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.”


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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As partners go to market with an array of tier-1 software solutions, tier-2 vendors are emerging en masse, with a seemingly simple buy online approach that is cutting out the channel.

“The proliferation of click to purpose SaaS applications is a challenge,” Simpson added. “New buyers only require a credit card and the vendor in question might not even have an enterprise agreement in place. But even before you reach the CMO for example, they have already purchased software.”

Today, technology buyers are not waiting, instead simply clicking and consuming solutions before the channel can blink.

“Channel enablement is key,” Tech Data country general manager A/NZ, Wendy O’Keeffe, added. “Up- skilling partners around digital marketing and providing them with the capabilities to have the right conversations with the right technology buyers is crucial.”

In running a leading marketing agency across A/NZ, Jones said such an approach creates an urgent need for partners to influence this new breed of buyers.

“But it’s not just the technology, it’s the change management around the technology also,” he advised. Step forward the channel, capable of providing integrated solutions to link up disparate systems within an organisation.

“It’s very easy to buy a solution but you might only get the first component right,” Scalia added. “As a partner, you have the opportunity to provide that missing piece of the puzzle. We’re the link between all parts of the business.”

Channel play

As the demands of the customer change, the requirements of the channel evolve alongside, as partners favour quality over quantity in terms of vendor selection.

“Technology is the obvious one,” Scalia outlined. “We look for vendors with flexibility, which is critical in commercial models which are constantly evolving.

“The deeper partnership we have with a vendor, the more flexibility both parties have due to that level of trust.”

Aligning to Scalia’s evaluation, Storey said Rubicon Red continues to bet on Oracle due to the vendor’s strong technology portfolio, backed up by a sense of trust and demonstration of market vision.

Sebastian Storey (Rubicon Red)
Sebastian Storey (Rubicon Red)

“We have to trust the vendor in terms of the solutions on offer but also channel engagement,” Storey said. “Oracle keeps investing in technology and this provides us with the confidence to know that we are not hedging our bets and are fully behind their vision.”

Likewise, Deloitte determines vendors based on market relevance and future roadmap, endorsing innovation on the proviso of an equal partnership.

“We look for vision in a vendor,” Smith explained. “The key for us is to understand and form a partnership. Two different worlds are coming together in the form of our consultancy business and a vendor organisation, so understanding is critical.”

Coupled with a deeper focus on the channel, the tech giant is pivoting towards partners at pace, in the pursuit of greater market share across the expanding cloud market in Australia.

But while a channel-centric approach is both encouraged and endorsed, vendors today require more than mere rhetoric to attract the attention of technology providers and advisors.

“Simplicity is crucial in my eyes,” Simpson added. “If we had a scorecard, we would judge vendors on simplicity, ease of doing business with, margins and clear line of sight as to who is going to be the boss.

“We are Oracle partners because the products are great and the market position is strong but transparency and predictability remain crucial for the channel.

“From an end-to-end application play, Oracle is the market leader and when you add NetSuite into the mix, there is no better solution.

“We are absolutely certain that we have the best solution and technology, and now it’s encouraging to see the right approach coming through the channel.”

As business owners, partners can build strategies and plans around consistency, only coming undone when the rules change halfway through the engagement process.

“Predictability and consistency are key for partners,” McLoughlin acknowledged. “If a partner is betting on Oracle, they have to know that we have the right message and the right level of enablement in the channel.

Phillip Milne (DXC Red Rock)
Phillip Milne (DXC Red Rock)

“We need to ensure that our sales team interact with partners consistently. We need to tell the channel, ‘this is how we operate’ and providing the message is transparent and consistent, we are heading in the right direction.

“We are continuing to undergo a massive transformation in Oracle in which all roads lead to the cloud. We’re moving a big ship but we’re absolutely committed to where we are going and bringing our partners along the journey.”

Alongside channel commitments, vendors today must also maintain relevance in the eyes of the customer, irrespective of who the technology buyer is.

“Partners want a vendor that makes the best technology and markets the hell out of it,” Nextgen CEO, John Walters, said. “The louder vendors shout, the better for the channel and the easier it becomes for partners.

“But also from a partner perspective, vendors must have clear messaging and consistency with the channel. And consistency has to go right through until the last hour of the last day of the quarter.

“Because if you don’t and you take a deal direct, then that will damage your channel.”

Meanwhile, McGregor believes that strong global messaging must be executed locally for partners to profit through capitalising on increased market awareness.

“Vendors have to go-to-market with all of the attributes of going to market, which includes the actual product and the messaging,” he explained. “Global messaging must be executed in Australia for partners to benefit.

“If vendor engagement becomes too difficult, then I don’t have the time to invest and I drop the whole thing. My checklist is that firstly, the technology has got to work but aligned to this has to be a strong message.”

Echoing McGregor’s observations, Simpson said at a global level, messaging is “absolutely clear” with the channel in “100 per cent agreement” as to the future direction of Oracle.

Adrian Jones (Marketing Cube)
Adrian Jones (Marketing Cube)

“But when you filter that down to a regional or local level it becomes challenging,” Simpson acknowledged. “As soon as the rubber hits the road, that’s when partners require consistency.

“In my opinion, there shouldn’t even be discussions around direct or through the partner, there should be a default response. Go to a partner unless it is a known direct deal, then go direct.

“That is just a simple way partners can significantly benefit from improved vendor engagement and clarity.”


With a clear vendor checklist forming, partners must also leverage ongoing opportunities to ensure partnerships go both ways, creating accountability across the channel.

“We believe partners can capitalise on emerging opportunities in the year ahead,” Oracle SaaS sales director A/NZ, Salil Akolkar, outlined. “Partners must develop their own IP [intellectual property] and industry expertise in the local market.”

Today, Akolkar said partners must sell specialised solutions beyond the CIO, becoming submerged in sub- sectors, inundating customers with niche expertise and insights.

“They need to become subject matter experts and build out increased levels of specialisation capabilities,” he added. “And from a service delivery standpoint, SaaS applications represent a further opportunity for the channel to become specialised experts in the market.”

In looking ahead, McLoughlin said plans are in place to develop “very clear” sales and technical enablement capabilities for the channel to leverage in 2018 and beyond.

“We are continually improving our processes but there’s lots of work to be done,” McLoughlin added. “In the cloud, everything has to be easier and we’re working hard internally to improve how we interact with our partners. That’s a big focus in 2018.”

This roundtable was sponsored by Oracle. Photos by Christine Wong.