Rule number one of tech thought leadership: Don’t mention technology

James Watson

Selling technology used to be about software and hardware, buzzwords and jargon. Now, it is about services and results. And tech thought leadership must be the same: content that presents tech innovation in simple, jargon-free terms, backed by robust research showing 1) why (not how) it works, and 2) why it’s important.

C-suite executives across the board realise technology’s transformative potential, and it continues to shoot up their agenda. For tech vendors, this presents an opportunity to sell strategically across the company — not only with specific products, but also with ongoing services, consultancy and support.

But for many vendors, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is still the main point of contact. There’s a natural and perfectly good reason for this: it’s a lot easier to have a discussion about how technology works with someone who understands its inner workings.

Nevertheless, to really exploit the opportunities, vendors have to go beyond the CIO, to engage with other C-suite executives, many of whom now enjoy growing influence on technology-related decisions.

Well-defined thought leadership is a vital tool in broadening the discussion. By thinking differently – and showing clients that they’re thinking differently – tech vendors can alter their brand perception and increase their influence beyond the CIO. Here are six ways to do just that.

1. Don’t mention technology

Counterintuitive? Perhaps. But don’t forget that business people use business language. Clearly you can’t remove technology from the discussion altogether, but it’s always best to leave out jargon — and the fewer buzzwords you use the better. Many of them now mean different things to different people anyway, and arguably may be more useful as marketing terms than technology ones (take the Internet of Things, for example, an over-hyped term with almost as many definitions as there are things).

2. Tell stories, sell outcomes

“What can you do for me?” is the most basic of business questions, and it is this – rather than the technological specifics – that should guide your thought leadership. Think in terms of outcomes: saving money, creating efficiencies, accelerating growth. Vary your pitch to match the appropriate C-suite agenda: know their expectations and their issues. And everyone loves a good tech story. Bring technology to life with success stories that demonstrate its transformative potential – like this company does (but try and keep the technology that underpins the solution very much in the background). Real-life case studies – incorporating hard data that supports the best practices and lessons learned – are an especially effective way to get your message across.

3. Substance beats the Next Big Thing

By its very nature – increasingly weird and wonderful – technology grabs people’s attention, but it also falls victim to hype. Look beyond generic headlines of the “This technology will revolutionise your business” variety to find more surprising angles: bust a few myths if you can. But don’t be contrary for the sake of it: our second tip always trumps this one when you’re talking to business leaders.

4. Match form with content

Be creative – if you’re selling analytics that offer real-time visualisations, for example, creating content based around those images will give it an immediate, dynamic feel. Real-time infrastructure-as-a-service company PubNub has some nice examples of visualisations on its site; video platform provider Kaltura, to take just one other example, provides much of its content in video form.

5. Invite business leaders to the discussion…

Beware a ‘technical disconnect’ — the natural wariness felt by people who aren’t technologists towards those who are. If you’re trying to sell technology to business leads, ask them what they want: interview them as part of your research process, engage them in discussions and brainstorming sessions, and include their perspectives in your content.

6. …But don’t leave the CIO out of it

CIOs can feel increasingly left out of important technology discussions. But ultimately their buy-in is essential if you want to sell technology to their business. So include links in your thought leadership content to more technical material for those who want it. Don’t forget: CIOs are people too — and many will have intriguing and even radical stories of their own.

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About the author: James Watson

James oversees project delivery and all the processes involved. In this role, he helps manage and coordinate the research, editorial and project management teams in order to deliver high quality thought leadership campaigns.

As an editor, he has over 15 years of experience in both business journalism and research. Some of his specialist areas of coverage include IT and technology, urban issues, energy and sustainability. Prior to co-founding FT Longitude, James spent five years at the Economist Group in the UK. Earlier, he worked in both South Africa and Singapore, reporting on the dot com boom (and bust). He is now based in Zurich, Switzerland.

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