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The C-Level Mythology

by Hank Barnes  |  November 19, 2019  |  2 Comments

Last week, I joined in a bit of a twitter dialog with Frank Scavo, when he shared this:

The whole dialog can be found here.   I jumped in because I hate the word alignment.  Can’t stand it.   From where I sit, enterprises use it to pretend that groups are cooperating across silos.   What I’ve experienced (both in my life before Gartner and at Gartner) is it more often means that “we talked but didn’t do much different than what we were planning.”

But Frank’s gripe was a different scenario with sellers wanting to connect their boss with their contact’s boss (or boss’s boss) –the Very Important Top Officer.  That triggered me to share some more findings from the buying study I’ve been citing (and will continue to cite) for a while.

It indicates the myth of the VITO , or C-Level execs broadly, mandating decisions down into their organization.  Now, that may happen with some decisions and some leaders, but not for most.

Here’s some evidence.  In our study, 765 of the 1464 respondents were in C-level roles.  For those respondents:

  • They  indicated they highest number of decisions makers (compared to VPs, managers, and below) participating in buying decisions.  The numbers were highest when the C-level roles were not a CIO or a CTO.
  • Executives were the most likely to rely on internal experts for advice and recommendations.
  • They were the most likely to cancel projects due to internal disagreements.
  •  They felt that achieving consensus was one of the biggest challenges they faced—higher than those in other roles.

Clearly, VITOs care about the ability to execute and get things done.  That doesn’t happen through magical mandates from on high.  That comes from the team building confidence in their decision and executing.

And, if you take Frank’s alignment gripe in this context; it is a huge failure.

  • You (the sales rep) are saying that your mgmt has no confidence in you, your contact, or the buying team-the team you have been working with for a while–to get things done.
  • If you get the meeting, the VITO is very likely to go right back to the buying team and ask them what is going on.  They’ll also recognize that there is some lack of confidence in you and the team.

It could destroy the trust you’ve developed with the buying team.   VITOs or C-Levels may be able to accelerate some decisions or get you an audience with the team,  but they usually won’t be doing that on their own.  If you make that bet, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be standing somewhere alone.

Aligned.  On your own.





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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: alignment  b2bsales  confidence  decision-making  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The C-Level Mythology

  1. John Scriblerus says:

    I’m aligned with your comments!

    In your post you reference a study:

    “In our study, 765 of the 1464 respondents were in C-level roles.”

    Is there more detail in a research note?

    • Hank Barnes says:

      There is published research from the broader study. I’ll be publishing a note in early 2020 that dives into the C-Level preferences

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