Three Questions Federal IT Leaders Want You to Answer

Mohamad Elbarasse_headshot_7-23-2013_For WordPressby Mohamad ElbarasseAnalyst

CIOs and IT directors do not want to hear you asking what their problems are. Although your hearts are likely in the right place, they want to hear about solutions. Better yet, if you can lay out a simple, cogent business case by answering three basic questions, you should be golden.

It is important to do your research before approaching an agency with a potential technology solution. Even though your technology may be a perfect fit and make the agency more efficient and effective, the manner in which you approach the CIO is critical. Know their pain points before engaging with them, so you don’t have to ask, and don’t focus too much on the technology itself. We have heard IT leaders stress this point over and over in recent months; they want you to come with a solution in hand.

Speaking at the IT Government Forum, Mark Day, Director of the Office of Strategic Programs at the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA laid out a simple framework for a succinct and effective business case. By answering these three questions, vendors can cut to the heart of what IT leaders at federal agencies are concerned with:

  1. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?
  2. How are you going to solve it?
  3. How are you going to measure success?

Day also advised the audience that CIOs won’t be fooled by flashy technology. He went on to say that “we need to stop thinking about IT as a separate mission, IT is a mission enabler and is built-in throughout the entire organization.”

Also speaking at the Forum, Paul Brubaker, Director of Planning & Performance Management at DOD, said CIOs are intended to be well-versed in business processes and not necessarily technology in general. Therefore, focusing on how your technology can help improve processes at an agency may be a better angle to take than trying to dazzle them with the latest features. Although, this does not mean that CIOs are totally uninterested in the technical aspects of the solution. Some IT leaders have actually expressed that they would like to see more sales engineers at their meetings with sales teams, so that they can answer the more technical questions and the three questions mentioned above more directly.

Answering those three questions, identifying pain points before starting the conversation, and focusing on process improvement during the conversation should better your chances at closing a deal.

2 Responses to Three Questions Federal IT Leaders Want You to Answer

  1. Will Harmon says:

    “CIOs and IT directors do not want to hear you asking what their problems are…Know their pain points before engaging with them, so you don’t have to ask.” This is a challenge in and of itself because interested solution providers don’t have the luxury of getting discovery sessions with agency leaders very often, and on the off-chance they can, many times an agency leader can’t articulate what their problem is in the first place.

    I’m surprised that this article seems to suggest the status quo is the right formula…
    1. solution vendors should continue building solutions in a silo based on what they think is a customer problem
    2. sell assumed solution to agency customer
    3. leave agency customer saying, “This solution really doesn’t do what I need it to do.”

    A better approach would be to aspire to an environment/exchange where customers and solution providers can collaborate and use rapid prototyping to ensure the customer ultimately receives what they need. Without insight to a customer problem and rapid prototyping, it’s unreasonable to expect solution providers to present solutions that solve every customer’s problem.

    • immixGroup says:

      You bring up some valid points, but I don’t think Mohamad is suggesting that anyone develop a solution in a vacuum and just hope for success when the time comes to present. Conducting some basic research to see what statements the CIO or IT leader has made in the past is a good first step. Talking to end users and program managers is another great way to gather intel prior to meeting with the higher ups. And here is where we are in complete agreement – learning about our customer’s challenges by encouraging a collaborative exchange of information is imperative to understanding their needs. And Mohamad’s point is that this understanding is what is necessary for success. There is certainly more than one way to skin a cat, and no one is limited to conducting simple secondary and primary research to prepare them for a meeting with an executive. But one sure fire way to lose the interest and attention of a CIO is to ask what keeps them up at night.

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