When you see cloud computing advertised on TV during sporting events, it's a pretty strong indication that your company's technology infrastructure doesn't just belong to the IT department anymore. Everyone in the organization now has a role to play. As the leader of a $10.4 billion technology sales and marketing organization, I've been on the frontlines of this fundamental shift, where the definition of "IT customer" has expanded to include marketing professionals, line of business managers, the human resources team and, for big investments, the board of directors, CEO and CFO, among others.
This change is being driven by disruptive technologies—mobility, cloud computing, predictive analytics and converged infrastructure among them—that can deliver solid business benefits and have the potential to solve some of the greatest challenges organizations face. Added to this, there is a growing understanding of technology at all levels in the organization, which has resulted in the increasing consumerization of IT. Together, these forces are creating new stakeholders who want, and need to have, a voice in corporate technology purchases.
Opening New Doors
Traditionally, the CIO or CTO has had the ultimate say in technology purchases, and IT sales organizations have structured their approach accordingly. As technology has become better understood and more intertwined in our lives, however, the CIO/CTO has evolved into a strategic business partner working with people throughout the company to scope and select the appropriate technology for the job at hand. No longer are they simply shepherds of the IT department and its budget. Together, these cross-functional teams are looking at new services, software and hardware—new solutions—to improve business performance, scale, agility and ultimately, profitability. This creates an incredible opportunity for technology sales professionals with multiple points of entry into an organization.
People need access to useful, actionable data, whether they're putting together churn reports, tracking inventory, pipelining opportunities or managing a workforce. Product information, user reviews and customer feedback are easily accessible, and rest assured those in need of a business solution are looking at them. There are self-educated experts everywhere in the company, not just in the IT department. Demand for a technology purchase can arise from anywhere. Human resources teams at organizations of all sizes are leading the charge for cloud-based applications to create employee portals. Sales teams are seeking expert advice on how to use predictive analytics to better understand customers. Finance teams are looking for fast, precise and timely accounting of performance to allow for better business management and reporting. Marketing teams need an accurate way to track and connect their initiatives from lead to pipeline to close. Logistics teams need to understand product availability and flow in real time. As with the IT team, these decision-makers also rely on the people around them to help ensure the solution they choose aligns with business needs, so anyone in an organization can be a gateway into the sales opportunity.
The success of Salesforce.com is a classic case study in how the tail has started to wag the dog in IT sales. Salesforce.com went against the grain of the CIO-down sales model by selling licenses of cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software directly to sales professionals. As more and more salespeople adopted the software, the demand bubbled up to the CIO. Companies adopted corporate Salesforce.com solutions in response.
For an example closer to home, consider your smartphone. Did your company issue it to you? Probably not. If you're like me, you bought the phone you liked and, not wanting to carry two phones with you all the time, began using your personal phone for business. In response, your company adopted a "bring your own device" (BYOD) policy and implemented technology to support it with the necessary security and functionality. Our company has.
Buying cycles often start when self-educated employees bring products or services to their manager's attention, and that can happen long before you make your first sales call. The bottom line: salespeople are not information gatekeepers anymore, but they have more opportunity than ever before. In addition to the usual outreach to the C-suite, success today stems from making and nurturing contacts among mid-level managers, front-line workers, support staff, and most importantly, executives in areas that might not have been relevant before. Developing strong relationships with a variety of people across an organization puts you in the driver's seat when the groundswell starts building for a new technology purchase.
Changing the Conversation
While relationship development skills honed over the years will be crucial in expanding your network of contacts, you'll also have to master a new sales model. Most companies don't have separate technology and business strategies anymore. Instead, technology is woven into business strategies as an enabler to achieve business goals, such as improving the customer experience, creating new revenue opportunities, or reducing costs or cycle time.
Successful sales professionals must be able to lead with and demonstrate how the IT solutions they're proposing will contribute to the customer's strategic goals and solve business problems. Leading with strategy gives you a chance to establish yourself as a source of knowledge and insight. Disruptive times, like we're in now, make that kind of acumen invaluable. If you can warn a prospect that they're heading down the wrong path or reveal the source of a pain point, you're not just a vendor, you're an advisor. That's the sweet spot, and it's a win-win for both of you. Sharing what you know with someone who can then articulate a solution to their own organization increases their value to their company, helps you win the deal and may even get you a customer for life.
Plus, sales professionals have an advantage in strategy conversations because they deal with a variety of technology brands, services, software and hardware in many different settings. Emphasizing that experience to establish credibility and guide customers to the best solution for their needs opens the door to opportunities. Although people are more technology savvy than ever, they still need a smart, well-informed partner familiar with a variety of technology solutions to find creative and customized ways to address their business challenges.
Finding Your Path
The IT market never stops evolving, and you have to stay on your toes to keep your sales approach fresh and relevant. It's critical to invest in cross-training on complementary products and services to create more complete and business-driven solutions. It is equally important to become well-versed in consultative selling so you can leverage your years of insight and expertise to establish yourself as the advisor today's customers require. The broadening of the IT customer set offers opportunities to those willing to adapt. Be that sales professional, and change will fuel your success.
This blog was initially posted on Avnet Insights. Visit their page to get more information on this blog, or to read more like it.