suggest learning who that CIO might trust as a reference.  Using this method will also gain the trust that a salesperson is also doing his/her homework on current needs, integration opportunities, partner opportunities and relevance of the service/product being offered.

Very rarely have I ever taken a cold call.  It happens, but there are so many hurdles created to protect the CIO’s time.

What is something most sales people don’t do when selling to you, you wish they did?

There is a saying, “my customer’s customer is my customer”.  I am much more impressed with sales people who understand what my customers are experiencing.  This is not just internal customers either that I am talking about.  Front line employees who use IT to service consumer customers direct are also dealing with customers – do you know what that experience is vis-a-vi your product/service?  Sometimes sales people are so myopic on their products/services that I am the one left to understand the greater impact on what I refer to as Big C (external customers).  Do your home work and go on a field trip or two.  Observe what IT is doing for both little c (internal IT customers) and Big C (external customers).  You will be more believable when you deliver a value-add statement.

What is something most sales people do in selling to you, you wish they didn’t?

Try to take me out to dinner, golfing, or some event and believe this will sway my thinking about their company, products/services or some issue at hand.  I have to say also that attempting to schmooze the rank and file will only land you in the dog house.  Keep the expense money focused on good meetings and venues.  There is a time and a place for having some fun, just don’t over indulge and expect results.  It is always more highly regarded to ask permission, seek advice on how to best work the department.  CIO’s weren’t born yesterday.  This is part of the ecosystem’s way of working and everyone gets that.  Just be sure to conduct your expense money in an appropriate way.

What are your thoughts on the statement “The sale starts at No?” in relationship to selling to you.

I am just not sure a good IT Department every really needs to deliver a “No” and thereby force a sales effort into motion.  Between the CIO and his/her vendor sales teams there should be a reasonable understanding of what the goals are for the year, what the budget is, what the business has as its goals, market conditions – the sort of real informational elements that allow more full disclosure on what is on the CIO agenda.

I do understand that there are plenty of IT Departments that hold their cards very close to the vest, but I do believe there are ways to tease out what the overall IT agenda is for the fiscal year.  If a salesperson cannot find their “stuff” in that fiscal year strategy, I doubt very much a “no” will lead to a “yes”.    This is of course one of the biggest battles in the world of sales.  The sales manager attaches a logo and a quota, hires a sales representative to go get that revenue and now the IT Department is plagued with a sales person constantly trying to create an opportunity where none exists.  Generally, a “no” is a “no”.  We all should move on unless the CIO changes the strategy or the business alters enough to create an opportunity for the product/service – but there is a low probability that this was created by the sales rep!

What do you think about the statement “Sales is a team sport?”

I visit many companies every year and I am struck by the number of companies that have those log-in books at the front desk.  Every vendor then can see who is visiting whom, when they come in and how often.  So much for secret meetings.  At any rate, I believe the opportunity exists to leverage social media (like Facebook and LinkedIn, for example) to find the vendors who are calling upon your same accounts.  Why not try and meet other suppliers outside of the lobby, leverage that sign-in book, and come to the CIO with some “team” selling.  IT Department’s agonize over integration of technologies all the time.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to compare notes, leverage integration points between suppliers, utilize calendar time better – who knows what can happen when more people combine forces to solve big problems.

Overall the CIO will tend to meet sales people in a serial fashion, 1-1 in staged meetings.  I believe suppliers can pull themselves together, combine knowledge on the account and offer more complete solutions that enable the CIO to leverage his/her time as well as resources.  So, next time that sign-in log is there, note who your partners are and make some Facebook or LinkedIn connections.  Once that is done, invite the CIO to a meeting with several vendors pulled together for a more complete solution pitch.