Telephoning IT Leaders, whether CIO’s, IT Directors or Heads of Strategy and Infrastructure through the UK, the US East Coast and Northern Europe with intelligent and strategic propositions, is central to my business activity. Having done it for twenty years, it might be said I know a thing about it too.
Let me set the scene by going back to 1985, when the PC first hit the desktop. No more getting up to visit the filing cabinet; all your information was to hand – a real boon for the marketing department. No longer were the records of the 95%, who were not able to say “yes” to the proposition, lost to bad handwriting and the dustbin, together with their valuable conversational intelligence. It became realistic and profitable to record that information and to run a database as oppose to a list. The more sophisticated the data records got, the more pay back they gave. A struggle to sell in the Thatcherite era of quick money in the late 1980’s, the database finally came into its own during the recession of the early nineties (the last we were able to understand and measure properly before the new scenarios of a global economy began to pan out) as both BtoB and BtoC organisations now wanted to hit the new upturn in 1993 and come out running from those sticky starting blocks. Outsourcing and “returning to core business” were the new mantras as the “job for life” began to disappear. Technology was beginning to lead business by the hand, so much so that business had to make a real effort to pull back the reins.
With this background, the IT Director or computer manager was held up as an icon of efficiency and future development but isolated in a separate world until a problem (shortly to become an issue?) arose, as no one else understood, or wanted to understand, the technology. Business stood back aghast at the increasingly expensive budget requirements and the underlying, disturbing dependency on the spend engendered.
Around the turn of this 21st century a new breed of executive began to appear. Methodologies were put in place and processes laid out for a middle ground where technology and business could work together. The more enlightened companies picked CEO’s who at least knew how to ‘walk the walk’ when it came to IT and a rare one or two organisations even gave their IT leader a seat on the board. The CIO was born (though even now the majority are still not full board members). One of first,Uve Natho of BUPA, was telling me then that soon his world was to become a rota of strategy meetings from 08.30hrs to 17.30 hrs amidst much subsequent but necessary operational delegation. At the same time, experienced IT Directors were being head hunted to sort out huge operational requirements from legacy mainframe systems that didn’t communicate with desktop PC’s and to centralise distributed (mostly country based) networks. IT leaders were running badly short of time as tight deadlines for solutions were imposed upon them. They began sheltering themselves with good ‘guard dog’ secretaries who diligently screened calls, determined to be proactive in pursuit of market knowledge rather than react to the latest cost saving measures that promised to cut their workload but rarely did. Purchasing was becoming a financial science and by 2003 ROI intelligence was required; a business case had to be produced before a purchase was considered. By 2006 Mike McNamara, IT Director UK at Tesco, would not take a meeting unless his Purchasing Director ratified it first and could then be present for the pitch.
So where does that now leave the person with a telephone call to make about a new proposition addressed to the IT leadership of a leading global and national business? ‘In the mire’ some would say, whilst IT strategists rejoice, glorifying the fact that they no longer have to hear unsuitable pitches put to them by people who knew not the first thing about the environment in which IT engineers the business and therefore by default, pitches delivered without intelligence, without getting to the point quickly enough and sometimes with an over aggressive tone to boot.
Well, I’m glad to say that there is still room for manoeuvre if you play the game properly, with honesty, respect, courtesy and consideration – still a ‘big ask’ for some. Despite all the barriers that CIO’s, CTO’s and IT Leaders have had, quite necessarily, to put in place (and these can vary from voice mail only direct telephone numbers to an insistence on an initial approach by e-mail), when you do get to speak to them most are amenable to an intelligent, brief and well targeted proposition put to them by someone who understands how they work and the pressure they are under.
And when you take into consideration that 3 or 4 conversations a day on the back of 80-100 dial attempts is now the statistical norm – and that’s on a good day – from the point of view of those companies doing the pitching, these opportunities had better be made the most of!