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Selling IT: Understanding the role of the IT Director

Aug 27, 2021

How to be successful selling IT

Practical advice for salespeople selling IT based on conversations between experienced sales training consultant Fred Copestake and IT Director Scott Wilson-Benner

Fred:   Welcome to this special episode of the Selling Through Partnering Skills Podcast, which is part of the Selling IT series, where I’m joined by Scott Wilson Benner who is the IT Director at Alloga.

Welcome Scott, I really appreciate you giving up some of your time to talk to me about what it’s like being sold to. What we have agreed was to go through number of different subjects, including what’s the role of the IT director. We’ll then do separate episode where we will talk about what really frustrates you with salespeople, an episode around what delights you about salespeople, and then we’ll do another couple around some of your challenges if that’s ok?

I really want to concentrate on the role of an IT director, because I think when you certainly told me this, sometimes people’s  approach is that they just don’t even appreciate what you do and what you’re trying to do.

So could you give us an overview of what it is that you’re all about?

Scott: Yes, I think people’s often misconception is that the IT Director sits there in his ivory tower and just looks at strategy all day and doesn’t do much else, but that’s not necessarily the case. A lot of it is involved in mentoring the IT team and ensuring we deliver value or continued value to the business.

It’s really important to me that my team continue to deliver value and that we’re looking at the next big thing that is coming in, the challenges for our partners and our suppliers and for the clients that we serve in the pharmaceutical industry. That includes strategic business planning, IT planning, looking at new technologies opportunities and the usual budgeting, financing, you still have to do quite a lot of that. You have to make sure that we count the pennies. 

Importantly, for me, it’s analysing new sectors in particular, legislation  changes and opportunities so that we get through those changes to build new solutions for the clients that we serve.

What is becoming more and more critical is ongoing security. People see on the news every day,  cyber attacks are on the increase. Companies have been hit by crypto viruses, etc. It does keep IT people up at night.

More important is the stability and the efficiency of the IT systems and the support function in particular, to make sure that the business can continue to function as it needs to. Also ongoing delivery of services. We do push out a lot of services to our clients and our customers through our development function, so making sure that part functions. It is about keeping the lights on and keeping the business running, but it’s also about looking for new things and delivering projects and making sure that we continue to do a good job for our clients.

Fred: Whoa, is that all?  I think, it’s also a bit flippant, but it’s an important thing for people to realise you’ve got a lot on your plate.

Could you give some flavour of a day in the life of, what would you get up to between nine and five or whatever hours you are?

Scott:  I suppose a normal day would be, going to the office or work from home whichever is quite normal in the new world of COVID or post COVID.

I think the first thing is making sure that everything’s okay and the support team are on top of it all, making  sure we’ve had no major incidents overnight – the support team take care of this and also the development team do. Making sure any “project go lives” that are due that day have gone okay and there are no major issues in the support team.

Generally, I start up my diary, probably 80% meetings every day which is a challenge in itself. A lot of those meetings will range from internal meetings, talking about projects. External meetings with other parts of the business as we are part of a wider group AmerisourceBergen, which is spread across the US and EU.

Quite often, there are some big tactical projects and strategic projects that are being done throughout the EU that we are part of that we need to work together with, in particular around security and the really big systems that we’re deploying.

There are always projects on the go. System upgrades, looking after things patching, just making sure that everything is delivered as is. Then there’s obviously the other stuff looking at strategy. doing PowerPoint slides, which probably takes about 30 minutes of everyday preparing for meetings the following day or reviewing notes.

Some of the more tricky days where you’ve perhaps not got one big meeting, but you’ve probably got several small back-to-back meetings with clients as you’ll come out of that meeting with lots of notes and lots of actions and in today’s world, you’ll end up in another meeting straight away. You have to refocus and pivot your head into a completely different subject or case. You’ll probably end up at the end of the day with lots of notes and then try to digest all that, write it all down, get it into word documents and then start building up plans for the support team where they need to actually get something from development team, but they need to action something. The days tend to be tend to be quite full unfortunately (or fortunately) depends how you look at it.

Fred: It is interesting – the first thing you said when going through that list and it’s a really long list is you talked about mentoring the team and delivering value for the business. Was the order that you gave out less significant by the way, or is that just as they were coming into your head and if it was unconscious, it’s probably significant.

Scott: No, I wouldn’t say it was, but it probably is subconsciously as clearly you’re only as strong as your team. If they’re unhappy, then the service won’t be good. So for me, it’s always quite critical to make sure the team are really stable, they are happy in what they’re doing.

I’m probably jumping about a little bit, but think one of the challenges is, in today’s world people’s expectations are a lot higher. There’s lots of jobs out there, it’s easier to get work. It is different managing different personalities nowadays. Whereas I think when I first started work, you either got on with your job or you find another job.  

I think it’s really important that, you embrace people, the culture, making sure that it’s right for the team and for everyone in the team, I’ve got people in the team that are perhaps in their early twenties, people that are in their late fifties male, female, it’s a real book. It’s probably a 50/50 mix in IT which is quite unusual in my team but I find that blend of different personalities really works. It is difficult sometimes to make sure they all do work together. I think once you’ve got them working together it’s very beneficial.

Fred: Interesting. You talked about you’re doing that to get the best from the whole to deliver value for the business. So again, broadly high level, what does the value that you give as an IT department What can that deliver for the business?

Scott: So it’s probably split into two for me. There is the value from support, that’s the day-to-day running, keeping the lights on, making sure that the operations team and the end users are as efficient as possible. The challenge you get now is everything that runs from IT so if it goes wrong that has a massive impact on everyone that uses it.

So let’s say, our older order intake system went down for a few hours that would have a massive impact. Operational picking, efficiencies, drivers vehicles, you name it will have an impact so it’s really important that all these systems run extremely efficient, efficiently 24/7, 365.

The support side is really key for ensuring the ongoing operation. The development side is the opposite. Doing developments to make them more efficient in their day to day working for the future, looking at new platforms, but also bringing on new business. Our development team will help us onboard new business.

Most of my team came through the business and I found that suited the team a lot better because sitting in front of a client is quite key when you have got a IT person that talks about integration at a really technical level in front of a client that doesn’t understand their business, how it works, how it needs to work with our business, how it interleaves. Having someone who understands all the processes, understands what happens when a vehicle turns up at Goods In and when the pallets get unloaded – they can actually can visualize it. They’ve worked down there. They’ve experienced it. That’s where they really add the value.

They can have a workshop with a client to understand what the operations team needs, the client team needs and they’ll do the technical bit in the middle that will make it all work.

The key thing for  our end users is that no matter what system our clients are using, the expectation is it will make the request of “pick this order”, “send it here on this day” look exactly the same to our pickers and our transport planners and everyone else, irrespective of how the client’s operating – the client might operate in a completely different way to the last one, but the expectation is the end user. Our system will be very different to the client system, we take the data out of there and make it look the same or, make the process feel the same for the client –  that’s the real skill that for the development team, that’s where they really do add the value.

Fred: I like the way that they’re sitting with what I would call a sales mentality – actually that is what a good salesperson does.

Scott: This is where a lot of our clients, or sometimes people misunderstand is they perceive this process as a technical process, it’s all about this integration and onboarding clients, but it’s not it’s definitely an operationally led technically supported process.

We will talk about sales later – it’s all about what is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the business process we’re trying to support and how can we support- not I’ve got this really complicated, fancy integration tool – it can do all this crazy stuff.

Fred: What’s the problem it’s trying to solve? How we automate and how do we support that?

Scott: Absolutely.

Fred: What are you actually targeted on? What are you measured on? I suspect, rewarded on?

Scott: It’s obviously business turnover that is key, making a profit but also successful implementation, successful projects.. It’s probably a 50 50 split between financial and obviously adding value through adding new business or adding new systems or upgrades. So if you take COVID for instance, that has really driven the work from home mentality.

There has been talk of work from home for years. It was a focus of the business. I’ve never been home one week coming to work the following week where that has completely pivoted and we need to get people work from home

Fred: Brilliant. You started to just touch on some of the challenges that you have day to day by the way, just before we go onto that and give little teaser how many people have asked you that question about what you get measured on and what you get rewarded on?

Scott:  Get rewarded on – none

Fred: How many salespeople have you spoken to in the past? No single person has asked you, what are you measured on? So what are they really bothered about?

Scott: We will come on to that later, but I think quite a few people are too keen to explain what they’re selling, not explain how it all benefits me or the business.

Fred: We’ll finish this, but just before we go – that is going to be one of your frustrations. I will also record one about what has delighted you. But just broadly then what are the kind, you have mentioned some already, but the kind of challenges that you’re facing 

Scott:  I think many industries have through to COVID-19, but also Brexit as has been a challenge. So we’ve probably seen quite an increase in stock holding – there’s certainly been some challenges around space. For me, the view of IT is probably the biggest challenge nowadays and the fact that perhaps up until, I would say the last, perhaps two years maybe longer IT was always there in a business, but the expectation of it was perhaps not as high as it is today.

I think it has become such a big part of everyone’s day to day world. Everyone’s got a smartphone, everyone’s got probably several laptops and tablets and smart TV screens and you name it. Look at most cars nowadays they have been driving computers.

I think people’s expectations are they pick up a device, whatever that might be. It could be a car, tablet, laptop or phone, they expect it to work first time, every time.  I think that expectation has seeped through into their day-to-day business life as well – they will walk in and people’s expectation of the systems that people operate.

I think people’s expectations of it have grown so much that they do feel sorry for the support teams in this respect, because it is a challenge. It becomes a massively thankless task.  People’s expectations are, what’s not working should just work. One of the challenges we see is, you help someone out on a problem and their view is that should be working in the first place. It is a challenge.

We have tackled that through various feedback loops into the support team and  that has really helped people when they’ve had time to reflect on the service they’ve received from support teams, and said actually, it was a really good experience. That boosts the morale of support team – it makes you feel valued. But certainly I think, expectations have significantly increased on what should work – that’s one of the biggest ones I think

Fred: We will break those out into separate episodes but what I want to do is thank you for just giving us that overview of what a, what an IT director is all about.

If it goes some way to helping salespeople who are selling into this area, understand that to do a better job, that’s brilliant. That’s why we’re doing this.

Scott Wilson-Benner is IT Director at Alloga
An experienced strategist ensuring IT alignment with business objectives and selecting systems to deliver strategic value he has over 20 years’ experience in business integration ensuring efficient and up to date information with one version of the truth for key data.

Contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scott-wilson-benner 

Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.

Contact: https://linktr.ee/fredcopestake