Market Like Your Career Depends On It – Real CIO Tips From Real CIOs

by Stephen Mann - 2013-12-05


There seems to be a constant stream of talk and writing about how CIOs need to reinvent themselves to become the "Chief Innovation Officer," "Chief Transformation Officer," "Chief Investment Officer," or similar. But isn't this merely moving the proverbial goal posts or, to get dramatic, potentially rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as it sinks? It's also akin to conversations about changing the somewhat inappropriate term of "IT-business alignment" to "IT-business correlation" or "IT-business fusion" – it's potentially rebranding without changing the product and reconsidering customer needs.

While "Chief Information Officer" is now somewhat of a misnomer – an outdated byproduct of when we used to call IT "information technology" – surely CIOs should be judged on their actions and results rather than the words they use to describe themselves. And to be honest, the term "CIO" now tends to equate to "the person accountable for the IT organization and what it delivers," rather than the three words from which the acronym originated.


The CIO opportunity – marketing

So while CIOs and their teams might need to be better at innovation, transformation and demonstrating the business-value realized from the company's annual investment in IT among other things, there is a bigger need for CIOs and their teams to demonstrate their worth, or value, to business colleagues. CIOs and the IT organization need to market themselves and their services better.  They need to be proficient at marketing. 

This doesn't mean that they need to slick back their hair and invest in cufflinks or Prada accessories; instead marketing offers CIOs and the IT organization the ability to: "communicate the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service" (Wikipedia). Which includes: "capturing marketing insights, connecting with customers, building strong brands, shaping the market offerings, delivering and communicating value, creating long-term growth, and developing marketing strategies and plans" (Wikipedia). Where the relationships with customers and consumers of IT services is a key element.


So CIOs: "market like your career depends on it"

Recently, three ServiceNow customers participated in a webinar to discuss the power and benefits of successfully marketing IT.  They include:

  • Kevin Broadway, Senior Vice President of Application Delivery and Support, MetroPCS
  • Carl Eberling, CIO of Encore Capital Group
  • Craig Wishart, CIO of Service Stream.

They spoke of how marketing can help IT to 1) elevate the CIO's stature not only within IT but also within the business as a whole; 2) shift conversations from cost cutting to the value IT contributes to the business; and 3) better market and sell the value of IT to the business such that the CIO and team are seen as fully-fledged members of the business community, the so-called trusted partner rather than the technology overhead. 


Are IT and marketing really like oil and water?

Marketing, like finance, might seem alien to most CIOs and IT organizations but it's not an impossibility. The panel offered a number of great tips that started to put marketing into the context of IT operations.

For example, IT can struggle with the idea of marketing and sales but needs to communicate to business peers how it can make an impact. Wishart accomplishes this with confidence. He said, "Confidence breeds confidence breeds trust." He pushes his team to show as much passion for improving the business as the line of business teams. People development is also key in positioning IT as a strategic business function. Similar goals and objectives, said Eberling – with compensation that's in line with growth, efficiency, and revenue targets – help accomplish this. Finally, processes translate into an experience for customers and employees. Said Broadway, "We focus on the translation of processes into experiences. And remember that the IT-focused "ilities" – availability, scalability, etc. – are only relevant to an IT audience."


How to start marketing IT

In order to transform the CIO and IT organization into strategic business partners, "We baselined key business metrics and then showed how IT can and does move those needles," said Broadway. Eberling aligned service delivery teams with the business and established solid benchmarks and SLAs tied to business objectives. Wishart built a 90-day plan, and, "In terms of which metrics are important, "Ask executive teams, ask their direct reports, and ask operational managers what's important to, and what's hurting, them. Start by remediating the operational performance issues that are hurting – outages and service degradation. Then start planning for enhancing those processes. Build up confidence and trust and demonstrate alternative ways of doing what is done today." 


Then market and sell your wins

Marketing is a people-to-people activity. In the context of IT, it's about building relationships with business colleagues, increasing trust, and allowing the opportunity for IT to demonstrate what it can do on behalf of the business. 

Panel members continue to, "Establish that we are here to work with the business and be seen as a trusted partner," said Wishart. His team put a dedicated PC in the executives' office showing a dashboard of the processes that IT delivers for them. This created visibility and interest around what else IT could show them and where IT can help with other problems, opening up dialogues. "We also run monthly workshops that show business units what issues have been solved (through IT) outside of their areas – this marketing activity has opened up conversations around how business-unit-specific solutions can be applied elsewhere in the larger organization." 

Eberling's team takes advantage of existing "VP+ meetings" and sends out a quarterly letter to management that summarizes key achievements month by month. This is tied into specific goals and objectives that resonate with business leaders. "In monthly VP+ meetings we pick a theme and talk about new developments in technology rather than just talking performance and pipeline projects," he said. "And not necessarily talking about the technology itself but rather how it may be adopted throughout the business and its relevance to different business leaders." 

Finally, for Broadway, "Informal conversations have to happen very frequently. We also report more formal operating results that show IT metrics and business metrics where IT has "moved the needle." It's all reported in a business rather than IT fashion."


Parting thoughts

The panelists closed the webinar with a few noteworthy thoughts: 

  • Said Eberling, "Focus on business goals and objectives not the technology – especially when talking to the business. The CIO role should focus on business operations."
  • Said Wishart, "Build relationships and take time to invest in them. Invest in people that will help you help them. Remain focused – act in the best interest of the company. Promote yourself and your people. Market your capabilities and the decisions you have taken."
  • Said Broadway, "IT leaders need to embrace the service model – it's how their customers think of them."

So there is much CIOs and their IT teams can do to transform the status quo into an IT organization that has people, products, and services that are in-demand with business colleagues rather than being something that is forced upon them.  Using the original Star Trek series as a metaphor – do you want to wear a red or a blue shirt? We all know what happened to those in the red shirts …

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