CMOs Need to Take a Stronger Hand in Changing IT Vendors' Sales Pitches

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2013-08-24

CMOs Need to Take a Stronger Hand in Changing IT Vendors' Sales Pitches

Chief marketing officers have picked up a hefty chunk of the enterprise technology budget, and now they have to take a leadership role in technology selection and acquisition.

The old methods of tech marketing: build awareness, capture leads, nurture those leads and eventually toss the leads over the marketing wall to the sales force, have been automated, calibrated, measured and monitored but not rethought.

The way technology, and, in particular, corporate technology, is being acquired is undergoing fundamental change. And now marketing—the department that many senior executives wonder glumly about what they do for their organization besides spend money and go out to lunch—is in position to lead.

I spent a couple days at this year's Inbound 2013 marketing conference (the user conference for Cambridge, Mass.-based Hubspot). This event championed the theme of content delivered in context and it included a few new products to deliver on that promise. I'll delve into some of those new products, but while the content-in-context theme makes sense, it will take a mindset change in the enterprise for vendors to deliver.

How do we know that corporate technology acquisition is changing? Consider the traditional vendors including Oracle, SAP, Dell, Microsoft, Cisco and most recently Hewlett-Packard, which are reporting falling revenue, missed expectations or layoffs in view of a shaky financial horizon. Those vendors often blame their sales force for not making customers swallow technology sufficiently quickly. Executives get reshuffled and org charts rewritten. But aside from longing for the good old days, not much changes.

The LA Times recently featured an article on the surprising slump in technology stating, "After a remarkable six-year boom set off by the introduction of the first iPhone 2007, tech companies of all shapes and sizes are finding growth slowing, and even contracting in some cases." On the other hand, consider Amazon Web Services, any number of Hadoop-based startups and open standards-based IT organizations are finding a receptive audience and increasingly open wallets for their products and services. As Joseph Heller wrote in his telling novel on corporate culture, "Something Happened," it was as much about changes in technology acquisition as technology itself.

Amidst this upheaval, CIOs and technology managers can now try and buy (or more precisely rent) software applications and infrastructure at a pace traditional marketing tactics can't match. A consumer with their smartphone can download and try out an app in a minute.

A corporate technologist can fire up a computing instance on Amazon Web Services and try out a new corporate app nearly as fast as the consumer downloading from an app store. Lengthy evaluation processes are gone.

The well-known time to value proposition (the amount of time it takes from when you sign the contract to where the product starts generating revenues for your company) has been compressed to weeks, not years. As a result, major vendors are stuck in trying to figure out how to move their organizations away from big, one-time capital sales models to ongoing monthly service.

Recently I spoke with four CIOs and technology managers about their purchase and evaluation process.

CMOs Need to Take a Stronger Hand in Changing IT Vendors' Sales Pitches

Instead of the technology bits and bytes, this group of executives—which ranged across the government, education and business sectors—were concerned about application integration, legal contracts and business capabilities.

If there was any one underlying lesson for tech marketers from these conversations, it is that these managers are people, not leads. Leads are soulless chunks of information. Tech managers are people with lives, a desire to be successful in their personal and business lives, and the last thing they want is to hear a salesman or saleswoman calling and reciting a script noting their status as a lead.

That model might have worked once; it doesn't anymore. While much was made about the CIO and CMO split in the past, that rift is healing. CIOs want their organizations to be successful and have solid contracts and security. They are less and less interested in trying to be the oracles of all things technology these days.

In the content and context model, you need two foundations. Foundation one: in the era of social media including Twitter, Facebook and blog content delivered on smartphones, you need a media platform that can accommodate all media types and devices and deliver content to those devices while reporting back user interaction.

This is easier said than done for all of us that have juggled multiple content management system and reporting tools while trying to keep up with the new smartphones and tablets introduced daily. Hubspot introduced their COS (content optimization system). I haven't tried it out yet, but the concept is commendable.

Foundation two is content. As a writer I'm happy to hear executives champion the content is king message. But I also know that just as the technology purchasing cycle has changed, the type of content required is changing. Hubspot encourages content conversations where information is exchanged rather than pushed at potential customers.

That is a good idea, but when I listen to what technology customers are asking for, it is not what the content vendors are supplying. Spec sheets masquerading as articles, blogs that are based on blatant product promotion and executive videos that look like something out of a Sacha Baron Cohen film lose more customers than they acquire.

Vendors want to talk about their products, but not the legal contracts which underpin their services. Pricing and application integration with other vendors is high on the customer list but low on the vendor content menu. Investing in great media platforms to deliver, at best, mediocre content is a waste of time and money.

The role of the CMO in all this is to change from being a marketing arm for products and services already developed, priced and deployed. CMO must become a knowledgeable source for what customers want, the services and support required to wrap around those products and having the voice and authority to stop errant corporate strategies in their tracks. And that will take a very big change indeed.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

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