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Technology marketers have spent decades trying to connect with CIOs. And in an environment where technology is fueling innovation, yet investment capital remains tight, reaching CIOs has never been more important (or more difficult).

Yet many marketers continue to fall short when it comes to understanding this audience and developing the right marketing approach.

More than ever before, CIOs are inundated with marketing communications. They are more selective regarding where they get their information, resulting in fewer opportunities to get your message through. So the way you approach them is as important as the speed at which you make your point.

Rule of thumb: Don't make a move until you're confident that you understand their issues and have offerings that will bring CIOs real value.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet, but below are five tips for getting noticed and, more importantly, engaging this important audience in a productive conversation.

1. A CIO is a CIO? Throw that assumption out the window

Today, fewer and fewer CIOs are technology wonks. Many are technologists who've become business people out of necessity. And some of them are business people with a passion for IT. It pays to know the difference.

For marketers, that means you can't treat them all the same. CIO Magazine has identified four common CIO personas: business leaders, who put a premium on understanding business processes; innovation agents, who believe strongly in IT's ability to drive new business initiatives; operational executives, who place strong emphasis on their project management and execution skills; and turnaround artists, risk takers who see themselves primarily as agents of change.

All are different personalities with very different priorities. Smart marketers can use these insights to frame their approaches differently.

2. Just because CIOs are senior executives doesn't mean they're senior executives

Leave your stereotypes at the door when working with a CIO. The average CIO is in his or her early 40s and has been on the job less than five years.

Although the majority of CIOs today are baby boomers, there is a younger generation of tech-savvy Generation Xers coming up right behind them. Executives in this new generation do their own research, leverage peers for insight and create a shortlist before ever engaging with a vendor. They're not interested in one-way communication—i.e., marketers talking at them. They expect an open, two-way conversation, and they gravitate toward suppliers who understand that.

3. Work their inner circle

It's a lonely world for a CIO. There are few who can understand the challenges associated with this complicated job and the constant demands put on CIOs. So you can be sure of one thing—if other CIOs are talking, your target CIOs are listening. And if other CIOs in their industry are talking, they're taking notes.

CIOs are hungry for information from or about organizations facing the same challenges they're facing.

Customer references are one of the most effective tools available to marketers. CIOs who value peer networking are likely to place significant stock in success stories featuring solutions to problems they share. Have a reference featuring a company in the CIO's market? Even better.

4. Be relevant and get to the point

Play to a prospect's needs. A single message delivered the same old way will not be effective with all CIOs.

Find ways to balance a customized approach with a consistent brand story. Talking to a business leader? Explain how your solution can help the organization gain competitive advantage, increase market share, and boost margins. Talking to an operational expert? Address project timeframes and ROI up front. Talking to a turnaround artist? Show how you can help the organization make some quick wins.

Don't poison the waters with indiscriminant attempts to reach CIOs. Choose your time and place carefully. Keep your message brief and straightforward. And don't neglect the favored media of busy CIOs—anything they can view online (via laptop or mobile device) or pick up at a conference or networking event.

5. Use snail mail at your peril

Skip the fancy packaging. CIOs want the facts. They get most of their information online and on the go. Think podcasts, mobile-enabled microsites, and downloads—not traditional marketing tactics.

It may seem like Marketing 101 to use technology in your pitch to the person in charge of technology, but many sophisticated marketers still aren't grasping the basics.

* * *

Keep it short. Be relevant. Appeal to their priorities and their strengths as individual business leaders. Enlist their peers as influencers. And never underestimate their technical savvy as consumers of information. Remember these things, and CIOs just might remember you—and opt in for a longer conversation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sherri Leopard is founder and CEO of business-to-business marketing firm Leopard Communications (www.leopard.com), a wholly owned subsidiary of OgilvyOne North America.