Today’s technology is nothing short of amazing. As a CIO or other top level IT professional, this presents an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, you see so many technological opportunities for your organization, from new ways to communicate with customers to new revenue streams, that the possibilities for business growth seem endless. On the other hand, each technology comes with an expense. And when budgets are tight, selling your ideas to the CEO, CFO, or board can seem near impossible.
Unfortunately, in most companies, IT is seen as a cost center rather than a revenue generator. From a financial and business perspective, cost centers need to be controlled. As such, IT budgets are usually fixed and firm. No matter how wonderful the newest technological revolution is, no matter how many features and benefits it offers, if it’s over the allotted budget, chances are slim that you’ll get to implement it.
In addition, no matter how excited you get about the new technology, often your enthusiasm is not contagious. Company leaders who do not have a technology background simply don’t get excited about technology, no matter how revolutionary it is. In some cases, the non-IT people don’t understand the technology, and in other cases they only see the expense associated with it.
But let’s face the reality of being a CIO: When you have a new technology that costs money but will save the company even more money, you need to be able to sell that. When you have a new technology that costs money but will save the company time (which will ultimately save money), you need to be able to sell that. When you have a new technology that costs money but will create a new revenue stream for the company, you need to be able to sell that, too.
This brings us to the real question: In an era of budget, time, and labor constraints, is it possible to sell your ideas, your innovations, and your new technology finds to the CEO, CFO, board of directors, or whoever is in charge of the final decision? The answer is: Yes! You can sell your ideas up. It simply depends on how you frame the opportunity.
Perception is everything
First things first: When you’re selling your technology ideas up, don’t talk about technology. While that may sound strange, it’s the primary sales rule that most IT people break. Remember that IT and technology are what you love, not what everyone else loves. And when you’re selling your ideas to non-technology people, you can’t focus on your preferences. Rather, you have to focus on the other person. Here’s how you do that:
Tune into the pain of the person you’re talking to. Forget about yourself and how excited you are about this great new technology. At this point, you and your likes are not important. If you’re going to sell your idea, technology, or concept, you have to understand where the other person’s personal pain is. For example, maybe they’re dealing with an upset board or stockholders who don’t like last quarter’s results. Or perhaps they have to reorganize. Or maybe sales are down or they just lost the head of marketing to a competitor. Do your research and uncover the main challenge they’re dealing with right now.
Once you know the other person’s pain, you can position the idea, technology, or concept you want to sell as something that can solve that pain. In other words, you have to show the CEO, CFO, board, or whomever you’re selling to that there’s a direct payoff to them if they approve your idea. So if you know that the CEO’s greatest pain is the fact that the sales team isn’t communicating with marketing or manufacturing, resulting in lower sales and poor customer experiences, then you have to look at the new technology you’re proposing and figure out how it can ease that pain or even solve that problem.
As you do this, state it clearly. Don’t make anyone guess or come to their own conclusions. For example, you could say, “I know you’re dealing with [lagging sales, poor internal communications, customer complaints, etc.]. I’ve come across some things that I think can help you overcome those challenges. Obviously, I want to help the company succeed and grow, so let me tell you about what I’ve found.”
Then talk about the new idea, technology, or concept in terms of solving the current problem only. Don’t go into all the functions, features, or costs. That’s an entirely different conversation you have later. Right now, you’re simply getting the decision maker on board with the idea, technology, or concept and in agreement that it will solve his or her problem.
Solve the predictable problems in advance. As you have this discussion and talk about how the idea, technology, or concept can be the solution to their pain, you’ll also have to address the most common objections. So plan for them in advance. In other words, get into the other person’s shoes and figure out what his or her objections are likely to be. Pre-solve those objections before you have the discussion.
For example, if you’re talking to the CEO about your solution but you know budgets are tight, you can safely deduce that he or she will say, “This sounds great, but the CFO won’t approve this right now.” However, because you’ve anticipated the likely objections, you would reply, “I’ve already run this by the CFO because I knew it was important. I already have an okay from him, which is why I’m coming to you now.”
Of course, before going to the CFO, you would have identified his greatest pain and presented the idea, technology, or concept in a way that solved that challenge. And likely, the CFO’s pain is different from the CEO’s pain. However, if what you’re proposing is really a solution and not a fad, and you showed how it supports the organization’s strategic imperatives with a good ROI, you will have a receptive CFO.
Additionally, remember that the technological understanding and literacy of C-level executives varies considerably. Some are very tech-savvy, while others don’t have any understand of anything technology-related. That’s a problem to address while you do your homework. How tech-savvy is the person you’re selling your ideas to? Is he or she seeing technology as a solution or a problem? Does he or she see technology as a cost to be controlled or as a strategic investment?
The goal is to overcome the potential blocks before they arise. Solve the predicable problems before they happen and you’ll eliminate objections before they’re presented. Don’t skip this step, because the objections will come. You need to be prepared and have your homework done in advance.