Don’t Know the CDO? You Could Lose Sales Opportunities


Lynn HaberOver the past few years, digital technology has found its way into every nook and cranny of businesses of every size. What that means to channel partners is that opportunity is exploding but only if you know how the IT decision-making sands are shifting at the businesses you’re targeting.

Khali HendersonSo, the more partners understand the role of what’s popularly called the chief digital officer (CDO), the more successful they’re likely to be. However, not all companies have a CDO – instead, that role is left to the chief marketing officer or the person with marketing responsibilities in most cases – but not always.


The key point here is that with the advent of cloud computing and the trend toward line-of-business buyers – as in “have credit card will purchase cloud apps” – partners need to understand how today’s businesses coalesce around a corporate digital strategy and how it gets communicated. That’s why channel partners who focus their IT discussions solely with the IT department might find that they’re losing sales opportunities.

Jeanine SicinskiTo understand how to familiarize yourself with the CDO, the role of the CDO and/or the individuals responsible for the digital officer function or the marketing function, and how to better communicate with potential customers, Channel Partners caught up with Khali Henderson, senior partner at BuzzTheory Strategies, and Jeanine Sicinski of ViaWest, a provider of hybrid IT solutions. They’ll be presenting during a Channel Partners Evolution concurrent education session dubbed “Why You Must Become Indispensable to CDOs.” The event is being held Aug. 14-17, in Washington, D.C.

CP: What do partners need to know about the CDO?

Khali Henderson: It’s no secret that technology buying decisions have been moving away from IT to business decision-makers. That’s because technology is fundamentally changing the way companies do business. Becoming a “digital business” means that technology becomes center stage instead of backstage as it’s historically been. And, with that, organizations need a “director,” if you will, to come in and orchestrate people and technology into a cohesive vision. Increasingly that director is called the chief digital officer (CDO).

Jeanine Sicinski: Gartner predicts that the CMO will spend more than the CIO in 2017 on marketing technology.

CP: What happens if there isn’t a CDO at a client company?

JS: Most smaller companies won’t have a CDO. Companies are beginning to embrace having a digital marketing manager, who will often report up through the CMO. You can also target CMOs, directors of e-commerce, senior managers of digital, and directors of marketing. With any sales cycle, it’s important to learn the influencers and decision makers.

KH: Since it’s a relatively new role, a CDO’s absence should not come as a surprise. That doesn’t mean that the company is not …

engaged in digital transformation. Instead, it’s more likely that the effort is being managed by other C-Suite leaders, e.g. CIO or CMO. This can be true in larger enterprises that are more digitally mature and have been transitioning over a longer period of time. While larger companies are more likely to have CDOs, some of the smaller companies actually have enlisted CDOs to create a holistic, integrated approach to digital transformation from soup to nuts.

I think it’s important for solutions providers to understand the difference between …


… a CDO and a CIO or CMO, because they are often confused. CIOs and CMOs often are the logical candidates to fill the CDO role, but the scope of their jobs is different.

A CDO takes on the challenge of transforming a business in the digital era. Marketing experience, not even technically driven marketing experience of a CMO, is enough. But neither is the IT technical and operational skill set of a CIO. Instead a combination of skills is required to take an integrated approach to managing external relationships and internal operations with digital technologies.

Interestingly, a 2015 study by PwC’s (PricewaterhouseCoopers) consulting arm, Strategy & Data, found that many CDOs come from neither marketing nor technology backgrounds, but from sales, business development, academia, consulting, customer service and others.

CP: What will attendees at your session learn?

KH: First off, we want solutions providers to gain an understanding of the role of the chief digital officer. The CDO role is just a few years old and is being defined “on the job,” but generally involves oversight of an organization’s transformation for the digital age. In many ways a CDO is a change agent — not only for technology but people as well.

[The PwC/Strategy & Data study] explained that the CDO has a cross-functional responsibility for the transition of operations, sales and marketing, systems and production along with internal culture and, in some cases, the company’s products and services themselves. Without question, it’s a big job with external and internal objectives spanning the organization.

Secondly, we want solutions providers to understand the opportunity to support CDOs. Digital transition will require as much as 50 percent of an organization’s capital spending through 2020, according to PwC/Strategy& Data.

Finally, and most importantly, we hope that solutions providers will take away some strategies for initiating conversations and profitable relationships with these decision-makers.

CP: What does it mean to become indispensable to the CDO and the what’s the benefit?

KH: Becoming a digital business is a large and strategic undertaking, spanning multiple departments and technologies. A solutions provider who has access to a range of providers, including cloud and managed service providers, can be instrumental in bringing all (or most) of the pieces together. Of course, the benefit to the solutions provider is clear — long-term, sticky customer relationship with opportunities for growth over time.  If a solutions provider can deliver value to a CDO, the revenue opportunity should be significant, particularly compared to more transactional opportunities. Of course, this presupposes that the solutions provider has developed an understanding of the organization’s goals and has assembled best-of-breed providers to realize their vision — a not insignificant undertaking that we also hope to discuss in our session.

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