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Marketing to Developers Beneath the Hoodie—The CIO Buyer’s Journey

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Patrick O'Fallon

May 16, 2017

Getting the attention of the CIO is hard. And it takes more than airport ads, right? Vendors spin their wheels and fall into traps when attempting to convince a CIO to consider their products or offerings. Marketers are observing the ever-increasing need to adapt their strategies to reach the CIO. A perusal into the CIO buyer’s journey will help define how to position messaging to attract a CIO-level resource.

CIOs buy technology after going through three phases:

  1. Awareness – Discovering and defining the problem
  2. Education – Surveying peers, understanding general solution parameters, and vetting available technology
  3. Decision – Directly comparing vendors and choosing a solution

Define the problem, and survey peers and influencers

The start of the buyer’s journey requires critical awareness. Either some incident or relationship issue has tipped the scales of a current vendor relationship, or a problem is identified and the journey begins. Whether the former or the latter, a problem has been identified and validated, and the CIO is committed to resolution of the problem. The CIO gathers the stakeholders within the team and starts the process.

The next phase involves education via peer and influencer validation. This phase is absolutely critical. Consequently, the CIO will survey peers on their experiences and opinions related to the original problem. Peer review and experiential data in connection to vendors and products will likely guide the rest of the buyer’s journey.

Experiential data and review is vital at this stage, and the CIO can achieve it not only through peer review, but also by consulting content written by practitioner influencers. Subject matter experts with domain experience in the CIO’s problem space are extremely valuable to the buyer. These practitioner influencers may already exist within the CIO’s network, or they may be found through online influencer content or peer or vendor recommendations.

Smart marketers will work with practitioner influencers or invest in practitioner influencer content that has the ability to reach the CIO at the right time of the buyer’s journey. It is extremely rare that a CIO will dwell on a vendor’s website or ingest heavy quantities of vendor-created content at this phase. With the exception of specific feature examples and use cases, the CIO persona will not fall for the allure of vendor-created dogmatic collateral.

Through the reviews and recommendations of peers and influencers, the buyer enters the phase of initial product/vendor selection. The goal of the CIO is to efficiently select the most recommended products and weigh the unique features or aspects that give a particular vendor an edge in solving the CIO’s problem.

Product evaluation

As the journey continues, and a handful of vendors or products have been selected, the CIO moves on to the decision phase. In the decision phase, the CIO compares specific product or service details given by the vendors or products. The CIO tests assumptions, factors and features gleaned from the previous phases of the journey.  

During product evaluation, practitioner influencer content can affect the CIO’s buying decision. Whether the previously identified practitioner influencers have carried over to this phase of the buyer’s journey, or whether the CIO has sought and selected a subject matter expert that is credible, practitioner influencers are invaluable to the evaluation process. In many cases, vendors will also bring sales engineers into the process to facilitate the evaluation. In addition, many vendors have partner companies that can supply influencers and domain expertise while evaluating the product or service.

Obstacles, relationship and selection

While evaluating and selecting a new partner, vendor or product, the CIO may run into obstacles in identifying a winner. These obstacles could be relatively small (or rather large), but can determine the endpoint of the buyer’s journey. A common obstacle to CIO vendor selection is insufficient ongoing support, or insufficient or expensive maintenance costs. Vendors with a strong standard of relationship management stand out above others in the current state of the industry. These relationship obstacles speak directly to the CIO’s needs and peace of mind, so vendors should invest in reinforcing the relationship. This is another great place for marketers to position effective messaging in order to reinforce the strength of the relationship or partnership that the CIO will have with your product or service.

After each obstacle has been dealt with, the CIO has reached the end of the journey. A vendor or product has been selected through rigorous reviewing, vetting, and evaluation via the CIO and stakeholders. Here, the goal is to leave the CIO with a solution and a feeling that his or her decision was the best one. As a result, the buyer’s journey now enters a recursive phase in which the incumbent vendor has the responsibility to instill trust and confidence that the partnership is sound. In some ways, the journey really never ends. As industry needs evolve, or in the event the incumbent vendor no longer reinforces the relationship, the CIO buyer’s journey begins once again.
As you walk through the CIO buyer’s journey, there are crucial points where you can offer information and influence into the CIO’s mind—and they can make or break whether your company will win the relationship.