IT should challenge, not just build relationships

Some of the hardest IT roles to fill are those that interact with other parts of the organization. This includes relationship managers, service mangers, architects, program and project managers and business analysts.

These roles have to make real the old adage  that there is no such thing as an IT project, only business projects.

Additionally, these roles account for an ever-growing part of the IT team. CIOs face a huge challenge in getting these roles right

Some have spent time interviewing candidates for key IT positions only to find that no one could make IT sound interesting. 

Other CIOs resort to physically relocating IT staff they don’t trust interacting with other parts of the building to remote offices and others have either lured expensive talent away from big consulting firms or burned out their most trusted employees by giving them with too many roles and responsibilities.

Behind all these fruitless efforts is the search for an elusive set of skills and behaviours.

Recently, several CIOs suggested an intriguing parallel that helped them better define the missing ingredient in these roles.

To be effective, the people in these roles must be able to sell. 

So what makes for a good sales person? CEB recently published our findings in a new book titled, The Challenger Sale.

The book has almost as many lessons for IT leaders as it does for sales executives.

In The Challenger Sale, CEB divides sales reps into segments based on skill and behaviour. 

The most relevant to IT are the Relationship Builder, the Hard Worker and the Challenger.

 - Relationship Builders do just that, they sell by building relationships and being easy to work with
 - Hard Workers grind out sales through persistence and effort. 
-  Challengers, who sell by teaching their prospects and by carefully tailoring their message. These people are the relationship that IT managers want in their ranks.

CEB surveyed hundreds of sales reps to understand each segment better.

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To add rigour, they worked with the reps’ managers to collect individual performance data.

Challengers made up 27 per cent of the survey sample, but were significantly over-represented among the top performers.

Their impact was even more pronounced among reps who make complex solutions sales, the type of environment most akin to IT.

Fifty-four per cent of the top performers in complex sales were Challengers.

Where Challengers succeeded, Relationship Builders failed. Despite being 21 percent of the sample, Relationship Builder accounted for only four percent of the high performers in solutions sales.

The problem for CIOs is that many staff in outward-facing IT roles try to be Relationship Builders. They are comfortable with this profile and think that relationship building is expected of them.

They focus on resolving tension, being likeable, generous and easy to work with.  In contrast, Challengers push the thinking of their business partners and see relationships as a means to an end.

Challengers know exactly how the business units they work with make money and suggest ideas for how to make more.

If a business partner asks for something from IT that doesn’t make sense, Challengers have the confidence to say so.

They understand that pushing back isn’t rude or disruptive, it is an essential part of the job.

So the next time you hire or coach someone for an outward-facing role, think about their ability to challenge.

Get this right, and you will have someone you can trust to work closely with IT’s stakeholders, and who is very unlikely to make IT sound boring. 

Andrew Horne is the Managing Director of the CIO Executive Board

Pic: karpedis cc2.0