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The best times to prospect IT executives

August 8, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

It takes a substantial amount of persistence to get a qualified appointment with an IT executive, according to a study by LeadJen of lead generation campaigns targeting lists of IT executives over a three-year period from 2011 through 2013.

The study was based on more than 331,000 outreach attempts, resulting in nearly 1,500 qualified appointments with IT professionals.

The analysis indicates that it takes 222 calls or e-mails on average to secure a qualified appointment. That's 31 percent more than the 169 on average it takes to reach marketers in a separate LeadJen survey released in April.

Although the largest share of appointments were the result of the first inbound call, a significant share of appointments were the result of multiple phone calls. Twenty-one percent of appointments were the result of inbound response, 20 percent due to a referral and 15 percent from e-mail.

"Simply reaching an IT executive can be challenging because they tend to be more reclusive," LeadJen said in the report. "For this reason, e-mail and voice-mail play even more important roles. On-target messaging is crucial and sales reps who know the existing technology environment of prospects will be more successful. Specific messaging also helps reps navigate IT's complex title structure, which leads to increased referrals."

The study also provided insights into the best times — best months and time of the day — to prospect IT executives.

Finally, the study reveals that the IT function most likely to respond to lead generation was IT/services (44 percent of qualified appointments), which LeadJen believes is "because they have insight into all IT projects and are an entry point to find the 'real' project owners for technology decisions." That department was followed by directors (30 percent) and managers (27 percent), who together accounted for a majority of appointments when breaking the data down by title.

By c-suite, the chief decision maker "with budget authority" agreeing to an appointment was the CIO, 43 percent; followed by CTO, 27 percent; CEO, 17 percent; CISO (chief information security officer), 8 percent; and COO, 5 percent.

Discussion Questions:

Why are appointments with retail IT executives apparently more challenging than in other departments? What tips would you have for how vendors should approach and work with retail IT teams?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the following would you say is the best way for a vendor to make an appointment with a decision maker inside a retailer's IT team?

Comments:

When I read this question, I had to laugh. Think about it this way. Whether you're selling a merchandising solution, marketing, supply chain, store, whatever—you need IT. It used to be that the CIO was THE decision maker, but even though the decision making has moved to the line of business executives, the CIO can still make or break a deal. And going around a CIO is guaranteed to break the deal. So, just by basic math, the CIO is going to be the most in-demand executive. And the one with the least time to spare.

My advice is, don't ignore the CIO. Outside of CEO, it's the hardest job to keep. So if you want to be successful selling into a company, do your best to make the CIO look like a hero. He or she can't necessarily make the sale on their own any more, but they can go a long way in helping—or hindering.

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Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

The main reasons retail CIOs and other IT execs are so hard to reach include; a lack of empathy on the part of the vendors, pressures placed on CIOs by business users and senior staff and a general disconnect between the incentives of the IT teams and the solutions offered by vendors. Also, the retail IT sector has been pitched so many solutions that don't really address a current, or even future, challenge. Think electronic shelf tags, trading exchanges and most kiosks.

My advice to vendors has long been to hire former retail IT professionals to lead both the sales and product development areas. These people will not only understand first-hand the problems that need to be solved, but will also have a network in the industry that should open more doors.

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Ron Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications

IT is a very defined skill set that requires actual knowledge as opposed to the ability to "give a good interview."

I'd say they might want to start outreaches/internships to IT grad programs.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Nikki is right, IT is central to every business transaction and initiative. Unfortunately, our world runs on persistently unreliable software and "IT" is our only hope in dealing with it. So why are IT executives so hard to reach? Of course we have the (old and unfair) geek stereotype of the overweight unshaven guy sitting in the dark in his underwear, working on code at three in the morning and having unplugged his refrigerator in order to plug in another server. Not exactly the first one you invite to your party.

That scenario has changed a lot. Heck, we have people like Bryan Seely, a genuine IT guy known for hacking Google Maps who does stand-up comedy in his spare time. Why then the persistent reclusiveness? The answer lies in what people complain about most at work. How often have you heard: "Our system is slow this morning." "Our system is down right now." "Give me your address again, our system doesn't automatically transfer it." Seems everything is IT's fault! And we let them know it. Not only that, but many employees also let the customers know the technology sucks, meaning even your customers hate your IT department.

Why does anyone even want an appointment with IT? It's either to: 1.) complain about some failure "they" caused; or 2.) it's to sell some new fault-filled program that will add even further complication (and complaints) to a system that isn't working well in the first place—i.e., something else to hate IT for. If I were smart enough to be an IT guy I wouldn't leave the house or answer the phone either!

While I'm dubious that "it takes 222 calls or emails on average to secure a qualified appointment," (who would actually do that?) we've got to recognize that the apparent inaccessibility is NOT about the individual. I'm a broken record, I know, but once again: "It's the software, stupid!" Don't blame the chef for the lousy meal if she was given only spoiled produce to work with. Once we experience the reality of fault-free software you'll see a transformation and want the IT department in charge of all company social events!

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Understanding IT executives is critical—they like technology, they use technology more than most, they have a huge number of demands, they have little time for "frivolous" activities and their schedules are often interrupted with emergencies. You may have more success getting an appointment if you can find a way to approach IT executives with these issues in mind.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Just before I wrote this comment, I read the other comments, and came to Camille Schuster's answer. Right on, Camille. You said what I was going to say!

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Very few retail companies can afford to run with manual systems for long. The labor costs to handle a business are just too much for that. When you add the dollars for record keeping and storage it can get to be overwhelming very quick.

On the other side of the bargain table is a customer that usually wants instant everything. Comprehensive information systems with strong accounting software integrated with a point of sale system are a must.

Now e-commerce is just as important to growth as the stores. Compatibility was and still is more important than security. If a new component or software is added to the mix and causes the system to go down someone is going to the unemployment line soon. This very scenario has been the cause of death for dozens of very promising careers that I have witnessed first hand. For this reason alone it is not easy to get in front of the top information management people.

Marketing teams with sure fire proven product will get some attention sooner than most but have no more advantage for the sale. Eliminating any and all risk to system fatigue or down time is the key to getting serious consideration and an appointment.

'gjarnoldjr'

Funny. Working in a IT firm, I have found it more challenging to get meetings outside IT, since those line of business execs outside the CIO's office hear my company's name and think, "You need to talk with our CIO." However, I have also found that having a compelling "hook" to mention on the phone with them tends to work well. And, that also definitely works for execs outside IT, too.

For instance, I use a tool that takes publicly-available financial information about the client's company and their peer/competitor companies and calculates the free cash flow that could become available if the client gets to the level of performance of the best-in-class peer in a particular area of the business (e.g., revenue growth, income per employee, SG&A, etc.). I share that 12-month cash flow number, which can often break into the billions for larger firms, and I have yet to not secure a meeting. I have used that tactic from the CIO to the CFO to the CEO. Money still talks.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Before you go "a-prospectin'," I would suggest that vendors get familiar with the internal processes of the prospect. More often than not these days, a line-of-business person needs to be at the table as well as the IT person.

Guess what? The line-of-business person is far more likely to get excited about what you have to sell. The IT "guy" is looking at yet another piece of technology that may or may not make them look good.

For my 2 cents, forego the 222 calls and go directly to the line-of-business person, but you better have a good story and you'd be smart to ask to have an IT exec there too. They HATE being excluded!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

The reason for hard-to-reach IT executives may be very simple. IT executives use email and IM more than voice and other forms of communication. Email is easy to filter.

Often times, the messages get filtered into lower priority queues which require more calls/emails to push through.

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Gajendra Ratnavel, CEO, L Squared Digital Signage

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