For some technology executives hoping to help their businesses thrive, a sales background can come in handy.
Claire Rutkowski, CIO Champion at engineering software Bentley Systems, has seen this play out in the industry her company serves. Last year, Rutkowski moved from CIO to CIO Champion, a switch that has allowed her more direct contact with customers' CIOs and other C-suite leaders while supporting internal technology use.
When businesses pick tech leaders with sales experience, Rutkowski said, the expectation is that they'll have a clearer sense of how the business operates — ultimately using tech to improve operations.
"If a CIO has a sales background or an intimate knowledge of how the sales process works for their company, then I think they are better able to make educated choices on digital commerce where appropriate," Rutkowski said. "They'll know what drives customer choices."
With a background in sales, CIOs can easily convey the value of technology tools. But they also benefit from a sharper focus on how the company serves its customers and a vision for potentially marketable solutions.
At least one recent leadership appointment shows a sales background can lead to the tech side of the C-suite. Marriott International appointed Drew Pinto as EVP and chief revenue and technology officer in February. Pinto previously held the role of global officer of global sales, distribution and revenue management.
A sales background provides an individual with expertise to align organizational capabilities with revenue and profit, which can lead to fulfilling corporate objectives, said Manish Jain, principal research director at Info-Tech Research, in an email.
"Transferring this proficiency to the technology field can decrease the rate of project failure caused by a misalignment between business and technology," Jain said.
A pulse on customers and products
Technology executives with sales experience can connect the dots between the completion of a new technology project and the delivery of new services.
In the architecture, engineering and construction field, CIOs are turning to their understanding of customer needs to make those connections between tech and potential new revenue lines, Rutkowski said.
Leaders are "coming up with new tools and technologies, or integrating technologies that the company already has, to offer whole new lines of service to their customers," Rutkowski said.
The set of metrics used to evaluate the performance of some executives is beginning to include specific lines of revenue, according to Forrester data.
The increased connection between technology and revenue is also a function of technology evolution, according to Janelle Hill, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner. As other enterprise functions become more tech driven, such as sales and marketing, specialists in those areas have gained a strong technology bent.
"It's not a surprise that some of them will say, 'I'll step up and run the IT organization because I'm dependent on that organization anyway,'" Hill said.
The focus on customers is especially relevant in the current business landscape. Despite deceleration in pockets of IT spending, nearly 4 in 5 CIOs plan to increase spending on customer experience this year, the Logicalis Global CIO Report 2023 shows.
CIOs with sales chops also know how critical it is to keep an eye on metrics.
"They know what growth means in the enterprise," Hill said. "They have a vision for how digital will drive growth and they know how to measure it."