CIO Insight: How to Sell to a Board of Directors
I recently attended the CIO 100 Awards event at Enashapai, Naivasha, Kenya and was honoured to be part of a panel that was discussing an interesting topic on how IT Leaders can sell to a Board of Directors. With me were IT Leaders from Safaricom and Barclays bank. The audience was composed of both IT and business executives who were all keen to hear how IT Leaders should sell their agendas to Board of Directors.
First things first, do IT Executives even need to sell to a Board or does the Board already know what they need? Fortunately or unfortunately with IT being often viewed as a mystified, technogeek, utopia domain by most directors who sit in Boards, selling to a Board is inevitable and there’s no two way about it. Demarcating between presenting and selling is critical, with the latter concentrating on getting funding to spend and the former being a session to give general status updates. Selling to a Board is a process that starts way before even a Board convenes. It calls for some specialized skills and tact that are not taught in any MBA class, but are acquired by learning, doing and re-doing till you get it right. With a Board’s primary objective being to maximize on shareholder’s return, they are the sole gate keepers of the money purse in every organization irrespective of size and hence telling your story right along the lines of positively impacting on this agenda is a must if they are to give you audience. There’s a caveat though; you can’t tell your story before you earn your place to sit in the high table.
My good friend Steve from Barclays was emphatic that every IT Executive first needs to earn himself a seat in the high table before selling his agenda. This can be achieved via influencing and negotiating with a good mix of PR strategies. Beyond earning the seat, setting your agenda and selling it across the table is the hard part. To start with, the audience concurred on the importance of understanding the Board members and making rapport on a continuous basis. An effective IT Leader is astute at packaging his agenda with a tact of dissecting his items within the following compartments: Transformation, Compliance, Productivity and Innovation. With that in mind, he’s better placed to pass his message with precision and accuracy. With packaging in place, the next skill calls for one to think and deal like a sells man. This is where most IT Leaders get lost unfortunately. Packaging the agenda and preparing the best presentations and documents will not be enough to convince a Board to buy into an idea. A good sells man knows how to grab his client’s attention; he’s tactful in reading the Board’s mood with precise agility to quickly shape and change the presentation style as required; wearing the hat of a sales man, he’s able to skillfully catch the Board Chair’s attention and finally the winning IT Leader grasps the art of selling by good story telling with a funneling strategy in mind. Beyond selling, an effective IT Leader should understand that the ultimate objective of the selling process is to get Board commitment.
It therefore follows that the climax of the entire process is to get buying and commitment by stating in clear terms the funds you are asking for or the approvals that you require from the Board. Politely asking for the Board’s opinion is equally important lest they think you are just walking them through a rubber stamping exercise. Finally the best IT Leader, builds a good rapport line with the Board Secretary and ensures that his points are well captured in the Board minutes (often a post Board affair)