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Lessons the manufacturing CIO can learn from sales to drive digital transformation

It is not often that one would compare the daily tasks of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) with the life of a salesman, but recent experiences with the CIOs of our customers show that sales skills are crucial in driving digital transformation.

If you are currently a CIO, or in a similar role, chances are that you have been charged with some responsibility in driving digital transformation. While there is no denying that things like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing and Business Insights are hot topics to solve business problems, your challenge does not lie in the technical ability of these solutions, but rather in selling the change it would bring, to your fellow managers and the rest of your company’s staff.

Recently I enjoyed reading a short and highly practical book by renowned speaker Richard Mulholland, who shares how to use powerful stories to change minds, drive sales, and solve problems.

Here Be Dragons: How to win deals and influence ideas by mastering the eloquent art of storytelling, is not just a how-to book, it is far more a why-to book, which I believe every person responsible for digital transformation must read to overcome the key challenges for digital transformation initiatives.

Mulholland explains that the salesperson has two jobs. The first is to help clients see their dragons (dragons referring to dangerous or unexplored territories of early explorers). The second job is to help clients or customers slay their dragons.

This is true for those responsible for driving digital transformation. Not only is it highly likely that the “dragon” of digital transformation has not been defined with any clarity, but slaying the dragon directly threatens existing business models and structures.

Selling versus change management

Recent SYSPRO research reveals that the true digital transformation champions within businesses are middle management (60%), while only 44% of C-level management supported digital transformation. However, top leadership support is imperative for businesses to digitally transform.

Some of you might say that this is not a new problem and that we all know that change management is crucial for all IT projects. By its very nature, digital transformation is different. Transformation implies that the business model must change. And the new model must first be “sold” before the change can be implemented.

Feedback from some customers is that there is a lot of appetite for introducing technology to improve the efficiency of the current business model, or when it is adjacent to the current model (like introducing an e-commerce channel), but when transformation threatens the current model, the business as a whole tends to dig in its heels, and being the digital transformation driver, becomes very frustrating. These initiatives die even before they even start.

The key to success?

Manufacturing CIOs have an opportunity to use strategic business and technology trends to drive significant initiatives like implementing ERP and driving digital transformation. CIOs can use the sales mentality within the organization to boost cross-departmental collaboration to increase efficiency and cut costs. As the organization digitally transforms the CIO needs to rise up to the challenge to provide leadership, decision-making, performance improvement and innovation.

The real challenge to all CIOs is to put on a sales hat and become a true salesman, even though this is probably as far away from your current career choice as you can get. To paraphrase Mulholland, the magic happens when we sell them a new story of their future. One in which we as IT only play a small part.

(posted originally on SYSPRO)

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