5 reasons why a CIO today needs to be an effective marketer; not just an effective salesperson

New realities require the CIO to take a broader marketing approach than a transaction-oriented sales approach while pushing technology in the organization

5 reasons why a CIO today needs to be an effective marketer; not just an effective salesperson - CIO&Leader

If you are a CIO and are above 40, there is every probability that you have listened to/read/been part of discourses on why and how a CIO should be an effective salesperson. After all, the most critical and the toughest—if not the largest—part of a CIO’s job has been to sell the board the idea of investing in technology.

That job still remains and will probably remain forever. But the new ground realities—right from technology’s perceived importance in a business today to the way technology decisions are being made within enterprises—has changed the priorities for the CIO.

Some tasks that looked most challenging yesterday are no more so, even as new tasks have cropped up. One such big change is the way CIOs and enterprise IT departments are supposed to promote the use of technology within their organizations.  

Many CIOs are already practicing what we discuss here, albeit unwittingly. The idea of this piece is to just put the change in right perspective, so that they take a proactive approach and do not get caught scrambling to react to the change.

In short, the change that we are talking about here is the (need for) evolution of the CIO from being an effective salesperson to an effective marketer as well.

Before we get into why the change has happened—and how—let us look at the basic difference between sales and marketing.

Selling is about completing a transaction. It’s a 1/0 proposition, with no shades of grey. The ultimate objective of a salesperson is to close the transaction somehow. Typically, the approach to sales is persuasion.

Marketing, on the other hand, is understanding applied. It creates an environment for the sales to take place. You can be partially successful in driving an idea. If you could leave your target audience slightly more convinced, you still have success.

Sales happen when the need is already there. Marketing often shows a hidden need; even creates the need. A good salesman, as they say, can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. Only a poor marketer would try that. Marketing is all about understanding and communicating.  

Selling is more focused; marketing’s scope is typically broader---right from consumer research to customer satisfaction measurement to looking for insights in customer behavior as well as external conditions. Selling is push. Marketing is creating a pull.

Here is a good comparison between the two

Now, let us look at it in the context of a contemporary CIO’s role. Here are five specific reasons why CIO’s role is changing to that of a marketer from a salesman and what they mean for him. These observations are valid mostly for large and medium enterprises.  


#1 Top management/board need not be sold the value technology brings to business

Today, in a typical business organization, the management is more than convinced about the value technology brings to the business. So, convincing them to invest in technology is far easier than what it used to be a decade ago.

A large part of the effort put by the CIOs and technology leaders were to ‘sell’ the board/management the idea that technology can indeed impact the business—often by showing the return on investment (RoI), an approach that was more of justification of the spend on technology.  The success of the ‘sale’ was to procure that investment. That is not so much of a challenge anymore.

So, what does it mean for the CIO? One, he needs to work less on RoI and more on showing business value. Two, he gets more time to think of creating positive impact rather than thinking on how to convince the top managers. And finally, he has to do some real work, as the new reality requires him to understand the business and make the proposition. For technology RoI sort of discussion, all he needed to do was to take the vendor’s deck to the board, by changing the logos. He cannot do that in the new regime.


#2 The target is no more only the big bosses

Another difference between sales and marketing is that in sales, the objective is to convince one/one set of people who take the decision on the transaction. The job of marketing is to appeal to all influencers, actual users and the investment decision makers. In a children’s product, the sales decision maker is still one of the parents. But it is the child—sometimes the other parent as well—who must be convinced. 

Users are now becoming more enlightened, vocal—and in many organizations even empowered—to have a say in what technology should they use. Gone are the days when technology, decided by enterprise IT, with approval of the top management, was being pushed down their throat.

What it means is that the users must be influenced and convinced about the tech changes—and sometimes those changes may be a little inconvenient.

Since you cannot go and sell to every user individually and often, they are as heterogeneous as a young marketing kid and an accountant in his 50s, you need to create some sort of communications/messaging that is effective.  

That is a textbook case for marketing. And this marketing has to be done for both pre-technology selection and post-implementation, the latter to maximize use.


#3 Earlier, the CIO was told what was needed. Now, he has to ‘assess’ the need

A salesman does not do a need assessment. He assumes there is the need. Having a need, he tries all his persuasive skills and the features of his product to close the transaction. That is how the CIOs have traditionally worked. They were told what was needed. All they did was to translate that into technology and deliver.

A good CIO today is expected to work with the business to assess not just where there is a business problem but also where application of new technology can result in something great for business, even if there’s no problem or gap as such. This requires constant interaction with the business (inside-out) and constantly updating oneself on what is happening in technology and the industry that one is operating in, on the CIO’s part (outside-in).

If that is not user research, then what is it? A new CIO has to don his marketer’s hat not just for influencing but even for doing user research.


#4 It is an ecosystem

Marketing is not a two-party proposition that must agree to a set of conditions and put their signs on it. It is about working with an ecosystem, where each participant has its value to add. The whole is supposed to be better than the sum of parts. It is integration.

Traditionally, in organizations, while the top managers decided on the investment and the users used, as they were instructed to, everything in between regarding technology was done by the enterprise IT team. CIO was the sole custodian of IT in an enterprise.

That is no more the case. It is the operational managers who decide on IoT. It is the marketing guys who decide on business intelligence and analytics. The cloud, by changing all these investments from capex to opex, has removed whatever small barriers were there for this change. Now, enterprise IT has to work with them to bring out the best.

It is akin to the ecosystem model that marketers are comfortable with.

So, finally, what does it mean?


#5 Knowledge, not skill, will differentiate an excellent CIO from a good one

Marketing does not give you immediate results; but it gives you bigger results. A good marketer knows the customers, their perceived needs, their hidden needs, the factors that impact their decisions. He also knows how things may change in the near to medium term; and how that may impact user behavior. All this is knowledge. A salesman with all the knowledge and who does not know how to close a deal, is not even an average salesman. And one who closes sales, even with zero knowledge about the forces shaping the future, is still a good salesman.


As the role of CIO changes from selling the idea of technology investment per se to the top managers to influence a large set of users on the possibilities that new technologies (like say blockchain or IoT) can bring in, the new CIO must have good ‘knowledge’ about what is happening out there. 

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