A Fortune 150 CFO’s Advice: How NOT to Sell Information Technology

by Rick Bueti

Rick Bueti has worked in sales and sales management in the I/T leasing business for the past 25 years with companies including IBM Global Financing, HP Financial Services, Avnet and Unify. He is currently a senior consultant with his own firm, Jetmark Consulting, Inc.

Rick Bueti of Jetmark Consulting provides some advice for IT sales people, giving 10 things not to do if you want to sell your product to a large company by drawing on inspiration from former Avnet CFO Ray Sadowski.

In 2009, Ray Sadowski was the CFO at Avnet, Fortune’s 144th largest company at the time. I attended a lecture he gave in San Antonio to more than a thousand IT sales people who used Avnet as their distributor. In Sadowski’s opinion, sales reps who tried to directly sell him a product or service commonly used some truly awful sales habits. He compiled those habits into a list of his 10 “pet peeves,” which was the basis of his presentation. The list has been very valuable to me since, and it is too good not to share.

Using too much technical jargon or acronyms

You’re speaking to the CFO; know your audience. I’m the CFO, not the CIO you are typically used to selling to. The CFO is not interested in your technical jargon. We’re interested in how your product or service is going to help our company achieve our financial metrics and realize a solid return on investment. Period.

Telling me our current systems are “antiquated”

Many companies are emotionally attached to their legacy systems which have served them well, in many cases for several years. Sometimes “antiquated” systems still have a lower ROI than the new system you are proposing.

Telling us the software you are selling requires “minimal customization”

I’ve seen many software implementation projects become very complex and take much longer than promised by the IT sales person who sold it in the first place. There is no such thing as “minimal customization.”

Guarantee there will be “no disruption” to the business to implement your product

IT products are often sophisticated and difficult to implement, so they do disrupt the business. Don’t dig yourself into a hole by making “no disruption” or “minimal disruption” guarantees you cannot possibly meet.

Claim “all of your competition” is using our product

First off, that’s probably not true. Secondly, it’s meaningless to me as a CFO. I only make decisions on acquiring products or services based on whether or not they help us achieve our main financial metrics (in 2009, Avnet measured “return of capital employed” as its main financial metric). If your product did not help us improve our ROCE measurement, we would not acquire it, regardless of what our competition was using.

Oversell how revolutionary your system is

I don’t need you to oversell me, just explain to me what benefits your product will provide me and quantify for me the amount of time it will take me to realize my ROI.

Tell me you’re going to throw out my 40-year legacy system and my users will get the same functionality

Your new system will typically be markedly different from our legacy system, so how can we expect the same functionality considering the different interfaces of your system and the user training we will have to conduct to familiarize our people with the new system?

Tell me, “My CFO would kill me if he knew the price I am selling this system for”

Really? Is this how you think I make my buying decision? Again, it’s about ROI or meeting my financial metrics, not about your really low price! Save your breath on the pressure sell technique.

Assume that the CFO is not the key decision maker

In many companies, the CFO is the final decision maker on whether or not to acquire a product or service. Don’t assume otherwise.

Tell me “you must sign today” to get this deal

Your commission deadlines are irrelevant to me because that’s not how I decide to purchase a product or service as I’ve explained several times before. And besides, I know you will probably come back to the same price if I decide to buy your product/service next month, so you’re making a mistake by trying to pressure me with your deadlines.

In summary, I’ll share another story that is related to Sadowski’s theme of how important it is to know the executive you are selling to and their role in the organization, especially when trying to include a financing solution along with the product or service you are selling.

A friend of mine who is now retired once served as the CIO of a large firm in New York. He essentially managed four large data centers for the company. I asked him if his company ever leased or financed their IT equipment. He said they often did. I asked him, “So how did you decide which financing company to use?” He said, “Well, I had IT leasing sales people knocking on my door almost weekly to offer to lease/finance my equipment for me and yes, we used to lease some stuff and I’d pass some names on to our CFO. But, you know how I used to make the decision on whose name to pass on? Whoever bought me the nicest lunch.”

He was obviously half joking, but he did go on to say, “Rick, think about it. I was the CIO. My only job was to ensure that the products I recommended acquiring would efficiently meet the IT requirements of my staff. But, our CFO used to make the final lease versus buy decisions for the acquisition. I could care less how the systems were paid for. Anybody who is commissioned with selling financing, here’s my advice: Go talk to the CFO.”

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