Perhaps you've read my previous post - The CIO’s Declaration for Potential Partners and know how effective I feel cold calling actually is. In a recent discussion on Focus.com, I posted the "declaration" and received a great question back from Craig Rosenberg who asked: "if cold-calling doesn't work -- how can sales people get the opportunity to help you solve your problems?"
For someone who is starting their career selling products or services, this is a very legitimate question. If repeatedly pounding the door doesn't work (for CIOs like me) then how do they get our attention? How do they get through the door when it seems as impenetrable as a bank vault?
Let me share with you how my current partners have gained access to the inner chamber.
They were invited, and they had products or services that fit into our current strategy.
It is that simple, and that difficult.
They were invited because I, or someone I knew and trusted, knew of their products and services and had enough information to determine initial feasibility.
Quite often, the trusted messengers are my Directors, or my network admin. So lesson number one is, you may be trying to reach the wrong person. When your system breaks at 3am (why don't they design systems that break during normal business hours?) the lonely person walking across the parking lot to fix the problem is not me. On my team, I let the "3am person" have a huge factor in recommending vendors since they are less likely (at 3am) to swear at me for picking bad products. Seriously, I give them ownership in the decision.
The second critical piece of information is to know the purchasing cycle of your customers. While you may be on a quarterly cycle and under extreme pressure for results, in education we set our plans in place and budget a year ahead - meaning we are most likely to be interested in learning about your technology in the fall and early winter. Approaching me (and I'm only speaking for myself here) in the early part of my fiscal year will bear no fruit.
Thirdly, learn about my industry so you know the challenges I am facing as a CIO. In today's information rich world, there is no excuse. For example, Educause publishes an annual list of the top 10 challenges facing technology leaders in higher education. Gartner publishes great papers on trends that impact various industries. The last place you'll learn about my industry is to call me up and ask me for a "few minutes of my time" to learn about my industry.
Fourthly, don't be too eager. Feel free to send a letter/email of introduction outlining who you are, the products or services you offer, point me to information available on the web, and potentially offer a list of others in my industry who use your products or services, then trust that I will file that your email in a place where I can find it when I am looking. Please don't keep calling me. If there is a match, I'll have someone connect with you.
Lastly (for this post, but by no means does this imply that these four points are the complete list), go to where the CIOs hang out. Contrary to popular belief, CIOs don't spend all their time in the office behind the vault door. We need to be constantly learning to do our jobs effectively. As such, most of us attend a number of conferences, information sessions, and industry events where we take the time to listen, talk, and meet new people. With travel budgets being slimmed these days, most of the ones I've attended recently are local, but have been informational just the same. Don't feel you have to have a booth, some of the contacts I've made over the years have been sharing a table at lunchtime at one of these events.
All of these points are taken from a presentation I've done for sales reps of major organizations. There are several more tips, but these should get you started.
Keep in mind that the list may be completely different for a CIO in a large financial institution, or government, or industry, but that's my third point. Do your research.
Thanks again to Craig Rosenberg for stimulating today's post.