I spent approx. one third each of my almost 30 years lasting career in business (as Account Manager, Engineer and Project Manager), in IT (as CIO, CTO, IT Project Manager and IT Program Director) and in Audit (as Head of Corporate IT Audit and CISO). Due to this background I got used to primarily evaluate any IT solution with regard to the sustainable value add it delivers for the business of my company or the eco-system my company is embedded in.
Already as an entrant into the (telecommunication) business at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s I observed, that those Account Managers were most successful, who took a solution-oriented sales approach, which aimed at improvement of their customer’s business or business processes – instead of a technology-oriented sales approach. Even though this insight apparently seems to be quite old, I had to deal in the second half of my career between 2000 and 2015 as CIO or CTO with a lot of Account Managers, who constantly tried to impress me (but in fact bored or even annoyed me) with their technology-oriented sales approach – partially covered by a smoke screen of actual fancy buzzwords, such as „hybrid“, „next generation“, „disruptive“, or „agile“.
Please understand me correctly: I am absolutely a fact-oriented person and I strongly believe, that facts are beneficial and necessary, since they kill opinions and make things transparent and comparable. However as a CIO or CTO I don’t take costly purchasing decisions, because an IT solution is „hybrid“ or „next generation“, holds the world performance record or is located in the upper right corner of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.
So, dear Account Managers, let’s put ourselves for a moment into the shoes of a CIO and try to understand, what a CIO really wants (and needs) from you and your profession.
- The first (and according to my observation still most important) topic is the impact of your technology on my IT cost – as well on the business processes of my company (I will come back to the latter aspect in bullet point no. 3). As CIO I stand under constant pressure to reduce the ongoing cost for operation and maintenance of my IT landscape and shorten the running times of my IT projects. Consequently each and every technology, which contributes to bring these cost or running times down – without a loss of service quality – is highly welcome. If an investment into your IT solution leads to increased IT cost, but improves the business (process) performance of my company, this is an considerable alternative, however you need to be able to argue and prove this impact accordingly.
- Secondly as CIO I have to provide my company and its business with a stable, reliable and robust IT infrastructure. I cannot even think about high sophisticated digitalization initiatives if my reputation as CIO is harmed by series of failures in your technology which negatively affect the business of my company. So please – despite all ambition to be innovative – keep my back free and don’t try to sell „Bananaware“ to me, which is immature and instable and leads in practice to a lot of frustration and anger between me and my business.
- In addition to cost reductions and stable, reliable and robust IT infrastructure I have to support my company with innovative IT applications, which have a measurable, significant positive impact on the business (process) performance and/or provide my company with a competitive advantage. IT (even simple technology, such as higher bandwidth) can be a strong lever for improving the performance of business processes or even be an enabler for the introduction of additional business functions (e.g. mobile solutions for field service). So please argue your offerings accordingly and help me to deliver real value add to the business of my company.
- As CIO I have to cope with hundreds of suppliers, who all try to get my attention and get a (preferably big) slot in my time schedule. Every week I get numerous emails, proposals, requests and invitations and I am only able to keep my work life balance on an adequate level (and rescue my marriage), if I consequently prioritize, sort out and delegate tasks. If I grant you a slot of my precious time, I expect you to be well prepared. Don’t come to me just for drinking a cup of coffee or having a nice chat, I don’t have time for that. Usually there are various sources, which you can utilize to prepare yourself for a meeting with me: the annual report of my company, the internet site of my company, newspaper reports about my company, preparative meetings with some of my staff members and so on. If you take over your Account Manager job from your predecessor, please ensure that he performs an adequate handover and provides you with the most important information, which is necessary that you are able to present yourself as competent and reliable partner.
- On the other hand please be realistic and don’t overdo your job. Most of my colleagues (and myself) hate presentations comprising 100 pages – usually starting with a lengthy introduction of your company – preferably pressed into a 60 minutes meeting. Based on your preparation better focus on the most interesting solutions in your portfolio and utilize them as an appetizer for getting your foot into the door and expanding business with my company in a later phase. I am personally a fan of pilot projects for demonstrating the capabilities of your company and your IT solution. So if you want to make a deal with me, your chances will increase if you prepare a respective proposal.
- The same logic applies to a visit of your company’s Customer Information Center, Innovation Lab or your XYZ-PHIRE company event. I understand that these visits and events are an ideal opportunity for you to present yourself and your company in the best possible light and even play up to me if you are able to organize meetings with the executive management of your company. However, unfortunately these visits and events are in most cases very time consuming – particularly if they require intercontinental business trips. I will usually only agree to participate in these visits or events, if you already convinced me, that you and your company are an attractive partner for me and my company.
- This leads me to another very important aspect – maybe even the most important one. Sales transactions are usually performed between human beings. Consequently there needs to be a certain degree of trust and sympathy between me as the decision maker and you as Account Manager. „You never get a second chance to make a good first impression“says an old wisdom, which is true and extremely important. So as already mentioned, adequately prepare yourself for the initial meeting with me, only promise, what you are really able to deliver and subsequently stick to the commitments you made to me. This is particularly important for Startups and small to medium companies, who want to do business with large corporates. Before you start dancing with an elephant, be aware what this means for your (global) delivery capabilities and what happens if the elephant steps onto your toes in case of failure (it may kill you and your Startup in an unfavorable case). By the way, I am fully aware, that your company – as every company – wants and needs to make profit, so I don’t expect you to say „yes“ to each and every request I come up with. I personally like Account Managers, who are straightforward and don’t beat around the bush: Say what you want and (even more important) do what you say. Demonstrate that you are a trustworthy and reliable partner and representative of your company.
- If I decide to do business with you and your company and we run together into problems, don’t bother me with weird internal stories from your company and explanations who to blame for the failure. I am not interested in wasting my time with this unappetizing stuff – just as I am not interested in finger pointing between you and other suppliers. At at the end of the day this kind of unprofessional behavior casts a damning light on you as Account Manager. I am only interested in when the problem will be resolved – without surprises and excuses – and I need to be 100% sure, that I am able to stick to the commitments I have given to my business based on your input. So please don’t bring me into trouble and don’t damage my reputation by careless commitments.
- Ideally you should provide me as a CIO with arguments, which I can easily adapt and continue to use in the subsequent discussions with my business – and this is in most cases neither based on technology, nor on features of your IT system. Feedback provided by your reference customers could be beneficial (if those reference customers do their business in an environment with comparable challenges as my company). Personally I am rather willing to spend time for a visit of a reference customer than for a visit of a high level event without practical reference.
- Final remark: Sales negotiations can be very effective and fast, if you in your capacity as Account Manager keep things as simple as possible. I course of my career I was involved into several supplier negotiations, e.g. with SAP, Microsoft or IBM, where we were able to drastically reduce the complexity of the contract landscape between the purchaser and the supplier. One of Peter Drucker’s famous management theorems correspondingly says „Only control, what you are able to measure. And only measure, what you want to control“. I understand, that the world is complex and this complexity needs to a certain extend be reflected in contractual descriptions. However a contract is useless, if it is too comprehensive and complex to follow-up and manage the major agreements later on during the execution. Under the same logic falls the requirement, that I don’t want to be bothered with your internal complexity. I need partners, who make it easy for me, to do business with them.
If you follow the described approach as Account Manager, you have from my point of view good chances, to build up long lasting, sustainable relationships with CIOs. And even if you don’t succeed in the first attempt remember, you always meet twice in life and you second chance may come sooner, than later, if your present yourself as a fair, trustful and reliable partner.
I would kindly ask my CIO colleagues (or other interested readers) to comment on the aforementioned 10 requirements and/or come up with additional requirements they believe are of common interest. By the way: Most of the aforementioned requirements are not limited to the relationship between CIOs and Account Managers, but can also be applied to any kind of relationship between customer and supplier representatives.
P.S.: Account Managers may be as well interested in the following professional article under the headline „Major criteria for the selection of IT solutions“ (compare: https://kubraconsult.blog/2017/01/18/major-criteria-for-selection-of-it-solutions/).