I have been honestly surprised to hear CIOs thoughts regarding how tech vendors market and sell. After all, back in 2011, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson proclaimed the Challenger Sale Era. This era meant the end of product sales and the beginning of solution selling.
Clearly, this change is still being absorbed by those of us that make a living as product marketing managers. In the Challenger Era, “sellers migrate from a focus on transactional sales of individual products to a focus upon broad-based consultative sales of bundles of products and services. This means meeting broader customer needs in unique and valuable way that competitors can’t easily replicate.”
So, What do CIOs Want Changed?
CIOs believe not only that the sales cycle is broken but that the trust is gone. They say with vendors unable to cut through the noise, they are simply playing a numbers game.
Instead, CIOs say vendors need to listen, hear their pains, point customers at the right direction with digital assets, and earn back the trust. CIOs are clear they want a change in how their vendors approach their websites, sales decks, and even train salespeople. Here is a synthesis of a few of things CIOs want vendors changed:
- To move beyond talking product features and function.
- To show there is a realistic pathway to implementation and business value obtainment.
- To provide clarity on how a solution, service, or product positively affects business.
- To have honest and clear pricing.
- To enable customers to see features, timelines, and references without having an NDA.
- To have greater transparency and honesty.
- To have 30-day trials with access to documentation.
- To have less phone calls, less emails, less white papers, and less hounding on LinkedIn.
- To get real POCs that truly prove functionality and to get interactions with current customers.
- To have a willingness to provide cost estimates. One CIO said here, “If you don’t provide me with a basic sense of the cost of the product, then I’m going to assume you are going to overcharge me as much as you can.”
- Content tailored to how the solution will benefit our organization. Please don’t tell us why you’re better than your competitors.
- To have less buzzword bingo and more real, simple explanations that are relatable.
At the same time, CIOs want salespeople that focus on the longer-term relationship and not completing their quarterly quota. It is important that these salespeople express a simple understanding of what is important to me and my business.
And when salespeople interact with CIOs, they want clarity, honesty, and brevity. For this reason, CIOs believe there is value in embedding with account executives operational people that can link customer expectations to the solution provided. CIOs are candid that they are looking for a true partner that accompanies them from the problem to the resolution to build long term cycles of trust and performance. CIOs stress they shouldn’t be considered a lead to convert and then go to the next one.
CIO David Seidl puts things this way: “I’d like to not feel like simply visiting your website is going to get me a half dozen lead calls and emails. I’d like to be able to read useful materials without providing my contact information. Simply wanting information isn’t a cause to spam me. I’d like to see clear information. What the product does, differentiating features, some real examples, and a pricing model would be nice, even if it’s a broad ballpark.
“I try not to waste my time or my staff’s time. Fielding those who visited your site with calls and emails or not letting them see what your product does and has as differentiators creates barriers and represents a time sink. I tell sales folks that they get one slide about their company in the deck. I don’t need to know your founders, how you got there, etc. We’re talking about a product. We can talk more if we’re interested. And one more thing, it wastes a lot of my staff members time when you do the long version of your presentation. If we go further, part of my risk management process is making sure you’re a stable company that won’t disappear on me.”
Since Seidl mentioned differentiation twice, let me circle back onto this topic. The authors of the Challenger Sale suggested that “if you can’t say what differentiates you—why your customers should buy from you instead of a competitor—you can’t teach them to value what makes you different.”
They go onto say that every company has some unique differentiator otherwise they wouldn’t exist. However, they say that ironically the more vendors try to play up of differences the more they can sound the same. “A strategy of more precisely describing our product advantages over competitors is destined to have the exact opposite effect—we end of sounding like everyone else. The key is to build your pitch that leads to your solution.”
Given this, CIOs say they want to see use cases, peer contacts on both ROI and total time to implement in a similar industry. CIOs suggest as well it is important to understand business outcomes they need and to determine clear objectives in terms of what “good” looks like for long-term strategy as well as product improvements.
CIO David Chou recognizes that, “it has been tough to get in front of decision makers. However, Q1 has started, and everyone is working on getting a meeting, but multiple emails do not work for me. All external emails go to a folder that is to be auto-deleted.”
Importantly, CIOs say do not blindly send us white papers without discussing them with us first. If you are creating thought leadership pieces people want, then you will not need to push them blindly. One CIO suggested that vendors sending white papers without any prior discussion is akin to flyers being stuck on a car.
For this very reason, CIO Paige Francis likes the idea of having establishing relationship managers. “I like my vendors to have a person dedicated to us. I like them to offer complementary annual/biannual tune-ups, assessing current setup/configuration/performance against best practice. If I’m paying 5, 6, or 7 figures for your solution, you should want to keep me.”
What CIOs are asking for here is “a new way of thinking about how to save or make money.”
A New Way of Thinking
There is a lot to unpack from the above discussion. It seems that CMOs, sales leaders, and sales professionals need new ways of thinking about their customers.
Instead of focusing on point solutions and products, they need to put on their customers shoes on and share how their products can be assembled into solutions that enable customers to make or save money.
And hammering IT personnel for simply visiting your site does not work if it ever worked. It is far smarter to have high value events followed by value-oriented nurtures. And when salespeople join the discussion with the potential or existing customer, it is essential that they focused on building longer term versus transactional relationships with customers.
About the author:
Myles Suer is Principal Product Marketing Manager for Data at Dell Boomi.