Have you ever wanted to get into the head of a CIO or other IT executive to find out how they find and hire firms like yours?
You’ll be surprised to find out that they shop pretty much like you and me.
CIOs are busy – very busy. They go from meeting to meeting, to phone call, to interview, back to another meeting, then they answer a few emails, grab a bite to eat when they can, then have another meeting, do a couple of phone calls, and then the process repeats itself over again the next day.
They have an active online presence. They use services like Amazon.com to shop online. They check out their favorite online magazines or blogs, and when they have problems they search for solutions online. They might be active on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. They love their kids, animals and hobbies, and they look forward to spending time with their families at the end of the day
They’re pretty much like you and me – just busier!
CIOs Search Online
In his eBook Online Marketing for Professional Services, author Lee Frederiksen says the traditional RFP is showing its age. “For a fraction of the effort required to put together a structured request for proposal, a company can conduct an online search for qualified candidates.”
Frederiksen goes on to explain that executives searching for professional services firms start by going to Google to find answers to their problems. The best information they find online will be written by experts, professional services executives who they’ll put on their short list of potential service providers.
I agree with Frederiksen. In a recent series of interviews I conducted on behalf of a software development firm, most of the executives I spoke with started their search with Google. And those that first tapped their network of friends and business associates looking for recommendations, their immediate next step was to search for the websites of the firms their friends had just recommended to them.
Frederiksen said: “If all of this sounds familiar, it should come as no surprise. The process of finding information and relevant business expertise online is so easy, even senior executives get into the act.”
They are Trying to Solve a Problem
When CIOs and other IT executives start looking for a consulting service, it’s not because they thought it would be a great idea to hire a professional services firm. It’s because they have a problem they’re trying to solve.
It’s important to understand this concept: they’ve got an itch, and they’re looking for a way to scratch that itch.
Whether they start with a Google search, or they first ask their peers, they’re thinking about their own problem, they’re not thinking about hiring a service provider – yet.
For example, a CIO might be trying to help his CMO colleague figure out how to keep their current customers from leaving. They know the key to why customers are leaving can come from the mountains of data their customer service department is generating, but they don’t have an efficient way of collecting and analyzing the data.
Their search will start with how to analyze customer service data. They may have an initial idea that they need to acquire software to do that, but then they realize the software is beyond the expertise of their current IT staff. They might come to the conclusion they need to hire a consulting firm, and only then do they look specifically look for firms like yours.
If you’ve written articles, blog posts, or an eBook about how to solve the kind of issue the CIO is hoping to solve, you’re ahead of the game. Your content may show up when the CIO is looking to solve a problem you can solve. He’ll read your article, which is the first step towards starting a relationship with him.
CIOs Don’t Care About Your Certifications
Many firms I talk to like to emphasize the fact that they’re CMMI compliant, and many others express anxiety about the fact that they’re not CMMI compliant. (And by the way, the firm behind the 2013 HealthCare.gov software debacle was CMMI compliant– and look how that turned out).
Other firms like to emphasize that they’re a Microsoft Gold partner, or that they have this certification or that certification.
CIOs don’t care about this.
I spoke to the CEO of an outsourcing provider from Mexico who says his sales people don’t even mention the fact that they’re CMMI compliant when talking to U.S. prospects. They only bring it up when they’re further along in the sales process if the buyer brings up the question.
It might be a good differentiator when you find out it’s important to the CIO, but more often it’s a distraction.
Instead of your certifications, CIOs want to make sure the consulting firm they are thinking of hiring understands their problem. Can you show a CIO you understand this? Can you show how you’ve solved this problem for others? Do you have examples, testimonials, case studies? These are more important than showing what certifications you have.
They Want Somebody Who Understands What They Want
CIOs and other IT executives might not know exactly what the right solution to their problem is. Technology has accelerated everybody’s timelines, and there is often no time to create detailed specifications for the solutions they want.
Instead, the CIO is looking for somebody who is really good at reading minds. They’re looking for service providers who can proactively extract what the CIO or her team really needs, and translate that into a working solution. They’re looking for somebody who can listen to them, exchange ideas, and participate in a back and forth dialog that enables a solution to emerge that fits like a glove.
This is an advantage nearshore outsourcers from Latin America have over offshore outsourcing from Eastern Europe or Asia.The similarities in time zones and culture makes this real-time collaboration possible.
CIOs Want Agile
CIOs are also under pressure to deliver solutions to their internal business clients much sooner than before. They no longer have time for 18 month ERP projects that, when finally delivered, are full of bugs and require another 18 months to correct.
When GE embarked on a historic project to re-invest $1 billion to revitalize its manufacturing facilities and create 1,300 new American jobs by 2014, Charlene Bagley, CEO of GE’s Home & Business Solutions, told CIO Alan Kocsi: “IT can’t hold this project back.”
With an aggressive project time-frame, Kocsi realized that utilizing the traditional waterfall approach would have taken from 18 to 24 months to implement, time he didn’t have.
Instead, Kocsi and his team decided to use Lean and Agile principles and concepts to deliver the $200 million GE enterprise systems implementation.
Because CIOs need to deliver business results right away, they’re looking for service providers who follow Agile methodologies that emphasize delivering working solutions sooner rather than later.
Analyst Firms Still Matter – Sometimes
CIOs, CMOs and other C-level executives love the comfort they get from relying on an analyst firm such as Gartner, Forrester or The Yankee Group. These firms communicate an air of objectivity (despite the pay-to-play debate going on).
However, with Yelp and other review sites springing up for most industries, many people are coming to the conclusion they don’t have to rely on the analyst monopoly.
This Quora discussion is a case-in-point: many CIOs and IT departments who want to move fast have figured out it’s easier to experiment with different, smaller IT providers than go the traditional analyst route to make sure they make the “perfect” decision.
As one Quora commenter noted: “Think about it – what used to cost $20k (a sun server) you can now get for 15 cents a minute. What used to cost $500k (an enterprise BI implementation) you can now get for $500/month. If you are not experimenting with those economics, you’re crazy.”
These items are just the tip of the iceberg. Take these as starting points and do your own research. The bottom line is, before you market and sell your services to a CIO, get into their head. Interview 5-10 CIOs over coffee or by phone. Conduct a survey. Follow and interact with CIOs on Twitter or LinkedIn. Find out how they solve problems and look for solutions.
Once you get a glimpse at the inner workings of the CIO, you’ll be much better positioned to sell your services than you were before – and most likely better positioned than your competitors.