How I Buy – Steve Pereira, CTO, Statflo
Sales people responsible for selling to CTOs have an interesting challenge that we’ve captured in the #HowIBuy interviews to date. Most CTOs have a very thoughtful and rational approach to analyzing their own technology stack and thinking about purchase decisions. However, most CTOs like to do their own investigations based on what is on their roadmap.
Getting on that roadmap is the challenge, and that involves having an opportunity to educate the buyer on a new idea. Catching a CTO’s eye, and having that opportunity to show them a new approach or product is difficult. In today’s interview, I spoke with Steve Pereira, CTO of Statflo (they are the leader in data-driven solutions for wireless retail stores). Steve walks through how he learns, how he thinks about his roadmap, and what might catch his eye.
Here are Steve’s insights:
Thanks for joining Steve, start us off by talking a bit about your role and what you’re responsible for?
I’m the CTO at Statflo, so I’m responsible for all the technology, the SLAs, tools, and security. I’ve got KPIs on system uptime, engineering velocity, and managing tech debt. I’m generally responsible for making sure that we’re using tools for any repeated or systematic processes.
Let’s start at the highest level – how do you create a roadmap? How do you know what is possible with the tools that are out there?
Our tech roadmap ultimately strives to serve our product roadmap, and product goals we can align with, to factor in debt repayment, experimentation and new technologies. I work very closely with our CEO and product leadership to identify opportunities to apply technological leverage to get where we’re going faster or achieve a higher level of quality or performance. A lot of the important and challenging work is deciding to what level you can afford to do what you want vs what you can deliver given all the constraints at play.
As far as knowing what’s possible and keeping in tune with the state of the art and industry, for me and a lot of people in my role of technical leadership, it’s an innate curiosity and enthusiasm for technology and how it’s being, or can be used. I love to learn what’s new and what kind of problems people are tackling. I try to learn, just out of my own love of technology. I keep on top of podcasts and things like HackerNews, and I keep close to my community via Slack teams and Meetups to see what kinds of problems they are having and what kinds of solutions they are developing.
With any announcement, I like to dig into the comments, almost more than the article itself. What do people think about it, and what’s the general consensus on the idea. You can leverage the wisdom of crowds to know what’s signal and what’s noise.
What catches your eye? There are a lot of articles out there, why would one of them stand out to you and cause you to dig in on that one article?
The ones that catch me are often ones that challenge my assumptions. For example right now, something that is negative on machine learning might stand out as we’re so deep in the hype cycle of everything data intelligence related right now. The contrarian view is always interesting and often valuable.
I like to see where people are willing to put their name behind what they’ve found and what they’ve researched. Tutorials are also very interesting – if people are educating the world on the basic steps of something, it might indicate a lack of maturity, but also might be a mark of enthusiasm and adoption. If it’s the latter, that’s something to keep an eye on for the future.
When you see an article, how much do you think through their motivations for writing the article? Does that bias change how you read the article?
I think it’s healthy to take everything with some salt. It’s often valuable regardless, but I’ll put on a different lens depending on who it’s coming from. For example, if it’s coming from a vendor, it could be valuable in that it shows that they are developing a presence in that market. To me that’s an indicator of a level of commitment. I’ll extract information even if the article is a bit pitchy.
If it’s coming from someone who’s trying to establish a name for themselves as a consultant or thought leader then I’ll look for the experience that backs what they’re saying. They may be sharing specific use cases, conflicts, or issues. There’s a difference between “what I learned using [technology X] for a year” and “what I learned getting started with [technology X]”. They both contribute to the overall picture and my decision on whether I want to invest further.
When something fits in terms of timing, how do you go about evaluating solutions?
Ideally it’s easy enough to experiment with through a trial, resources, or an ability to spin it up myself if it’s open source. It can also be backed by a lot of technical talks on the subject if those options are not possible for some reason. I’d look for that information to be provided by someone that’s not the vendor themself though.
I’ll often survey my own community through Slack, meetup groups, and my team to find out what everyone has for experiences and opinions. There’s usually a running dialog of what’s interesting and might be useful.
Engineering groups can often bias towards the “familiar” in a comparison, even if the other solution might be better. How do you tease out engineering “religion” from any opinion?
Everything needs to be weighed together. I don’t mind a bias of my team towards a specific technology as long as it checks all the boxes we need to meet our objectives and obligations. I’d rather go with something that everyone wants to use even if it’s not the absolute winner from a pure technology standpoint.
Unless there’s a dramatic benefit of one solution over another, people’s preferences and familiarity will have a real weight. I want to keep my team happy. I encourage them to try new things, but there’s always a reminder against not being distracted by the latest shiny new thing. We run a dedicated hackathon every two weeks where we push the team to learn, experiment and try new things, so there’s lots of encouragement to step into the unknown and bring in new technologies and approaches.
What works in selling to you and your team? How can a vendor get on your radar?
I’m allergic to sales, especially traditional sales. You’ll never get me on the phone, you’ll never get me responding to cold emails. It so rarely lines up with any of my goals, and it’s so easy to “sense” that a call or an email is sales, I just completely ignore it.
For me, it’s when I need something, see something on the horizon, or have a pain developing, that’s when I do the searching and seek something myself. It would take an incredible coincidence for someone to cold-call me and have that be just the thing that I need at that moment. Once I’ve identified that need or opportunity though, I’m happy to book a call with a sales engineer and someone technical, because no amount of material will match my specific use case to the letter.
Often times there are personal connections that I’ve made at an event or community channel where they get to know my specific business and challenges. In those cases, I’ll be a lot more receptive to hearing about their product and how they can help out. Being a speaker and event organizer for meetups and conferences means I interact with a lot of marketing and sales teams for tech companies, so I get a sense for who’s genuinely interested in what they’re doing and who’s just trying to sell something.
Obviously doing the groundwork of understanding who we are and what we do goes a long way towards getting my ear. It’s also important that they make it easy for me to understand what they are about without booking a phone call or taking a demo. They need to be able to point me to specific and relevant material that I can consume on my own time. That’s much better than trying to land a meeting by cold calling me.
Case studies, especially those on companies at our size and maturity level, also help me put in context what the vendor offers. That gives me something concrete to come back to when there’s a challenge that we’re facing over the subsequent months.
How does a decision process work once you’ve decided to pursue an opportunity?
When we have a need, we’ll try to pull the trigger as quickly as we can. If there’s enthusiasm, and we have a way of applying and measuring a new approach or solution, we’ll try to get in, experiment, consolidate our findings, and make a decision.
I want to evaluate their on-boarding process as well. I want to see a vendor that has their material together, can handle all my edge cases, and I can get ahold of someone. The longer it takes, the more that general enthusiasm starts to wane. At that point, I’ll often move towards a solution that’s easier to get started with.
Once you’ve made a selection, how do you build the business case and fund the investment?
That’s a consistent challenge in technology decisions. Ideally we can map it to an FTE equivalent; how many people would it take to do the same job. Often those type of analyses, I’ll get the vendor to contribute to as they should have that set of numbers themselves. Anyone selling something valuable should have a solid understanding of what they bring to the table in terms of ROI.
Contract terms also matter a lot here. If it’s a monthly payment and we can get out with minimal impact, we’ll make those decisions faster than if it’s an annual contract and a bigger up-front commitment.
Thanks for your insights on the buying process Steve, they were tremendously valuable!