Our “Ask the CIO” conversation series continues with Don Smith, CIO of Responsys. Don’s insights and perspectives have been shaped by the many years he spent “on the other side of the desk.” Ten years spent on the sales side in Enterprise Software Sales  as Co-Founder and VP of Sales Engineering at Clarify impact how he deals with sales reps including the importance of preparation and candor; the importance of building credibility; the advantage of speaking the CIOs language; the role of his team in gaining access; the importance of asking questions that confirm your understanding of the Business Issue; the effectiveness of social events and much more.

Read on for some eye opening advice from a CIO who has been where you are.

Q.  Can you think of a particularly memorable or interesting approach used to get a meeting with you?
A. I think that what works best is more of the straightforward route.  I respond to people I have relationships and rapport with.  For example, I have a relationship with a trusted VAR and this VAR plays a role in shepherding in technologies. The other approach that is hard to ignore is someone who has a connection with a board member.  An introduction from a trusted entity also can be an effective route.   Email is usually not that successful.  I do scan emails and if there is something that piques my interest, I may forward it to a senior architect on my team.

Q. How did the VAR become a trusted advisor?
A. I worked with this VAR at my previous company and the rep maintained his relationship with me.  One of the keys to this relationship is that the rep is technical (speaks my language) and established himself as credible. He comes in with relevancy – he knows some of what I am doing and provides guidance around that. The VAR provides information on companies offering discounts so that I can get the best deal and he knows my direct reports and regularly reaches out to them with relevant information.

Q. What piques your curiosity in an email?
A. When an email comes in from a large company from someone I don’t know – I usually don’t look at those because I already have established relationships with these companies.  In general, the first two or three sentences must convey what the company does.  If the email goes on for three paragraphs before I can figure out what the company does – forget it.  Get to point right away.

Q. Do you have any tips for what to do in a meeting with you to be successful? 
A. I seldom take the first meeting with a vendor.  My direct reports usually take the first meeting.  But when I am in this type of meeting I usually open it with what I would consider a successful meeting. This helps to cut off the B.S. right at the start. The focus should be on the technology and why I should buy from them.  It is not a good idea to come in and say you are a XX million dollar company and give me the highlights of your company. I already know that.  When a rep comes in and leads with this it raises a red flag.

Q. What do you look for in the first few minutes of a meeting?
A. A crisp agenda is important and an indication that the rep has done his or her homework.  Give me a chance to weigh in on the meeting agenda and an opportunity to shorten the agenda if there are items that are not relevant. In general – don’t be presumptuous – always look for confirmation and be prepared.  A solution consultant who shows up unprepared is irritating and I won’t take a second meeting with someone who is unprepared.

Q. How does a sales rep uncover your number one priority (aka Business Issue) with you? 
A. I don’t mind if a rep asks me what keeps me up a night or how I am measured.  Asking a question like “So we are aligned, what are the top three to five things you get measured on?” is fine.  Don’t ask me about budget because I won’t get into that.

Q. How does a rep maintain access with you after the first meeting?
A.  After the meet and greet, I will have sense of whether or not the solution/product is interesting to me.  If it is interesting, I will usually delegate someone on my team to work with you to keep moving the ball forward.  You can check back in with me from time to time if it is an active project.  If it is not an active project I might advise you to check back in in 6 months or I might just shut communication down if it is not something I am interested in.

Q. How important is it to leverage the social aspect before doing business?
A. If there is an opportunity at an event for me to talk with potential customers I might attend.  I am more apt to go if the event brings people together who have common interests.  Otherwise, I tend not to be interested in socializing just for  socializing’s sake.

Q. What other advice can you give us?
A. I have a lot of stuff on my hands and I really prefer the straightforward approach.  I prefer people to be up front with me.  Also, don’t go around me. Going to the CEO or board member to get an introduction is one thing, but if you go up the food chain around me – that never works and pretty much kills any chance of doing business. From a timing standpoint – I try to time projects to purchase at the end of a quarter or end of the year when I can get the best deal.

Our interview with Don highlighted some interesting advice on connecting with a CIO who has a strong background on the sales side.  The key takeaways can be summarized around three major concepts:

  • Importance of preparation and candor
  • Importance of building rapport and credibility
  • Importance of asking questions of the CIO and his team to uncover challenges (business issue)

Many of these points are concepts you have learned in your ValueSelling training.   Preparation, building credibility and uncovering the business issue all require you to take the time to become more knowledgeable by asking questions of the CIO and his or her team.  Making the effort to do this will put you in a position to collaborate on creating and offering solutions that help your prospect achieve his/her agenda.

Please feel free to leave questions or comments on this post. We would love to keep the discussion going.

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As Founder and CEO of Visualize, Scott spearheads the company’s overall strategic direction, planning and execution. Scott has over 25 years of experience in sales and sales leadership, building profitable companies.