Building technology companies, Forum

How Can Enterprise IT Start-Ups be More Effective in Selling to Senior IT Decision Makers

Marina Levinson, Partner at BGV shares her perspective on selling to Enterprise IT executives. As a long-time CIO, I’ve been sold to by all kinds of Enterprise IT vendors, big and small. Now that I am a technology advisor and a Venture Capitalist, I spend a lot of time mentoring and coaching start-up executives on the best approach to selling to CIOs and their direct reports. Start-ups are notorious for focusing on selling their technology, sometimes without adequate focus on the real world business pain points their potential customer is trying to address. Outlined below are a few important “rules of the road” that I recommend to start-ups to utilize when selling to Enterprise IT Executives: Rule #1 Do your homework and learn everything you can about your target company and executives you are selling to. Lack of knowledge about a target company can backfire in a big way. When I was a senior IT executive at 3Com back in the 90s, a well-known integration vendor made a multi million proposal to my team and this proposal included buying routers from Cisco (a major 3Com competitor at the time). Let’s just say that this system integrator didn’t get the deal, primarily for lack of market awareness and competition in the networking space… Rule #2 Sell solutions to a business problem (preferably a real pain point), not a whiz bang technology. Quantify business benefits and share success stories from other customers. CIOs respect and listen to other CIOs. There is nothing better than a peer recommendation for your company and product. Also, CIOs do listen to industry analysts and it never hurts to receive accolades from respected industry analysts – eg being in the right upper corner of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. Rule #3 Learn how IT buying decisions are made and who are the key decision makers and both the formal and informal paths that lead to a buying decision. It’s a critical success factor to understand the dynamics of how the buying process works in your target company. Is a purchasing organization in charge or an IT department?. How risk averse is the CIO? Is he/she an innovator or a follower? Will it be better to sell your solutions to a line of business instead? Answers to these questions should drive your sales strategy. Rule #4 Be prepared to discuss how other companies are solving similar business problems using your technology. Use actual examples and share best practices. Nothing works better than real-world examples of how other companies are being successful using your technology to solve their business problems. It always helps to have marquee names and logos to build credibility with prospective customers. Make sure that your marque customers are happy and willing to provide references for you. Rule #5 Put some “skin in the game” by offering to do a pilot that delivers rapid results. CIOs are skeptical by nature and usually don’t believe vendor claims backed only by powerpoint presentations. A quick pilot using prospective customer data is the best way to prove that your technology works and is not a vaporware. In conclusion, there are several key Do’s and Don’t’s for Sales executives: Do:

  • Relate product capabilities to addressing critical business needs
  • Provide value added domain knowledge on industry best practices and issues other companies are facing
  • Prepare well
  • Follow-up and deliver on commitments
  • Be willing to do a pilot or a proof of concept (“skin in the game”) for minimal investment in a short time frame
  • Waste time
  • Allow poor follow-up
  • Fail to deliver on commitments
  • Demand all the money up front
Happy selling!