Reeling 'Em In

In the following excerpt from his new book, Soldier of Fortune 500: A Management Survival Guide for the Consulting Wars, author and former consultant Steve Romaine describes how he went about acquiring CIO clients at big companies.

I was able to develop an approach that proved successful in generating new leads. I would scour the trade press looking for articles and quotes from senior technology managers in major corporations or announcements of appointments of new executives. I would then draft letters, complimenting them on their success and accomplishments. There would be a brief description of Informed Technology Decisions (ITD) and how we could help in their efforts. I would also enclose a brochure on our business.

Sometimes a response would come without making a follow-up call, but this was rare. When it did happen, it was generally a sign that the executive's office sent the letter to a subordinate manager, probably with a buck slip saying something like "For Your Action." This was the case with Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company where the chief information officer sent our letter with a cover memo to a new manager responsible for distributed-systems development. We were engaged to help them select the right products for a major claims application.

Most of the time it took several follow-up calls to close a sale. The key for me was calling and immediately mentioning the letter I had previously sent. Of course they never remembered the letter, but it provided two important advantages. First, in my head, I was no longer making a cold call. I was following up to my letter. The second advantage was that it threw them a little off stride. It created a second or two of pause, dodging the immediate blow-off as they tried to think how best to get rid of me. This provided a little more time to pitch versus catch. Once they knew why I was calling, they sometimes decided to send me to someone who worked for them. Rarely did I get to meet with the person I had first contacted. A successful call meant a referral to a direct report -- someone who reported directly to the manager I initially called. "I'm calling because your boss suggested you and I should meet." This was the case at Chase Manhattan, although it took multiple calls combined with some pretty good luck before I managed to get a face-to-face meeting.

In the early 1990s one could have easily suspected that the chief information officer (CIO) at Chase Manhattan Bank Corporation was on a public relations blitz. His name was plastered through many of the most widely read industry publications. Financial institutions were one of the first industries to begin using technology for competitive advantage, long before the days of open systems. They recognized early on that technology could have enormous potential for banking, trading, and other financial activities where transactions occur. Unfortunately, for banks, they started using technology in the 1960s. By the end of the 1980s they found themselves encumbered with old systems. Legacy systems, they were called, code for mainframe and usually IBM. Legacy was expensive to run, but also expensive to convert to something else. Chase, under the leadership of an aggressive CIO, was moving quickly to migrate from legacy to cutting-edge technology solutions. This was unusual at the time for banks that tended to be risk averse, particularly in the technology arena.

Chase could be the franchise. The bank had lost its position as the largest and most prestigious U.S. bank to Citicorp in the 1970s, but it was still a major force in the industry with an international scope. David Rockefeller had stepped down as chief executive in 1979. Chase Manhattan had found it could no longer depend on blue chip personal relationships to sustain competitive advantage. The bank had become stodgy and paternalistic. As market share slipped and financial results declined, it was obvious changes needed to be made. They could no longer rely on a relationship with American barons or the royals in exotic countries to park a high percentage of personal assets while also opening bank doors with a big grin to family, friends, employees, and/or subjects.

In the early 1990s, the bank seemed to be reversing the negative results of its recent past. Under new management, it had implemented a strategy to reaffirm its market leadership in core business areas in retail (consumer banking) and wholesale (large corporate customer banking). Executives adopted a bold plan to exit from "nonstrategic" and "nonperforming" businesses. As a result, Chase's performance was significantly improving. Net losses in 1989 and 1990 were followed by net gains of $520 million in 1991 and $639 million in 1992. Analysts were praising bank management for turning things around.

The CIO at Chase received a letter from me complimenting his quotes in a recent article. He had been calling for change and promising to make it happen at Chase. I would always call early in the morning or late in the evening, attempting to avoid the gatekeepers. The other key was to never leave a voice mail -- it eliminates the element of surprise. After several attempts, I caught him answering his own phone early one morning. He had been expecting another call and quickly referred me to his vice president of strategy at the time, Michael Dellano. That was all I wanted. So far, so good.

Attempts to reach Dellano by phone proved unsuccessful, so I went to his secretary to try and get on his calendar. It took several attempts with Dellano's secretary to get an appointment. The secretary was a real pro at screening. She didn't seem so impressed with my mandate from the chief information officer to meet with her boss. Nothing I said did anything to heighten her sense of urgency. After repeated calls, an appointment was made. I speculated that perhaps she had either begun to wear down from all the calls, or she felt sorry for me. Maybe his calendar finally opened up.

It was about a two-hour commute either by car or train from my home in Connecticut to Chase Manhattan's new offices in the MetroTech Center in Brooklyn. It was one of several impressive steel structures in a high-rise complex that looked grossly out of place. It practically faced off with the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, just a few short blocks away. Stepping out of the MetroTech complex, crossing Flatbush Avenue, a nice guy from Connecticut could get himself hurt. It was early morning and MetroTech security was patrolling the area with German shepherds. One of the dogs sneered at me, displaying a serious case of overbite. The City of New York must have given an attractive tax break to the companies that agreed to move in, hoping to revitalize the area. I'm sure they didn't cross the East River for the local ambiance.

Being inside the Chase building was like being in a cocoon. You were totally oblivious to any of the external noise or potential hostilities. To get through security they needed a phone confirmation of my appointment from upstairs. I also had to fill out a form as if I were applying for a mortgage. I was told to go to the eleventh floor.

The secretary was very pleasant. Getting on the calendar made me legitimate. She escorted me into a conference room. It was a corner room on the northwest side of the building, overlooking the skyline of lower Manhattan. It was several minutes before my appointment entered the room.

Michael Dellano walked in as if very self-aware of the imposing presence he projected. He was well groomed, with a thick mustache and intelligent eyes. There was an innate toughness in the man that must have come from city living since his youth, or as they might say in Brooklyn, "yoot." The toughness wasn't the least bit diminished by his polished appearance and self-contained manner that could have belonged to a high-profile prosecuting attorney. Dellano sized me up as we shook hands. He offered me a seat across the oval table that dwarfed everything in the room except him. A pack of cigarettes and a gold lighter from his pocket were placed on the table with a clunk. Dellano was another of those nicotine junkies in constant need of a fix. He was the poster boy for retro cool.

"So tell me ... how did you get on my calendar?"

I told him I had been referred by the CIO.

"I usually don't meet with salesmen."

It must have been the wing tips. I explained that I was a consultant and went into a brief summation of why I thought it could be beneficial to talk. Dellano waited politely for me to finish and then told me that I needed to differentiate my sales pitch from all the other consultants saying similar things.

"Like what for example?" I asked.

"For example, providing skills transfer. Everybody says that ... even though most never do."

Lighting a cigarette, he stood up and walked over to the window. I noticed he wore a silver ring with a miniature diamond on his pinky finger, similar to the one worn by my dad. It was one of those New York tough guy things. He asked me if I recognized the view. It was a beautiful day. Looking out, I could see the World Trade Center, still dominating the sky above lower Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge was a stone's throw away. "Most of the famous skyline shots of New York are from the Jersey side. This is the view from the beginning of the Barney Miller Show. I like this view better, myself," he said. He was right, it was very impressive, as long as you gazed straight out past the East River, and not down at the old, tired Brooklyn Streets surrounding the MetroTech Center.

Dellano asked me several questions, measuring my responses without any indication of concurrence or dissent. The questions centered around my views of technology. He asked me where I thought the industry was going and what the potential advantages and pitfalls might be. He then asked me how I would decide between a centralization strategy for technology versus decentralization. I told him about an experience when I first joined IBM. The heroes and demons of my past continued to haunt me.

At the time they were encouraging both new marketing representatives and system engineers to concentrate their first-year training on distributed, decentralized systems. That was back in the early 1980s. In looking at the senior reps who ran the large account territories, I noticed most had a large-systems background. There was one guy in the branch who had a beard and wore different colored shirts. He wore just about every color except white. I figured he must be a technology guru if IBM lets him look like that when everyone else dressed the same: white shirts, dark suits, and a clean recent shave. When I asked him for advice on which direction to go, he said, "If they tell you distributed, go centralized. When they tell you centralized, go distributed. That way they will always think you are ahead of the curve."

Dellano appeared only slightly amused. He filled me in on some of the activities recently initiated at the bank. Just about everyone else was decentralizing operations. Chase was going centralized. Dellano told me that he and his organization had played a critical role in building the case from the technology perspective. There was something about him that made you believe this wasn't just idle talk. It struck me that he was truly ahead of the curve. Out of the box in a common-sense kind of way. He displayed lots of pride whenever he talked about mother Chase.

"It's the best and only way to target our global customers. They don't want to deal with a lot of banks in different geographies that are Chase in name only. We need to build an infrastructure that can provide the same support all over the world ... one global view."

Impressive. Lots of companies wanted to go global. This would make it important to provide consistent, comprehensive data to customers on all of their account information, wherever and whenever they needed it. At the same time, most consultants were recommending more distributed, decentralized systems. Go figure.

I shared with Dellano how we had developed a technology architecture plan for Pitney Bowes and handed him a copy to see. He politely glanced at it before passing it back. He then called to his secretary to get the Chase Architecture Document. It was in his hands in a flash. He must have asked for it often. "Take a look," he said.

Dellano, as I was about to learn, was one of the leading authorities in the business on technology architecture and a keynote speaker on the subject at industry conferences. After a couple minutes or so of turning pages, I told him I thought it was very impressive. This was not just respectful sales talk; it was obviously a top-notch piece of work. "Looks like it was written so any banker could pick it up and understand it. Not the typical technospeak."

"That's the point. I view my role as giving the decision making back to senior management. Technology in our business is too important to be left to technicians."

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