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Selling beyond the CIO - How partners can influence new tech buyers

Selling beyond the CIO - How partners can influence new tech buyers

There’s a new buyer in town, with the CIO no longer the sole decision maker in the purchasing process

L-R: James Henderson (ARN); Rob McGregor (CRMNow); Mark Simpson (M-Power); Kirstie Smith (Deloitte); Sebastian Storey (Rubicon Red); Steve McLoughlin (Oracle); John Walters (Nextgen); Wendy O'Keeffe (Tech Data); Adrian Jones (Marketing Cube); Salil Akolkar (Oracle); Sachin Kulkarni (Cognizant Technology Solutions); Marcelo Scalia (Ekulus) and Phillip Milne (DXC Red Rock)

L-R: James Henderson (ARN); Rob McGregor (CRMNow); Mark Simpson (M-Power); Kirstie Smith (Deloitte); Sebastian Storey (Rubicon Red); Steve McLoughlin (Oracle); John Walters (Nextgen); Wendy O'Keeffe (Tech Data); Adrian Jones (Marketing Cube); Salil Akolkar (Oracle); Sachin Kulkarni (Cognizant Technology Solutions); Marcelo Scalia (Ekulus) and Phillip Milne (DXC Red Rock)

When sitting down at the boardroom table, a new customer sits opposite.

Outside the jurisdiction of the IT department, yet armed with an expanding technology budget, this new breed of buyer is adding a new dimension to the sales cycle.

This is a buyer that thinks, acts and consumes differently, placing pressure on partners to engage outside of traditional avenues to sell beyond the CIO.

“The buying power has shifted,” Oracle general manager of alliances and channels A/NZ, Steve McLoughlin, observed. “But if partners think this shift is still to come then they may have already missed the boat as change is already here.

“Business leaders now have money to spend on technology and with that comes power and new strategies around implementation in the digital age.

“They want answers and they want them fast, they don’t want to wait for large integrations into big legacy systems, they are looking for immediate return on investment [ROI].”

In short, there’s a new buyer in town, with the CIO no longer the standard-bearer of IT.

As the centre of gravity shifts across the C-suite, non-IT business executives have become empowered to make IT purchasing decisions - spanning sales, marketing, finance, HR, legal and operations.

According to EDGE Research findings, IT departments in Australia now have access to less than half of the total technology budget, as outlined by 40 per cent of local customers.

In surveying partner, customer and vendor priorities in 2018, research also highlighted that 49 per cent of partners currently have strong engagement with buyers outside of IT, with half of the channel still chasing traditional dollars.

“There’s certainly a shift underway, towards a champion in the buying process,” Ekulus consulting director, Marcelo Scalia, added. “Because cloud can sit outside of an organisation and users can connect as they need to, any champion that is chasing an outcome can pursue this technology.

Steve McLoughlin (Oracle)
Steve McLoughlin (Oracle)

“This means the conversation is now not just with the CIO, but with a champion within an organisation.”

In operating as a highly specialised advisory and technology firm, Scalia said Ekulus has predominantly engaged with buyers “outside of IT” during the past two years, with implementations in production today without the involvement of the CIO.

“There is a path into the organisation and it’s crucial to take the stakeholders along the journey,” Scalia cautioned. “If you miss them at the beginning, you will miss them when you want to expand. You might be able to land, but you’ll struggle to expand without wider buy-in.”

For the channel, stakeholder is the key word in the customer equation. Because while technology dollars are moving around the organisation, and new buyers are emerging, the CIO remains a key stakeholder, albeit not the sole decision maker.

“We span across all technology buyers and our conversation is focused at the board-level and the senior leaders inside an organisation,” Deloitte strategic alliances lead, Kirstie Smith, added. “From there, we start to build out a map of the key stakeholders that will be our supporters during the process.

“We’re not having technology conversations anymore, it’s business outcome conversations. We’re not talking about technology stacks, rather ways we can add value for the customer.”

Customer value differs depending on the profile of the customer however, creating a minefield of complexities for the channel to overcome in a bid to deliver outcomes.

“The buying power has certainly changed but it’s paved with danger and challenges,” acknowledged Mark Simpson, director and owner of M-Power Solutions, a Perth-based Oracle partner. “If you look at the market, I think we’re missing the point to a certain extent.

“If everyone is starting to think about fast-paced deployments that are simple and remove legacy systems, that’s a difficult conversation to have with a CIO.

“This is a CIO who has spent 20 years nurturing an old ERP along which is difficult to implement and even harder to re-implement. So, there’s a fine balance between telling a business how easy this new world is going to be because when the rubber hits the road, you’ll be the one that has to deliver on that promise.”

In leveraging Oracle expertise spanning more than 15 years, Simpson said partners can extract value through providing guidance and advice to businesses during this period of transition, as customers continue to turn to external experts to provide direction.

Kirstie Smith (Deloitte)
Kirstie Smith (Deloitte)

“The challenge for purchasers is going to be around who is going to navigate that road,” Simpson added. “I don’t see many CIOs who are capable enough to blend what the business needs, the change required in IT alongside the technology they currently have. That’s the challenge.”

Buy-in

Looking into any organisation, it’s clear that line of business leaders are flexing their muscles, taking charge of technology budgets that traditionally belonged to the CIO.

But while the direction of travel is clear, partners can ill afford to neglect the IT department in the pursuit of crisp new dollar notes, with the role of the CIO merely evolving, rather than expiring.

“We see lots of opportunities with the CIO, and lots of opportunities outside of that space also,” said Philip Milne, CEO of Red Rock, a DXC Technology company. “But since time has begun, the worst projects are the ones that don’t have stakeholder buy-in.

“So even if we sold exclusively to the CIO, if we didn’t have the business on board somewhere along the line, then the outcome probably wouldn’t pan out that well. And the same applies in the other direction.

“You can buy a standalone tool and buy a business solution but if it doesn’t integrate, then you have a problem. The CIOs who have a business focus and can perform that level of translation are worth their weight in gold. Ignore the CIO at your peril.”

Echoing Milne’s observations, Rubicon Red regional sales manager, Sebastian Storey, said the position of CIO is morphing into a governance role throughout organisations, providing the linkage between emerging and current technologies.

“CIOs are still very much part of the process,” Storey outlined. “They are now tasked with providing governance to ensure that as the business goes and buys technology that is fit for their purpose, they still take into consideration how this connects with back-end systems.

“Business leaders are better informed and researched when it comes to technology but in general, they don’t see the relevance around integration and security. This is where a governance and IT layer is crucial to ensure the business is connected.”

Therefore, the CIO - and the channel partner supporting alongside - can assume the role of responsibility in the buying process, through ensuring that new technologies can integrate with current business systems.

“In our experience, it depends on what you are selling,” Cognizant Technology Solutions head of enterprise application services A NZ, Sachin Kulkarni, added.

Marcelo Scalia (Ekulus)
Marcelo Scalia (Ekulus)

“When we changed our approach from selling technology to selling outcomes, that’s when our buyers changed. The CIO is still an important stakeholder and shouldn’t be bypassed, but we are not always starting with IT anymore. We automatically used to go there but that’s not always the case today.”

A different sell?

Uncovering the new purchasers of IT products and services is one thing, but influencing them is another matter entirely however.

As shadow IT becomes the normal way of doing business, and organisations continue to share the spending load, CIO-centric sales techniques are becoming strained, with fresh ways to connect now required.

“I believe that the language is completely different,” Marketing Cube managing director, Adrian Jones, said. “Marketing for example is talking a different language to the IT department.

“Marketers have a remit based around customer experience and short-term goals which span the next 12 months of their role. They have a responsibility to transform customer experience and they don’t have a long time to achieve this.

“Therefore, they ask, ‘what changes can we make today that will transform our business immediately, so that I can keep my job?’”.

Delving deeper, Scalia believes that as different conversations generate different outcomes, context and language will be fundamental to the success of any selling strategy.

“A CFO conversation is cost- based,” Scalia explained. “Marketing is customer experience, while HR is focused on change management and optimisation of the workforce.

“Partners must put these conversations into the context of the role and the industry you’re selling to. There’s a need to be able to relate very quickly to the buyer which is the art of this new type of sell.”

Yet as outlined by Rob McGregor, managing director of CRMNow — which was acquired by fellow Oracle partner PrimeQ in December 2017 — customer conversations are becoming more challenging for partners due to the rise of low-cost software-as-a- service (SaaS) solutions that are now only one click away.

“There’s a broader issue at play relating to cost models,” he acknowledged. “New buyers have been introduced to buying off the web and having everything turned on for $2.50 per month. This behaviour is squeezing the enterprise heavyweight partners in the market because customers want solutions turned on like an iPad.”

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