The traditional CIO started out as a software engineer and climbed up the technology ladder to eventually become the most senior IT executive in the enterprise. They had full oversight and ownership of all applications and workflows in place — until machine learning, artificial intelligence, block chain, the internet of things, and the cloud came along. The IT landscape was disrupted and the traditional enterprise tech stack completely transformed.

With these technologies came an entirely new array of capabilities that directly impacted consumer-end business objectives. And as the goals of the IT function became less centered around email servers and internal networks, and more about meeting the evolving demands of the consumer, it’s only natural that the role of the CIO had to transition to a hybrid leader focused on both the technology and the business. 

We interviewed 7 Emissary advisors who previously held CIO roles at Fortune 500 companies to disclose 7 new traits of this modern executive. Read on to gain a better understanding of the mind frame behind the CIO role, and operationalize these traits to build a stronger relationship with this key decision maker:

#1. Technology leaders need to be business leaders.


The evolved growth mindset of the CIO is their most noticeably evolved trait. They’re at the table with the CFOs and the CEOs, and their focus is on business problems. This mindset needs to be at the forefront, and their “IT” viewpoint has taken a back seat.

I don’t call what I do ‘IT’. IT people configure third-party software. I’m an engineer, and I work with engineers. Engineers SOLVE problems; they don’t configure other people’s solutions or make other people’s solutions try to solve their own problems. They don’t look at generalities but rather focus on solving the specific problem at hand. If you call it ‘IT’ and/or aren’t solving a specific and well-understood customer problem, you’ll be seen as an order taker as opposed to a problem solver.

– Former CTO

#2. CIOs are placing a growing amount of emphasis on their network.


In today’s remote environment, people are spending significantly more time connecting with each other through social channels. Particularly technology leaders who want to connect and learn how others in their space are adapting, the number of virtual happy hours and round tables amongst these leaders has skyrocketed.

This has only expedited an already established pattern of technology executives placing greater importance on their business connections and the depth of their network. This leads to a new opportunity for sales leaders to prove their value in helping them achieve this goal.

The biggest capital sales leaders have right now is their network. If you can connect someone to another company that has an interesting or unique way of responding to this crisis that would benefit your customer or potential customer, make the connection.  Sell your network as much as your product, and you will rise above the majority of sales people who haven’t adjusted to this new way of working.

– Former Corporate Business Transformation Leader, Southwest Airlines

#3. CIOs are struggling to balance and integrate their tech stack.


System complexity, system integration, and application oversight are consistent roadblocks every CIO is facing in their day-to-day. Whatever your solution is, your ability to address these pain points as honestly and candidly as possible, will often be a huge factor in setting you apart from competitors who may either shy away from the topic or over promise.

“The challenge that most large organizations face is already having a huge amount of installed CapEx and IT infrastructure. There’s a tremendous amount of capable technologies out there, but if you don’t understand the complexities of existing IT infrastructure or the cultural differences across geographies in a global company, you can’t assume your solution can integrate and scale to support a global enterprise.

A better approach is to recognize the complexity of integration. Maybe you don’t have all the answers, but speak to your experiences integrating in similar environments, and commit to working with your client during the integration process to make sure that things scale at a reasonable pace and you’re not overselling the ROI or the term at which that ROI is achieved.”

– Former CTIO, Jacobs Engineering

#4. CIOs’ reservations around innovation and digital transformation are gone.

While current events have transformed the global economy, CIOs have had to keep up with new business demands to not only stay afloat, but prepare for the future. Rather than addressing digital transformation cautiously and slowly, CIOs have become more open to new innovation efforts that will allow their businesses to emerge from current events stronger than their competitors.

“A lot of companies that have the wherewithal to not just try to stay alive, but to say, ‘What is the world going to look like and how can we address that?’ are able to capitalize on this transformation piece, and it goes back to the saying ‘never waste a crisis.’ What traditionally makes bigger companies go slower is just the fear of breaking something. Right now is the time where leaders can give a lot more tolerance to a huge amount of change. You can break some things by just taking a big leapfrog forward on transformation efforts that would have taken much longer otherwise.”

Former CIO, Microsoft

#5. CIOs often need middle management to vet new solutions providers.

The increased business responsibilities of the CIO has, of course, led to less time on their hands. So when it comes to new technology investments, CIOs are going to need to rely on middle management to pick up more decision making authority. They trust their reportees to make decisions on who will make it past the first rounds of vetting and earn a seat at the table with them.

Go after the people who are going to be working on the projects and initiatives. They’ll see it as something that’s going to help boost them from a visibility perspective in their career. Then let those people champion it up to the C-level. Help them with whatever is necessary, let them do a little bit of internal selling, and then you can come in and hopefully have a meeting with a C-level executive who has a bit of background and baseline. That’s always effective.

Former CIO, Clorox

#6. When you earn a seat at the table, CIOs want you to educate them.

Particularly at a time where businesses are hyper-focused on the bottom line and achieving strategic objectives, CIOs have had to become more business-oriented than ever before. One substantial pain point that this highlights is losing a pulse on the rapidly emerging technologies in the industry. They don’t have the time to keep up, and if they’re willing to speak with you, they need to benefit immensely from the discussion, and you need to prove your value.

“I’ve always found it to be a turnoff when someone tries to come into a complex sale and they think about it more like a used car sale where they’re just trying to close a deal. That, to me, doesn’t work. What does work is a consultative sale where they come in and educate me – telling me things about the industry and the technology coming in that I didn’t know about. That’s really value-added. It’s not just a data dump, but it really adds value to my ability as a leader. They also understand my company enough and my needs enough to show me why they’re the right fit or the right solution for what we’re trying to achieve right now as a business.”

– Former CIO, CareFirst

#7. CIOs want (and potentially need) you to be assertive and lead the way.


On the same tone of proving your value through current emerging trends and solutions in the industry, if you have a strong enough pulse on the company’s top initiatives and goals, don’t be afraid to point CIOs in the right direction.

“As I think about all the emerging technologies, companies are hungry for change. CIOs and CEOs need results but don’t always know how. Instead of a sales leader being an “order taker” they need to show the “way” as to how a series of transformations can help them over deliver their business goals.”

– Former CIO, Procter & Gamble

After speaking with each of these Emissary advisors, it became apparent to us that the modern CIO relies on and values the strategic insights of solutions providers. Suppliers who approach CIOs tactically and in the right tone have a true opportunity to become a critical component of achieving the business’s strategic initiatives. To round out our conversation and insights, we ended the discussion with Procter & Gamble’s former CIO who gave encouraging parting advice to sales leaders, whose shows must go on:

“At a time when everyone is frustrated, afraid, and watching business dry up, sales leaders need to take charge. My last piece of advice is to stay relentless on ideas. Stay optimistic, but especially passionate about your customers’ business results.  You will build an incredible relationship with your customers if you are bringing in great ideas on how to drive value. You are called to be a blessing to companies with new solutions and new ways to do the business, therefore do it with passion.”

Former CIO, Procter & Gamble