Special Report - Show Me the Money
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 its over the allotted budget, chances are slim that youll 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 dont get excited about technology, no matter how revolutionary it is. In some cases, the non-IT people dont understand the technology, and in other cases they only see the expense associated with it.
But lets 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 youre selling your technology ideas up, dont talk about technology. While that may sound strange, its 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 youre selling your ideas to non-technology people, you cant focus on your preferences. Rather, you have to focus on the other person. Heres how you do that:
Tune into the pain of the person youre 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 youre going to sell your idea, technology, or concept, you have to understand where the other persons personal pain is. For example, maybe theyre dealing with an upset board or stockholders who dont like last quarters 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 theyre dealing with right now.
Once you know the other persons 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 youre selling to that theres a direct payoff to them if they approve your idea. So if you know that the CEOs greatest pain is the fact that the sales team isnt communicating with marketing or manufacturing, resulting in lower sales and poor customer experiences, then you have to look at the new technology youre proposing and figure out how it can ease that pain or even solve that problem.
As you do this, state it clearly. Dont make anyone guess or come to their own conclusions. For example, you could say, I know youre dealing with [lagging sales, poor internal communications, customer complaints, etc.]. Ive 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 Ive found.
Then talk about the new idea, technology, or concept in terms of solving the current problem only. Dont go into all the functions, features, or costs. Thats an entirely different conversation you have later. Right now, youre 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, youll also have to address the most common objections. So plan for them in advance. In other words, get into the other persons 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 youre 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 wont approve this right now. However, because youve anticipated the likely objections, you would reply, Ive already run this by the CFO because I knew it was important. I already have an okay from him, which is why Im 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 CFOs pain is different from the CEOs pain. However, if what youre proposing is really a solution and not a fad, and you showed how it supports the organizations 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 dont have any understand of anything technology-related. Thats a problem to address while you do your homework. How tech-savvy is the person youre 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 youll eliminate objections before theyre presented. Don't skip this step, because the objections will come. You need to be prepared and have your homework done in advance.Use the power of certainty to your advantage. When youre selling your ideas, the people youre talking to are thinking risk: personal risk, financial risk, reputational risk, etc. You have to alleviate their fear of risk. How? Remember this: Strategies based on uncertainty have high risk, while strategies based on certainty have low risk. Therefore, before talking with the other person, ask yourself, What are the things Im absolutely certain about regarding this solution? What are the current hard trends? Where is the industry, company, economy, etc. going, based on what we are certain about with this solution as well as without this solution?
Identify the things youre completely certain about. This is not a time for if, maybe, or might. Only address the things you know for sure. Its about what will happen versus what might happen. In a world filled with uncertainty, what are you certain about?
Make your list of hard trends; the things youre certain about. For example, smart phones and smart pads (such as the iPhone and iPad) are gaining more popularity every day. Is this a trend that you know will continue, or will people eventually trade in their new smart phones and go back to the traditional cell phones of yesterday? The answer is obvious. People wont go back. So look at the current technologies available and how people are changing behaviors based on their use. Look at the sales trends. Look at your customers. Look at the economy. Look at everything around you and get clear on whats a hard trend and whats going to pass.
Additionally, look at the strategic imperatives of the company and the current plan. Determine if your proposed solution is an accelerator or a brake. Obviously, you want to show how your ideas, technology, or concept can accelerate the plan and the results of the plan. You want to show how your solution can help increase sales, increase innovation, increase product development, etc. Again, this cant be a maybe". It has to be something youre certain about.
Then, after talking about the pain and how youve solved it, and after overcoming the objections, go into your list of certainties. You could say, Here are things Im certain about in the marketplace and in our company ... . Based on this certainty, here is why implementing this technology or solution is low-risk and a winner.
Youll find that this approach is a powerful sales tool.
What about cost?
Sometimes, cost really is an issue, especially these days with many companies streamlining both budgets and staff. So its quite possible that you can go through all the steps outlined here, only to have the decision maker say, This sounds great. But we really dont have the money to fund it. At that, your reply should be, What would it take to get the funding? And then be quiet. Throw the objection back at them and then listen. After a short silence, theyll tell you exactly what needs to happen.
Interestingly, people always manage to find money when theyre excited about an opportunity. Youve probably seen this in your own life. Your teenager wants a car and asks you to buy it. You say no but that youll match whatever money they save to buy the car. A few months later, your teenager has saved a substantial amount of money (by teenagers standards). With your matching money, he or she has enough to purchase a quality used car. Or maybe an unemployed friend learns of a business opportunity that requires an initial investment of several thousand dollars. Even though they are unemployed and have limited cash at their disposal, they often find the money to invest in the new business.
So when someone says, We dont have the money, it doesnt really mean that theres no money. It simply means that what youre offering isnt a priority, doesnt have urgency, and isnt relevant to them. Therefore, ask yourself, Have I made this idea, technology, or concept a priority? Have I made it urgent? Have I made it relevant? If not, then youll likely hear the default answer of, We dont have the money.
However, if you have made the idea, technology, or concept a high priority, urgent, and relevant, then all of a sudden the other party can, Shift some things around. As other things become less important and your idea becomes more important, the money is suddenly available. So you have to place your idea, technology, or concept at the top of the list of priorities and then show the CEO, CFO, board, or decision maker why its there.
An anticipatory approach
This approach to selling your ideas up is a switch for many in IT, because even after all these steps and all these discussion points, our passion for technology often over rules and we slip back to a discussion of the new tools features instead of what it will do for the listener. Its important to remind yourself well before the meeting that if you havent done the groundwork to get the other party excited or on board, youll likely go nowhere. As youre busy talking about features and benefits, the other person is thinking about costs, risks, ifs, and maybes. Thats why you need to solve all those things ahead of time. This is really just an anticipatory approach to selling youre anticipating the problems, the rejections, the objections, and the concerns so you can overcome them easily and turn them around.
Anyone who has worked with C-level executives knows that leaders get excited about many things, but theyre working with the weight of costs, controls, and constraints on them. Therefore, you need to challenge those costs, controls, and constraints. Instead, make what you offer about priority, relevancy, and strategic imperatives and youll get your ideas sold.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the worlds leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.