Selling to the Chief Technology Officer

Selling Skills | Building Relationships | Complex Sales

If you sell technology solutions, you know that meeting with Technology Officers early in the sales process can dramatically improve your odds of success. CTO’s set the technology strategy for the organization and then send the marching orders downstream. They also understand how your solution can potentially impact other departments within the organization—critical information in situations where you are navigating a complex sales process.

The only problem: Meetings with a CTO are hard to get and extremely valuable. You don’t want to blow your chance when you finally get that date on your calendar.

Here are some tactics for optimizing your next meeting with a CTO.

Understanding their Mindset
  • Learn their Background: Before meeting with a CTO, do your research. A simple and effective first step is to review the CTO’s LinkedIn profile. You can learn a lot about their technology mindset and biases by reviewing which LinkedIn posts they comment on, like, or share.
  • Understand their Career: Also, consider their career path. Where did they work previously? What did they do there? How mature were these companies from a technology perspective? Do they come from a vertical that you understand well? This can help you prepare for the type of questions the CTO may ask you.
  • Research their Team: You can also use LinkedIn, or contacts you have at the account, to understand how the CTO’s team is organized. What types of teams do they have? How are they staffed? This will tell you a lot about the organization's maturity and ability to understand the value of your solution.
  • Know their Tech stack: To the extent possible, research what technology the customer owns today and identify gaps. For example, if you sell security products and the customer already has a robust suite of security solutions, except for data protection, then be prepared in your meeting to drive that point home.
  • Prepare a C-level talk track: It’s also important to think broadly and consider thought leadership. If you were the CTO, what would you read? Harvard Business Review, research from McKinsey or Gartner? Those organizations routinely engage with senior executives, so by reading their research, you can better develop your talk track.
Discovering their Vision
  • Determine how you can help: Your primary goal for an initial meeting with a CTO should be to learn their technology strategy or vision, not sell them something. Once you understand the CTO’s vision, you can then position your solution and explain how it will help the CTO realize their strategy.
  • Ask insightful questions: A successful first meeting is one where the CTO does most of the talking while you listen. That means you will need to ask thoughtful questions to engage your CTO. But be careful not to ask questions such as “What’s your strategy?” That’s too vague. Your CTO could ramble on without giving you actionable information. You should ask more specific questions such as, “Tell me about your strategy around identity security.” Or, “Help me understand your direction for moving to the cloud,” followed by, “What are your biggest areas of risks?” “What is your road map for the next 12-18 months?” And, “What are your top three priority items that you have to accomplish this year?”
  • Avoid clichés: Don’t ask any cliché questions – e.g., “What keeps you up at night?” -- that signals to the CTO you are a journeyman salesperson, not a trusted advisor. A similar faux pax is asking about things that you should already know.
Identifying if they are a Manager or an Engineer
  • Explain the why, not the how: This may appear at first blush to appear counter-intuitive, but it is not uncommon to meet with a non-technical CTO. CTO’s create and implement a company’s technology strategies; they delegate the technical details to lower-level executives. So, it’s possible that the CTO you are about to meet may be a better business manager than an engineer. If you go down into the technical weeds with a non-technical CTO, the executive will be turned off quickly and be unengaged during your meeting.
  • Stay out of the weeds: Alternatively, you might find that you are meeting with a technical CTO, someone who is comfortable getting into the weeds. This is a different type of challenge. This type of CTO can over-focus on the technical details of the sale when you want them to think bigger picture and focus on the strategy. Understanding this early on can help you better shape the conversation and build a relationship with the executive.
Conclusion
You never quite know what you’ll run into when you get a meeting with a CTO. It’s your job to be prepared for anything, and that starts with pre-call research. Your goal for the meeting should then be to learn the CTO’s vision and understand how your solution can help the CTO achieve that vision.

About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.