How to Sell Your IT Projects: Let The Business Do The Talking

If you want to be truly successful selling your technology ideas and
projects, don’t sell them at all. Have your colleagues and customers do the
selling for you.

We’re betting you’ve probably heard this piece of advice a few dozen times. You may have even taken it to
heart once or twice — especially for that really big ERP upgrade you just
completed. So, you "get it." Or, at least you think you do. And
you’re ready to move on.

But before you do…

Answer for yourself just one question: As you think back across the vast majority of IT projects you have
overseen, as a general rule, who was really doing the selling, and to whom?
Think back to the last time you got your colleagues or customers to present and
sell that ERP, CRM or BI project with you at the budget defense meetings. Did
your business colleagues proactively come to participate in the internal sales
process with you? Or, did you have to work long and hard to persuade them to
join you in the presentation?

If you are like 95 percent of the
CIOs with whom I have had the privilege to work, your answer is the latter.
Because, let’s face it, as much as the business people say they are behind you
on any given project, when it comes to enlisting their active support, it’s up
to you to make it happen.

And here’s the scary part. The
business folk have you believing that this situation is appropriate. That this
is part of your job. You have become so used to chasing after the business
users for their support and cooperation (both before and during the project)
that you have come to believe that this is the natural order of things.

Well, I am here to tell you that
you’ve got it all wrong. And it can all be traced to the fact that you don’t
understand what it really means to
have your business colleagues do the selling. You may be missing the
essential idea and power of this statement.

It’s not your fault

The truth is that you aren’t to
blame for the situation. The conventional way of doing things makes sense. IT
has, after all, grown from a pure service-and-support mindset. So it does seem
sensible that in order to do the big, complex, business-oriented projects, IT
needs to enlist the active support of the business executives. And, what better
way to demonstrate that support than to have your business colleagues at your
side actively selling the project?

The problem with this approach is
that it is unsustainable. It can’t be applied across the entire IT budget.
First, it would simply take too much time and energy to get your business
colleagues actively selling with you on everything. Second, many of the most
important projects you have planned (read: key infrastructure initiatives) will
never attract the active support of your business unit colleagues. So what
happens? You do what (nearly) everybody else does. You reserve the pursuit of “having
your business colleagues do the selling,
” for a limited number of projects.

This sends two subliminal
messages to the business leadership:

  1. It declares (by omission) that except for one or two key projects when the
    business is standing by your side, most of what IT does is of questionable
    business value.
  2. It
    reinforces the idea that it is up to IT to chase the business for support and
    cooperation, thereby perpetuating the stereotypical IT-business
    relationship.

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