Three tips for becoming your customers' virtual CIO

Among IT solution providers, virtual CIOs are often invited to their customers' management and business review meetings. Find out how to become one.

No matter how young your company is and no matter how large or small, here's one question you should be asking yourself: "How can I become my clients' virtual CIO?" Asking this question will help you not only strive to improve your current relevancy with your clients, but it will go a long way in helping you adapt your business to the evolving decision-making process your clients are experiencing right now, which you can't afford to miss.

[The status of virtual CIO] makes for sales with much healthier profit margins.

Jim Veraldi, senior director of sales, Ingram Micro ACD

Unlike the order taker, who's called upon only when the client has identified their own tactical need, the virtual CIO is the person, or company, clients come to looking for strategic advice on the latest technologies as well as on how IT can be a competitive advantage in their marketplace and help run their businesses better. The VARs and MSPs I've seen who are skilled in this area regularly get invited to their clients' management and business review meetings. Rather than waiting for problems to arise, you can proactively recommend solutions, services and business changes to your clients. This preferred-partner status makes for sales with much healthier profit margins, too.

With that in mind, here are three tips for becoming the virtual CIO:

  • Choose your specialty. Lots of VARs are generalists. But your clients really want to engage with specialists who know their industry. You can't be an expert in every vertical market and every technology, so determine the one or two areas you want to focus on. Not sure where to start? You might consider the predominant markets you're already selling into. Or perhaps you believe a particular technology is going to become really big for your clients in the near future (for example, BYOD, big data). Your manufacturer and distributor partners have plenty of research and insight they can share with you that can help you narrow your focus.
  • Brand your expertise. How are your clients and prospects going to know that you're the go-to company for cloud computing, virtualization or healthcare IT questions? Your focus area is going to have to become part of your company's brand, which is revealed by all the ways you communicate to the outside world, including your website, your newsletter, your direct mailers, your social media interactions, and the written and verbal messages your sales team conveys. You need to have a strong, consistent message that permeates all you do.
  • Change your sales approach. To become a virtual CIO, you and your team need to be able to engage with business leaders within companies, including C-level executives and line-of-business managers. These conversations will be very different from the ones your staff has with other IT people, which are often very product-specific. Gartner's research suggests that only about one-third of your sales force will be able to make the shift. At some point you're going to need to train your staff or hire salespeople who are capable of having these higher-level, more strategic business discussions.

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As a former principal with a successful VAR/systems integrator in New Jersey, there's an additional piece of insight that I can offer that should alleviate any anxiety you might have around making a change to your business: You don't have to go it alone, and you shouldn't. Consider the tools and resources your manufacturer and distributor partners have available right now. If you're an Ingram Micro partner, for example, you have access to technology- and market-segment-focused research experts as well as peer groups that allow you to bounce questions and ideas off companies similar to yours. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources so you can avoid having to learn everything the hard way.

Take the time to assess your business model and your service engagements. Get your management team together and find ways to map your value so that you are in a position to serve as a virtual CIO for your clients. 

About the author
Jim Veraldi is the senior director of sales in the Advanced Computing Division (ACD) at Ingram Micro, having joined the company in 2012. Prior to his position at Ingram, Jim was a principal at Micro Strategies Inc.

This was last published in May 2013

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