How to Pitch Technology to C-level Executives

The techies are making all the right noises, but the final nod is usually given by non-technical C-level decision-makers – and they only care about themselves and their problems. I show how to pitch a complex concept to the C-suite in plain English, by explaining how to split the atom.

Find a common language

‘Two peoples divided by a common language,’ is how George Bernard Shaw described the Britain and America. 

It’s much the same with technical and business decision makers. In our world, the techies love smart technology, and get excited about speeds, feeds and specs. Yet the business guys who hold the purse strings don’t care how your technology works, and ‘technobabble‘ is an instant turn-off. They want to know how your technology will solve their business problems, and the ROI. That’s it. 

Knowing exactly who you are pitching to and tailoring your pitch to speak directly to them is key to closing the deal.

Know what they care about

In the B2B technical space, a lot of the selling takes place between techies (yours and theirs) who speak the same language. 

The techies decide and write up their recommendations for the CIO and business managers like CFOs and COOs. When you present your technology solution to these decision makers, or to investors and business partners, you need to speak their language.

If you hit them with tech specs and jargon, you’ll see their eyes glaze over faster than you can say ‘Sorry’. You want to get them excited, and that means showing them how your solution addresses their  concerns – like returns on investment, project milestones, performance guarantees, cost savings or regulatory compliance. This is what turns them on.

Ask: ‘what’s in it for them?’

That’s the first question to ask when pitching to business buyers of technology. Put yourself in their shoes and ask:

How does this product help me solve my problem?

How does it help my team become more efficient?

How does it increase our revenues and profits?

How does it save us money?

How will it reduce risk?

Focus on ROI

Even when you’re pitching to tech-savvy CIOs, they’ll want to know if your technology will free up or use up their limited IT resources.

A cost justification (such as an ROI calculator) isn’t easy, so many marketers don’t attempt it. We do and, if you have facts at your disposal, it’s one of the most powerful tools you can use in a technology market, where competitors are mostly trying to dazzle with speeds and feeds.

We prepared an ROI calculator for an enterprise security vendor, which incorporated these verifiable elements:

  • Probability of a major data breach (from Computerworld research)
  • Average cost of a data breach (from the Ponemon Institute)
  • Risk reduction due to the solution (actual client data from a Pilot Project)
  • Solution cost (total costs for the same client, taken from the proposal).

Other factors such as damage to reputation are harder to put a price on (but are immeasurably high), so we stuck to figures supported by credible sources. Even at 20% probability of a data breach (which has since risen, as has frequency) our client’s solution was a fraction of the cost and represented a very favourable ROI. 

By the way, our client won the deal, and we incorporated a ‘sanitised’ ROI calculator into a White Paper on how to justify the cost of an IT Security solution. It became this client’s most downloaded resource. 

How to pitch to technology investors

Technology investors are not the same as technology buyers. They’re investing in your company, not buying your technology to solve a business problem. Their questions are more like:

Why should I invest in your technology and not another?

How long will it be before I see a return?

What do advisors and analysts say about your area and technology?

How is your financial modelling affected by projected market predictions?

What is the risk?

Find their pain points

It’s easy to make assumptions about pain points, but don’t. Ask and you’ll know. Here’s an example: 

One of our clients develops software that protects finance industry customers against online fraud.

The CEO was convinced that Australia’s big banks would knock the door down to buy the product for its performance, attractive pricing and ROI. Yet, despite years of presentations and demonstrations, not a single bank bought a licence. 

Eventually the CEO found out why: he had misjudged the pain points.

For one bank, it would have cost about $50 million a year to supply the solution to all its online customers and, with annual profits of $6-7 billion, that would’ve been small change. However, it only cost the bank $20 million a year to compensate those customers who had been victims of fraud. Based on these numbers, the product fell over. There simply was no pain point.

As it turned out, affordable online fraud prevention was a pain point for credit unions, which made up most of our client’s uncontested market space. The company pursued this opportunity and ended up owning 90% of the credit union market).

Avoid jargon

Using jargon (especially TLAs or Three Letter Acronyms) is the fastest way to lose any audience,whether they’re reading, watching or listening.

Jargon is best described as the technical terminology of specialists, which is peppered with unfamiliar words. In plain words, jargon is pretentious, unnecessarily obscure and esoteric language.

We’ve all seen politicians on TV using that kind of language. It’s why most of us tune out and turn off, just as your audience will do if your website, presentations, white papers and videos use jargon instead of clear English.

You might turn the TV off tonight in annoyance, but you’ll probably turn it back on tomorrow. It’s not the same with your your targets; once they’re gone, they won’t come back.

Try this: how to split the atom 

Good technical writers grasp complex technical issues quickly, translate them into plain English and make their readers feel comfortable, knowing they’re in competent hands. That’s the hallmark of good writing. A good technical copywriter can explain the most complex technologies in plain English. Here’s an example: my take on splitting the atom:

An atom is the smallest particle in a chemical element such as hydrogen or oxygen. When an atom splits in a process called ‘nuclear fission’, a great deal of energy is released that can be harnessed for nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation. 

A diagram is always helpful with technical concepts. Also, if the words are too simple for your audience, you can always add more detail. Here’s an example – our atom-splitting expanded:

Atoms are made up of neutrons, protons and electrons. At the centre of every atom is a nucleus. Elements with large nuclei, such as uranium and plutonium, lend themselves to nuclear fission. When an atom’s nucleus splits or fissions, many neutrons are released. When these hit other atoms, they cause them to split, which starts a nuclear chain-reaction that releases huge amounts of energy.

In a nuclear bomb, the chain reaction must be sped up to cause an explosion. In a nuclear reactor, the chain reaction must be slowed, down to create heat to turn water into steam for power generation.

What’s in it for you?

Whatever the form of your communication (written, verbal, webinar, video, audio, infographic), if you cut through to your targets, you’ll attract, engage and convert them to buyers or investors more quickly, and reduce both acquisition costs and sales team churn.

What’s in it for you?

To win the game more often, using measurable processes that deliver consistently. This is risk minimisation for marketers, not just business buyers.

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