The Marketing Strategist:

CIOs on Trusted Advisors

May 4, 2006

  • News

These days, every technology provider wants to position itself as a “trusted advisor” to its clients—all its clients. Three representatives from the CIO Executive Council joined ITSMA in San Francisco for our April 25-26 Marketing Leadership Forum to discuss the reasons that positioning your company as a trusted advisor may not be the best marketing strategy and what you can do to build true credibility with CIOs.

Mark Hall, general manager of the CIO Executive Council, moderated the panel, which featured:

  • Larry Frazier, CIO, Chevron Phillips Chemical
  • Babak Aghevli, CIO, DataPath
  • Jeff OHare, SVP, Enterprise Information Technology, West Corporation

Hall: When a vendor talks to you and uses the phrase “strategic partner” or “trusted advisor,” what does that mean to you?

Aghevli: To me, showing up in my office on Day One and telling me you want to be my trusted advisor means nothing. Being a trusted advisor is something you have to gain over time, respect you have to earn. I need partners that will move me forward, so I’m not interested in strategic partnerships with commodity vendors. Most importantly, I need to be able to depend on what you’re telling me. Don’t overstate it. Let’s work together to get where we want to go.

O’Hare: The trust needs to be earned. It can’t just be there out of the gate. One thing you need to understand is that if a vendor fails, we’re the ones who are accountable. The CEO doesn’t take excuses. That’s why it’s paramount to us to ensure that we’re really comfortable with and ready to trust a vendor; we’re putting our heads on a chopping block.

Aghevli: In order to be a partner, you can’t just do one implementation and leave and then come back at the end of the quarter asking if I want to buy your stuff. You have to stay with me.

Hall: Telling a CIO you want to be his strategic advisor during your first meeting is a bit like showing up on a first date and telling your date that you want to marry them. It doesn’t usually work. So let’s talk about some examples of strategic partnerships that work.

O’Hare: We found a great strategic business partner with a company that did some work for us around business continuity services. It was an eight-figure contract, and we sat down right at the beginning to discuss what we needed to do and set expectations. We created a seven-figure financial holdback for the first year. If they completed the back-end implementation on time, they got the money. If they didn’t, we’d get to keep it. They put real skin in the game. And I’ve got to tell you, that team executed flawlessly. They did what they said they were going to do. I engaged that team again and again.

Frazier: The key to successful strategic partnerships often lies with the account manager. When you have a sense that an account manager is looking out for your interests, that she has a real interest in how your business is performing, that’s when you want to do business with the vendor. If a partner like that comes to see me and needs me to buy something on the last day of the quarter so that she can meet her revenue target, I’ll do it. Not because there’s an expectation of payback, but simply because she’s a partner and an advocate for us and we want to see her do well.

O’Hare: Account managers are especially important when it comes to complex solutions. I don’t want to have to know to call five different people within the vendor organization for five different things. I want to call one person, tell that person what the problem is, and have them go fix it behind the scenes. Make my job easier. If you make it easy for me to do business with you, I’ll probably do more business with you.

For more insight on CIOs, check out the ITSMA Viewpoint with Gartner’s Ellen Kitzis.

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