Being Your Best Reference Account: 4 Questions Every CIO Should Ask

Alvina Antar, CIO, Zuora
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Technology company CIOs are among the chosen few who are able to create a greater impact to their business and revenue beyond their core IT function by truly using their own product. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, you must begin the journey to become your own best reference account.

Last year, I committed to advancing the use of our own technology, Zuora on Zuora—a strategic program designed to become our best reference account. Today, we are a real, billable account on Zuora with benefits rippling across the company. Our employees use it every day to run the Quote to Cash lifecycle of our subscription business. Our executive staff pull reports and insights to measure the health of our subscribers and make data-driven decisions. My IT team partners with Product and Engineering to provide feedback on product strategy and roadmap. More importantly, we proudly share our own design principles, best practices & implementation with prospects, customers and partners—the power of transparency!

Before you set out to become your best reference account, ask yourself these four critical questions:

1) Do you use your own product?

CIOs are the primary decision maker on technology purchases. The first question you should ask a company when assessing their technology is, ‘how do you use your product internally’. You should be able to answer this question with ease and transparency and showcase what a best-in-class implementation looks like.

  Set proper expectations that investing in your own technology is a long term investment with significant business value 

If you’re already using your product, be honest with yourself and question the extent of usage—what percentage of your product are you using? Are you using it to full capacity? Are you a true test bed for your Product and Engineering teams? Are you integrated into your product’s design and development process such that you are the first customer to test new capabilities before an alpha release?

When I reviewed our usage of Zuora, I realized we were using some of its capabilities but had not maximized its potential to automate and streamline our subscription management process. Even in-house, it takes conscious evaluation and investment to keep up with your ever-evolving product.

2) Do you have a business case to be a real customer?

Is there a real business case in investing in your own technology or are you just checking the box? Spend the time to assess your business case as a real customer would. This internalizes your customer’s experience and solidifies the investment and buy-in across the organization.

Rather than taking an insider’s view of positioning the benefits, I initiated a full sales cycle and created a value pyramid simulating a customer’s journey. I did not make any exceptions for the project and did my due diligence as any customer would.

Always assess the value proposition with the unbiased eye of a customer.

3) Do you have executive sponsorship?

Revenue generating customers and partners will always be top priority for the company and rightfully so. The key is to make the project a strategic initiative and not a side IT project. To be treated as a real customer, you will require executive sponsorship and a shift in mindset across the board. Set proper expectations that investing in your own technology is a long term investment with significant business value.

I was fortunate to have strong advocates spanning the organization that saw inherent value and believed in my vision. As we evangelized the significance of our initiative, the core team backed us with the level of investment and skillsets required to proceed with implementation and deployment.

4) Are you truly ready for transparency?

Being your own best reference account is not always bright and sunny. It can have the occasional rainy day. Be prepared to accept and share the reality of the product, its usage and the implications. To become your best reference account, you’ll need to commit to transparency both internally and externally. As CIO, this is an opportunity to further extend the trust and credibility placed in you by your company, customers and prospects.

Seeing how Zuora is used in real-time has helped me become a trusted CIO-to- CIO reference highlighting the journey and results as a credible reference. Zuora now has a direct, unfiltered view of usage patterns, requirements and performance and we are now our own test bed for alpha releases—customer zero. We are members of our Product Council as the voice of the customer.

Using your own product benefits every department in a technology company. Prioritize building functional and technical expertise in your own product and you are guaranteed to have a profound impact on your business transformation. Capitalize your position as a technology CIO by becoming your best reference account. It’s time to redefine our role as CIO!

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