Planning Your Sales Conversations with CIOs for 2018

By Sharon Gillenwater

Earlier this month, Gartner unveiled its 2018 CIO Survey, which summarizes what is top of mind with CIOs moving into 2018. The respondents were 3,160 CIOs from 98 countries and all major industries, representing approximately $13 trillion in revenue/public sector budgets and $277 billion in IT spending.

So what did they have to say?

The first thing that sticks out is that CIOs are routinely driving business outcomes in partnership with business leaders. In years past, CIOs have spoken about their struggles to gain a seat at the table with business owners and their challenges in trying to align with the business. Today, at least 84 percent of the CIOs surveyed say they now have responsibility for areas outside traditional IT and many reported they are close to an “ideal balance” with more focus on business outcomes rather than IT delivery. Their roles are transitioning from controlling costs and engineering processes to driving revenue and exploiting data.

For 2018, 26 percent of CIOs surveyed say their No. 1 priority is growth – to use digitized products and services to drive new forms of revenue, business value, and customer engagement.

Yes, CIOs have come a long way from the data center. And their jobs have become more challenging than ever. They have to manage more change and complexity than ever before, evaluate a steady stream of new technologies and vendors, and navigate an ever-shifting landscape of skills and talent. Plus, they have to make sure all the basic infrastructure is up and running – and that everything is safe and secure.

What does this all mean for those of us who are in the business of helping CIOs?

Well, for one thing, it means the percentage of CIOs exclusively focused on “keeping the lights on” is falling. The pivot to growth as a main focus of top CIOs opens the door to more sophisticated business conversations and solutions – ones that some CIOs may not have been ready for just a few years ago.

That’s not to say everyone is there yet. Gartner noted that some are “trailing” when it comes to digitalization, so there are CIOs out there who are still mainly “keeping the lights on.” It could be challenging to engage this type of CIO around a broader business transformation vision when they are still operating in survival mode.

So how do you know who’s a leader and who’s “trailing” – or at the very beginning of their digitalization journey? You can usually tell by doing some homework on the company and the CIO you are targeting. Look at what the company’s executives are saying on earnings calls. Does the CEO call out technology, innovation, and digital as investment priorities? Or is the focus mainly on cost cutting? These things can give you a clue as to how you should focus your conversation for maximum relevance.

Finally, if you are targeting CIOs, prepare to live in a state of near-constant change. Why? Because that is their reality; 95 percent of CIOs surveyed by Gartner expect their jobs to change, thanks to digitalization. For those of us who want to help them, it means we need to keep up – and keep on coming up with ideas and solutions for helping them meet their business goals.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent nonprofits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.