How to sell to a CIO

How to sell to a CIO

Never tell me I’m strategic, because every time someone has said that they quickly try to increase the price or decrease the discount I receive.

Before I took up the role of CIO at The Warehouse I was a partner with Deloitte Consulting. As with most professional services firms, my role was a mix of selling and delivering services to clients. Because of this, when I joined The Warehouse I was quite open to meeting with potential service providers to see what value they could add to us. I was unprepared for the onslaught however. Every week I get a number of phone calls and emails from companies who have a great product or service to sell. When I respond to these calls I find that they never provide me with value for my time. As a result, I now work diligently to avoid all and any approaches from companies wishing to sell me something.

While this preserves my time, I am convinced that there must be solutions out there that will help our organisation and talking to the owners of those solutions seems like a sensible way to find out about them. The question is how can I do this in a way that adds value rather than destroys value?

I have talked with other CIOs about this issue either in person or online, over one of several social network groups I belong to, and I have discovered that I am not unique. It’s a prevalent issue, so to try and cut through the clutter, here are my tips on how to successfully sell to a CIO.

Do your research before you come to see me. Doing your research shows that you are serious about us as a client because you have invested your time. As a publicly listed company our business strategy is available in the public domain if you are prepared to look. Don’t stop at the company level either. Research what is going on in our IS team. For better or worse I have a reasonably high profile and so there is a lot of information available about what we are trying to achieve.

I don’t buy technology, I buy solutions to business issues so when you come and see me sell me a solution to my business issue. Selling technology isn’t a bad thing. It just doesn’t work for most CIOs. If I like your business solution I probably won’t buy straight away. I will most likely refer you to one of my team and someone in our business outside of IS. You will then need to sell to them too, as they will need to live with the solution day by day.

Listen and act on what you hear. If I ask you to change a proposal or to pitch it in a particular way, trust me that there is a reason. I will tell you if I can, but I can’t always tell you. If I do this it’s a great sign, as it means I’m interested and one of the best ways to build a relationship is to show that you have listened and responded to my needs. If you can’t for some reason, then be up front and acknowledge it. I’ll appreciate the honesty and think of you next time when you may be able to help me.

Be honest at all times. If you aren’t it will only come back to bite you and your organisation. In particular, don’t tell me how important I am to you and that you want a long-term relationship with me if you don’t really mean it. If you are successful in winning business with us, I will find out if you are serious the first time I ask for a change to our arrangement and you begin to quote the contract to me. This lacks integrity and you are unlikely to win any additional business.

Never tell me I’m strategic, because every time someone has said that they quickly try to increase the price or decrease the discount I receive.

Finally, for me pitching via email is better than by phone. I don’t answer the phone, but I do at least browse all my emails. If you follow some of the guidance given above and I like what I see, you might get a response and a chance to pitch your solution to me or one of my team and that might just lead to value for everyone.

Owen McCall is CIO of The Warehouse. You can reach him at and through his blog

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Tags vendor managementopinionOwen McCall

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