03
March 2013

How to Effectively Pitch Your Product or Service to a CIO

Written by Tim Blair White
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The CIO
The CIO

Pitching your product or service to a CIO is akin to meeting with that mythical unicorn – plenty of sightings and stories but you never actually get to meet with one! But, if you are lucky enough to get your sales moment, you may find the experience rather disheartening in how fast he or she says, “sorry, the IT project road map is set for the next 12 months.”

Let’s climb into the shoes of a CIO and learn how to effectively pitch your product or service to a CIO.

Climbing into a CIO’s Shoes

Firstly, realize that CIOs are extremely busy folks receiving many emails and phone calls each and every day from hopeful vendors and sales people working to attract the CIO’s gaze and consideration. Most if not all of these emails and phone calls are immediately trashed, deleted or otherwise removed from view because the current workload of projects and issues is so pressing.

Thus, your typical CIO’s first reaction to a sales letter, email or phone call is: “How do I get rid of this and off my plate and get back to what really matters?”

Secondly, the IT strategic plan has already been set for the next 12 months, or so, and thus the CIO’s frame of mind is: “Let’s get these projects done and fast!” He is normally in the tactical mode of rolling out new projects, patching up existing projects, getting funding and interfacing with the business folks.

Thus, he is not normally in a receptive mindset to consider new technology from an external, unknown source – you!

Ok, what to do?

Instantly Communicate the Problem Being Solved

You must instantly communicate the problem your product or service solves and hope the CIO is experiencing that specific problem to such an extent that he will actually listen to you!

Some bad examples:

  • “Hi, this is John Jones from Acme Software consulting. We are a local consulting firm and I would like to speak with you…” Click, send to trash.
  • “Hello Mr. White, I was referred to you by so-and-so and would like to talk to you about your eCommerce initiatives…” Click, send to trash.
  • “This is John. Please return my call at 1-800…” Click, send to trash.
  • “Hello Mr. White, I represent a local IT support firm and would like to find out more about your enterprise. Do you have a few minutes?”  (are you kidding?) “Ahhh, I am just stepping into a meeting now; how about you send me an email?”

Some good examples of how to instantly communicate the problem being solved:

  • ” Hello Mr. White, are you experiencing data storage issues in your data center? How would you like to increase SANs performance by 200% without buying expensive new hardware? Call me at …”
  • “Hi Tim, do you need more support staff but have no budget for a full-time person? How would you like to leverage a crack off-site support team for 1/2 the cost of a full-time person?”
  • “Hi Tim, is the CEO pressuring to reduce inter-office telecom costs? How would you like to save 30% on your inter-office calls without a long-term contract? Call me at …”

Do you see the difference? If the CIO is experiencing that problem then there is a good chance you will get a call back. Also, notice there is no preamble of who you are, your company’s name, yak, yak; but just getting right to the point. This is vital because once the CIO figures out the call is a “sales call” then that’s it, you’ve lost him or her!

These tips apply very well to cold calling but what about sales letters or emails?

Writing Killer Sales Letters or Emails

The previous points equally apply to writing sales letters or emails although with these you are actually giving an entire sales presentation via the letter or email. The key is to convince the CIO within the first paragraph that the product or service will address and solve a particular problem they are having.

Again, instantly communicate the problem your product or service solves. If they truly have that problem then they will work out spending the time to read your entire sales letter or email.

Writing great sales letters or emails is a real art and I highly recommend this great book by Dan Kennedy: The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost your Sales.

Now, what about a web or in-person presentation?

Delivering Great Sales Presentations

At a recent Lightspeed Ventures event where I and a group of CIOs had the privilege of having 10 emerging tech start-ups pitch their product to us for some real-world feedback; the general consensus was that each presenter made the same crucial mistake: spending far, far too much time on the company itself, its history, founder(s), management structure, list of customers, etc., etc. One for one, we all agreed that such information is worthless. Yep, worthless.

Look, I want to know within the first 5 minutes what the product or service will solve for me. If you can’t articulate that within 5 minutes then you have already lost your audience. You should know your market so well and have a solid 100% grasp of what problems your product or service solves that this should be easily done.

Here’s an example of how it can be done:

“Hello! Thank you for attending today! ACME Co. was established to solve the headaches in provisioning storage systems in rapidly expanding data centers. Do you experience costly storage upgrades as demand increases?

(get audience feedback – don’t just say it and move on)

Do you run into scaling issues with existing SANs?

(get feedback)

Are you frustrated with the complexity of server and storage systems?

(get feedback – very, very important to engage with your audience)

Our VX-2010 product line solves that problem by …”

Now, you are off to the races! Why? Because you have engaged with your audience, shown a clear use case for them and you have received feedback that it really will solve some of their real-world problems. If not then you might as well just end the sales presentation right then and there: why waste everyone’s time?

At the end of the presentation you can talk for a few minutes about the company and the customer list.

Don’t Be a Typical Sales Person

A typical sales person pitch runs on a script and just rolls along with little audience interaction with the sales person hoping that something will stick along the way! CIOs really, really dislike the typical sales person pitch. They spend too much time going over the company, their management, years in business, the customer list, etc., etc. and they talk endlessly.

Follow the points above, engage with your audience, have a killer product or service that solves a real-world pain point for the CIO and you are set!

Be a Great Communicator

Even if you do everything above perfectly there is still a way you could fail: you communicate poorly. You fidget, get tongue-tied, fail to engage, show anxiety, talk too much, dress poorly, sit slumped at the table, interrupt, etc., etc. A poor ability to communicate will skew the presentation right from the beginning.

There are many ways to become a great communicator. The folks over at Effective Training Solutions have an amazing two-day Improving Presentation Skills workshop that can work miracles on improving the effectiveness of your presentations. They also have a general Communications Skills workshop which is also fabulous. Effective Training Solutions has trained employees from Fortune 500 companies down to small businesses in 28 countries.

I hope this article has been helpful and good luck with your next presentation!

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  1. Tim, love this article. As an avid cold caller . . . it’s great getting the perspective from the prospective customer . . .i.e., CIO . . . on what works and what doesn’t!

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