In today's competitive buyer/seller technology market, there is a pressing need for IT vendors that can fully understand and respond to the specific challenges facing CIOs. It has never been harder to differentiate enterprise technologies from the countless IT vendors I meet each month. I'm constantly bombarded with ‘me too' technology solutions and offers, and frustrated by IT vendors who arrive with generic solutions expecting generic business problems.
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I'm not alone. I am part of a network of CIOs who meet regularly to share ideas and my peers often echo my belief that too many IT vendor sales personnel don't really understand my underlying business processes and investment criteria and therefore don't understand the levers that technology can pull to drive change and produce a positive business outcome. At the Daily Mail, we have systematically begun to rationalise our supplier base and have evaluated IT vendors based on economic, strategic and partnership criteria. This work has led me to conclude there are two related issues that IT vendors must address:
Firstly, CIOs need partners who are prepared to understand the business. My business relies on us keeping everything operational whilst finding new ways to innovate, drive down costs and improve performance. However, we can't do everything ourselves and we rely on an extended network of IT suppliers who help us to support the business and achieve our objectives. Unfortunately, relatively few suppliers spend time in really getting to know how their customers operate as a business. CIOs want potential suppliers who can evolve into partners but over the last two years, only a couple of IT vendors have asked if they could spend time observing the Mail being produced, or accompany photographers on assignments or interrogate the supply chain of producing and distributing four million newspapers every day. And yet that sort of approach is essential if a vendor wants to truly understand our value chain and to assess where and how their technologies, services and solutions can have the greatest impact.
Secondly, CIOs need relevant solutions. IT vendors tend to be driven by their portfolios rather than by business outcomes. They continue to make significant investments in their portfolios but aren't prepared to make the same investment in understanding how these apply to their customers' businesses. This can lead to huge inefficiencies.
Consequently, when vendors visit me they tend to give poorly defined generic presentations that bear only passing relevance to my challenges. I'm often left having to connect the dots to find out if there's any inherent value in their solution. And, as I said earlier, it's hard to differentiate between IT vendors. They all seem to talk about generic business challenges and benefits, along with the occasional technical architecture slide; they are unable to put their solutions into the context of my business.
I also have to contend with vendors' quarterly investor cycles which results in short-term behaviour that negates any value creation and any sense of partnership. It can be like meeting someone who wants to date, get married and have children, all within three months. It's simply not going to work.
So how can vendors be more effective? Here's a quick checklist for all IT vendor management, sales and marketing teams:
1) Translate your technology's capabilities into either cost outcomes or business outcomes. Work hard to quantify these on the basis of past implementations as they will form a key part of your ability to identify the value your solutions can provide.
2) Spend time in understanding your leading vertical markets and try to relate your offerings to these markets. You need to understand how your technology can be used to lever business improvements.
3) Support your customer-facing personnel by enabling them to spend time with your customers so that they witness at first hand and start to understand the underlying business processes and value chains.
4) Spend time training your sales people. Don't focus on how to close a deal in 12 weeks, but on how to correlate your finely-tuned portfolio with your customer's value chain and underlying business processes. Train them to think about creating enduring win/win value.
5) Invest in customer insight programmes that will help you to deliver timely, accurate and authentic offers that will differentiate you from the crowd of ‘me too' IT vendors. There are organisations such as Continuous Insight (www.continuousinsight.com) who specifically help a select number of IT vendors how to communicate their value more effectively to CIOs.
Meanwhile, I hope that this article will stimulate you into action -- and I look forward to a more efficient interaction with IT vendor teams in the not too distant future.
About the author:
David Henderson is CIO of A&N Media IT Services, which serves the publishing group behind the Daily Mail, Metro and more than 100 local titles.