Archive for April, 2010

Blue Angels over the Bay

If the Blue Angels are roaring overhead, try calling later.

Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, has useful tips for job seekers on how to ace phone interviews.  Seems to me that vendors pushing their wares via telesales share much in common with the folks being grilled telephonically by hiring managers.  To wit:

  1. Conduct the conversation when and where you won’t be distracted.
  2. Use a landline.
  3. Create an “office space” if you don’t have one: be seated in quiet environment (see #1).
  4. If possible, put a mirror in front of you to monitor your facial expressions, enthusiasm, etc.
  5. Have water nearby.
  6. Have your notes in front of you, but do not sound “scripted”.
  7. Vary your voice to convey interest and develop rapport.
  8. Use pauses during answers, not silence, effectively.
  9. Listen.  And focus 100% on the conversation. Do not multitask.
  10. Practice using a recorder to detect “ums” and to establish effective tempo and rhythm.

There is nothing in the above that doesn’t support the research we’ve done on vendor outreach to CIOs and buyers of I.T. gear.  In fact, it’s totally consistent.


Case studies, one of the old standbys of marketing, must be driven by what the reader (read: customer, client, user) wants.  This kind of case study is all too rare, however.  Marketers and engineers who produce them typically focus on extraneous content irrelevant to real customers.

We asked several hundred CIOs of Fortune 1000 companies what they look for in a case study when they’re performing due diligence on vendors.  Four elements stood out:

1. How the product/service would contribute to their business goals

2. What the vendor is doing now for companies similar to their own

3. How the product/service is competitively superior

4. How the product/service is tailored to their industry.

The trick is to involve your happy customers from start to finish when you prepare a case study on them.   Most will be only too happy to help.

“It is amazing how many (case studies) are just marketing fluff,” says Daniel A. Nottke, CIO at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.  When he’s sizing up a prospective vendor, Nottke looks for detailed case studies, wanting to see “more than the typical two or four pages that are supplied today that seem to be done more to say
Company X did this.’ I care less about who the company is that did that, and more
about how, why and if the delivery met original expectations.”

Case studies are not only a reward for vendors, but also a way for buyers in the same industryto educate and inform each other about issues that impact them. “Case studies are a tool that is [underused] by a lot of vendors,” says Alan Davies, CIO of Dematic Systems. “I have done a number of them because  I felt there was merit in sharing our experience with others, and the vendor’s performance during the project was also
worthy of credit.”

These, and other factoids, can be read in Vendor-CIO First Contact: Smarter Approaches for Vendors Seeking to Connect with CIOs, available from CIO Executive Council.

Big Yawn - 12:14 p.m. - SOMA, San Francisco. After shooti... Mike Kepka / The Chronicle

“Hey, it’s now official.  The spam I get exceeds my legitimate email.”

We asked 277 CIOs at Fortune 1000 companies how vendors could be more effective in their sales outreach.  Here are the eight biggest gripes:

Cold calling (56%).

Being unprepared, uninformed (50%).

Spamming (43%).

Email with no clear value proposition (40%).

Voice mail no clear value proposition (34%).

Going around the CIO to peers or superiors (29%).

Assuming a lunch invitation is worth the time (23%).

Gift giving (14%)

Churchill arrives at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to attend thanksgiving services for the May 1945 World War II victory in Europe

With apologies to one of my favorite authors, Paul Johnson, who riffed on this topic in Forbes (April 26), in my experience working alongside the best and brightest in Silicon Valley, there are twin traits of leadership that stand apart from all the other habits of successful people.  BTW, note that not all successful people are great leaders, but that almost every great leader you can name has been a success.  But I digress.  The two traits:

1. The ability and willingness to listen. Effective leaders know how to shut-up long and often enough to actively listen to people, especially to what is not said.  They know how to listen between the lines of what is said.  And they hear everything.  They always reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than they are today.

2. The ability and willingness to tell the truth. Early and often. The trick here is knowing how much to disclose.  Everyone doesn’t have to be told everything about everything.  But whatever you do say must be factual.  A reputation for honesty is priceless for everyone.  For anyone who would be a leader, it’s essential.

“Well, actually, no, the product won’t do squat to remove wine stains. Why do you ask?”

The Back-Up Plan

Peter Iovino/CBS Films

The biggest disconnect in marketing today is the definition gap between vendors and buyers when it comes to the term “value proposition”.   All vendors think they have one.  Problem is, buyers rare hear it in terms they can relate to, or in terms relevant to them.  CIOs responsible for buying and maintaining the big-ticket tech0logy gear that keeps their companies in business tend to look at a the concept of value propositions as a way to calculate the ROI of what they buy.  Vendors, on the other hand, (read: the marketing dudes with the messages and talking points) think it’s all about those messages and talking points.  They convince themselves that this is where the value lives — in the product “feature-set” and “functionality”.  Our survey last year of 277 CIOs, representing mid-size companies and global enterprises, found that 60% of them wanted to know only how a vendor’s product could accomplish specific business or I.T. goals for their company.  Lesson: In marketing and selling, make it about them, not you.  Make the case that there is a ideal match between your product and the screaming need of your customer.   Of course, this implies that you have intimate knowledge of that “screaming need”.  And you’ll never come by that knowledge memorizing your product’s spec sheets, no matter how many features and functions they describe.

Theresa Schnetz, executive assistant to the CIO at a large hospital in California,  says that sales calls have increased significantly during the recession and that the cold-callers “are more assertive and sneaky”.

She cites the common tactic used by more and more callers pretending to be a personal friend of her boss, for example.  “They pretend they know (him); they speak casually. For example, ‘Hey, it’s Karen. Is Randy there?’”

Of course, the spike in cold calls during a time when business is bad, cannot be blamed only on new technology, tools and lists that are for sale; other sources of prospect data include enticing website visitors to submit contact
information when they download a white paper.
And CIOs are noticing that this trade is happening with much greater frequency. “I find myself looking at fewer articles where they demand my phone number to read their article, because of the unwanted follow-up. IT people need to be able to learn about new products without being immediately harassed to purchase them,” says Fran White, director of IT at M. Rothman & Company. “I feel that vendors
are losing sales because of their hard-sell tactics.”

The findings above are part of study conducted recently by CIO Executive Council and CIO Magazine in collaboration with my firm.  Download it here and find out how CIOs want to be approached today.

Just like timing, tailoring is EVERYTHING when it comes to approaching your prospect, especially when it’s the first time.  And we don’t mean what you’re wearing.

As the economy struggles to climb out of its sick bed, vendors making unsolicited sales calls grow more aggressive to get meetings, arrange conference calls, make contacts and steer clear of the voicemail blackholes and spam filters.  Problem is, as we’ve learned after months of research on CIOs and the I.T. buying community, aggressive-to-the-point-of-desperation vendors do great harm to themselves by tone-deaf outreach to prospective customers.   Here’s the loud-and-clear message we get from the people to whom those vendors (and by extension the marketing people behind them) want to talk:

Make it all about them, not about you. Show current familiarity with their company, their problems and their specific I.T. issues today.  NEVER assume that overworked, overbooked CIOs are going to jump at the chance to be de-briefed just so you can be brought up to speed.  Even if you’re buying the meal.  Put yourself in their shoes.  How you can you make a significant contribution to their day without interrupting it?  No, it’s not by telling them about your revolutionary solution.  There’s nothing revolutionary about it.  Own up to this. See the world through their eyes. What might you show them that would earn their favorable attention today and clearly separate you from the pack chasing them?  I don’t mean gimmicks in FedEx packages. What can you communicate that would portray you as a go-to resource for making their lives less complicated?  What might you share or convey that would position you as someone worth their time?  If your objective is a call back or a return email, give them a reason to make the effort.  One way to do this is to leave them with a question in the back of their mind to which they’d want a prompt answer.

All of the above implies depth of knowledge about the customer’s immediate situation. Not only your knowledge, but your creativity in showing how this knowledge can only be applied by you.  Just like a lot of employers today, buyers are looking to fill extremely specific needs.  Needs they believe are unique to them.   Never before has a general, one-size-fits-all solution seemed so irrelevant and less compelling.  When you’re selling to XYZ, Ltd., be certain that your pitch and your product are made-to-order for XYZ, Ltd.  Off-the-shelf isn’t just off the mark today.  Its off the radar.