Talk to the suits: How to sell IT outside of IT

Less is more when it comes to bang-up business presentations. Here are five tips for better tech talks.

Thomas Murphy needed a new ERP system, and he needed $300 million to buy it.

With a price tag that large, you'd think Murphy would add every justification he could think of to his presentations for his business colleagues. But even though he had enough data to fill 200 slides, Murphy, senior vice president and CIO at AmerisourceBergen Corp., resisted that temptation.

a good presentation can keep the crowd rapt

Instead, he sold his plan -- to IT employees, line-of-business colleagues and C-level executives at the Valley Forge, Pa.-based pharmaceutical services company -- with a mere five slides that used impressive images and just a few persuasive facts to get his point across.

For example, he showed an image of an iceberg to demonstrate that little issues with the company's current processes were symptomatic of much bigger problems to come. And when he told audiences that the company's supply chain application was older than Pong, up came a screen shot from the ancient video game.

"It always got a big laugh, followed by a look of dawning realization and fear," Murphy says, explaining that "good sales people use analogies or powerful references, because people don't remember the numbers. They remember the story."

Three years later, and halfway through the implementation of the ERP system, IT people still talk about the iceberg. "I have always said that the CIO's role is primarily a sales role," Murphy observes. "That's really what we do. We have to sell to people who don't know they want to buy."

Techies get talking

By and large, IT types aren't known for their smooth communication styles or savvy presentation skills. That used to be OK. Now, though, as board members want more details about IT spending, and business colleagues want more information on what technology can do for them, technology employees at all levels need good presentation skills -- particularly if they want to move up in the ranks.

There's a lot at stake, says Lori Michaels, chief technology officer at The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd., a New York-based research and advisory firm. Michaels says she's seen great projects passed over because no one could present a compelling case for them, while flash-in-the-pan "bubblegum tech" that was presented well got funded.

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