The IT Chronicles Part II – Respect the Culture

So after reading Part I you immediately learned how to speak the language.  Now you have a head brimming with terms you can’t wait to use.  You’ve scheduled back to back appointments all next week with IT Directors, and you are going full steam ahead.  You may want to put on the brakes.

Knowing the Lingo is one thing, using it appropriately is another.

When I was at IBM, our management had a recommendation of how to proceed when an IT Director wouldn’y give us the time of day.  Go around him.

It went something like this. . .

Me: Mr. Jones, I’m Mark with IBM, and I wanted to see how we could help in the upcoming year with upgrades or any rollout of new equipment.  How many PCs are you managing right now?

IT Director: Actually we use Dell and are quite happy, but thanks.

Me: Obviously we call on Dell customers quite frequently.  We often hear that their customers are quite pleased.  I also know our customers rave about us as well.  If I could get you the same hardware and service at a lesser price, would you be interested?

IT Director: No, I’m really not interested.

Me: OK, thanks for your time.

Then comes the work around.  After geting a “No” to that specific question, we were told to immediately call the CFO.

Me: Mr. Smith, I’m Mark with IBM, I was just speaking with Mr. Jones in the IT Department and he told me you weren’t interested in potentially saving some money on computers there.  I’m surprised your company doesn’t consider the bottom line in these purchases.  Is this the case?

Mr. Smith: Of course not, we are very interested in saving money here.  Give me your information again.

To be honest, the first couple times I took a great deal of pleasure in this call.  For a kid in his early 20’s, it seemed like a great way to put the IT Director on the spot with the powers that be at his firm, and get us back in the mix.  That is until I realized one thing. . .it never worked.

One major reason for this  is that the IT Director is the technical buyer in this scenario.  By that I mean, sure the CFO writes the check, but the IT Director sets the criteria, and determines the value proposition of each bid.  A technical buyer’s job is to reduce the number of proposals , usually by applying a set criteria to them.  The CFO may get you a chance to put forth a number, but the IT director will never push it to round 2 after you just obliterated his toes.

If by chance you do win the job after doing this, it better be a good one as you will never get another.  The CFO may choose you based on price, but rest assured the IT Director will have the last laugh.  He is the one who actually has to implement the hardware and assess its functionality.  He has all the opportunity to make sure the system is integrated poorly, that items needed are not on site on the first day, and that the Users themselves have a terrible experience.

In the evaluation later, your firm will take a beating.  The IT Director is ultimately responsible for all web presence and e-commerce for the company.  He is held accountable.  He is not going to hire just anyone.  He also doesn’t need anyone steal his thunder either.

Even if you are working with another party in a different division of the company like the Architect or the Marketing Department, make sure you isolate and reach out to the IT department.  Make them aware that you are there to help them look good, not to take any credit for their work.  At some point, the person you are working with will ask the IT Director’s opinion.  If he is unaware that anything was in the works and has not been involved, he will feel like you are trying to sneak something by him and become a barrier to the sale.

Respect the Chain of Command and involve the IT Director.  Position yourself as a resource, not a ring leader, and defer to his judgment.  Make yourself heard, but reassure him that you are there to help his business communicate more effectively.

IT departments have an organizational hierarchy and you are the new guy in the room.   Where do you think you rank in that hierarchy?

The IT culture is one that values this organizational structure.  Ignoring that is suicide.

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