As I write this I've recently arrived back from Beijing and my company's worldwide managers' meeting. The meeting includes all country managers, licensees, US business unit heads and many more key people. Aside from two too many Chinese banquets, it was a great opportunity to network, swap ideas and hear about new initiatives. The CXO Media division - my peers in the US - have been especially busy this year. (CXO Media used to be the CIO Communications business unit, but changed its name around five years ago to reflect its growing portfolio, which today includes CSO magazine and a brand-new baby, CMO magazine. I figure there's a heap of potential growth given the remaining 23 letters of the alphabet and infinite alphanumeric possibilities. C3PO magazine, anyone?)
In addition to CMO, my US brethren launched a super-neat program for CIOs called the Executive Council, which goes beyond traditional peer-to-peer networking initiatives. The Executive Council is run by a board of CIOs and is a pretty exclusive club, with applicants having to meet certain criteria for membership. And guess who's not allowed? CIOs from IT vendor companies. Yep, they said: "No way, Jose." I found it a notable stance because it dovetails with a trend I've been observing the past few years: the vendor CIO as the chief marketing asset.
The way I figure it, in the not-too-distant past, the vendors realized that their VP of sales had at best a 50:50 chance of getting some quality face time with potential customer CIOs. Sure, a Bill Gates, Larry Ellison or Sam Palmisano might gain entree, but these guys can only do so many meet/schmooze/sell triathlons. So why not polish the CIO's presentation skills, give him a sip of the corporate Kool-Aid and then trot him out as the ultimate spinmeister?
I also believe the rise of the CIMO (chief information and marketing officer) appeared about the same time as vendors started spruicking that they were "eating their own dog-food". I always thought "duh-oh" on that little ditty. Come on, if a supplier doesn't put enough stock in its own product to use it for God sakes, then how in hell would it expect a customer to ante up? It's kind of like the CEO of Ford driving a Mercedes (as much as he might like to).
When these CIMOs lob in to Australia, they're inevitably offered up to us as potential interviewees in between their more important appointments with local CIOs. Thus far, I've found that their messages tend to be all too similar.
- We (IT) are the ultimate test-bed for our products and are the toughest customers around." Well, ain't that nice? So that means you never let a product out the door that's not 100 percent because you wouldn't want to do the dirty to your fellow CIOs. Right?
- It's all about getting alignment between the business function and the IT function." Oh, wow, there's a new sentiment. I certainly wish I had thought of that.
- We believe in eating our own dog-food, and here's how our company's more productive because we do. Let me tell you about it." Well guys, first I believe you need a better company cafeteria . . .
In the end, I'm not saying that these CIOs aren't for real, but I do believe that they've added (or enhanced) a skill-set: salesmanship. It's marketing by empathy and methinks CIOs - as evidenced by the Executive Council's edict - have tweaked to the agenda.