A CIO recently asked me “Do you think CIOs need to have sales skills?” My answer was a resounding: “Yes, because everybody sells.” But for the many people who’ve never carried a bag, sales skills aren’t necessarily what they might think. The best salespeople deeply understand the needs and emotional drivers of their audience—both on a professional and personal level. When you’ve taken time to listen, understand and care about the success of others, providing something of value doesn’t seem like sales anymore. For the sales folks, this may seem oversimplified, but these are core principles at the essence of many proven sales methodologies.
Developing trusted relationships and crafting new value offerings is exactly what is required of today’s CIO. They’ve always been charged with understanding what their Line of Business (LOB) peers are trying to accomplish. Most have always aimed to serve their “internal customers” well, and those who’ve made a career of it have excelled. One primary difference is that most previous IT initiatives generally operated over larger time periods, and nearly every IT expenditure needed to go through the CIO’s office. The landscape was less complex and changed less frequently. There were fewer options in the marketplace, and a LOB executive couldn’t just “activate” some technology they needed via the cloud, within hours or days.
Today—although easy access to cloud-based services and applications exist—the need for marketing, sales, service, HR, supply chain leaders and a trusted technology partner has only increased. LOB leaders who’ve taken the plunge into spinning up their own cloud technologies quickly realize the complexities associated with managing, integrating and aligning the data and process associated with a growing suite of technology applications and databases
I’ve heard some variation of the following statement several times in the last few weeks from CPG, apparel and manufacturing leaders: “We’re a technology company that just happens to make or do (whatever it is their organization is known for).”
This is a shift. It’s not businesses saying “We need technology.” They’re actually viewing themselves as tech companies.
If that’s true, it highlights the need for organizations—across industries—to embed the culture, norms and processes of tech companies into their DNA. And for most organizations, there’s no better potential change agent and evangelist than the CIO.
But, here’s the challenge. For the past few decades, many LOB leaders have experienced an adversarial relationship with IT folks, creating a lack of trust, understanding and respect from both sides. So, while the need for each other is significant, systemic barriers stand in the way.
As I shared with a CIO over dinner this week: “Now is the time for CIOs to add significant value to their organizations transformation. It’s a fantastic opportunity. But this can only happen within the context of a trusted relationship, and in many scenarios, the level of trust required for change just isn’t there.”
Returning full circle to where we started this conversation, “Do CIOs need to have sales skills?” Yes, they do. They need the type of sales skills that focus on people and relationships. People “buy” from people they know, like and trust. So, if a CIO is to be a trusted change agent within their organization, they need to sell their ideas, qualifications and vision.
While it’s always been important, most CIOs would benefit from investing more in their line of business peer relationships. In addition to doing their current work with excellence, developing deeper relationships will help increase the levels of which their peers know, like and trust them. These, in turn, will likely open doors to more meaningful conversations around value exchange, and enable the CIO to bring their knowledge and expertise into evolving the strategic direction of the organization.