How to communicate with IT leaders when you have a business request

by Stephen Danos

It can be a daunting task to get the attention of corporate leaders. And once you do, speaking with them can present its own set of perceived challenges — especially when it's an IT leader. After all, they’re likely busy running high-level projects and programs linked to key company objectives or campaigns. 

While it’s harder to casually run into your IT team these days — and not safe to linger and chat with them — you can still connect, albeit virtually. You can reach out via email, instant message, LinkedIn, and other internal digital communication channels — but do you know what you’re going to say? 

Whether you’re technically savvy or have no clue how to connect your laptop to a wireless printer without troubleshooting, here are a few things to keep in mind before you engage with IT leaders on a business request, no matter their seniority.

Illustration: Two overlapping chat-message bubbles

Understand what makes them tick

Doing this is easier said than done, as not everyone at a company speaks the same corporate lingo. IT departments are facing new challenges this year that are forcing them to pivot how they’ve operated in the past in order to help their organizations succeed.

IT pros also often adjust how they communicate in order to create cross-functional business relationships. Basically, they need to speak in terms that non-IT people can understand in order to maintain a high level of customer service. 

It’s important to adjust your vocabulary and tone of voice to match your audience. When IT pros talk with someone in finance, for example, they can show them how to save money by spending money on the right technologies, whether it’s software for video conferencing or collaborative work management, such as Smartsheet, to remain competitive and flexible. 

Likewise, make sure you’re speaking IT’s language so you can have a fruitful dialogue. Before you make an official software request, here are some quick tips to get the conversation started:

  • Introduce yourself via LinkedIn, email, instant messenger, or communications platforms (like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or whatever your company uses). Use this as an opportunity to form a cordial business relationship that isn’t associated with your roles at the organization.
  • If you already have a professional relationship with someone from IT, you should definitely ask them how to speak with leaders in their department.  
  • If your IT department hosts “lunch and learn” events and training, attend them and don’t be afraid to ask questions — it demonstrates that you care. Become known as a person who’s interested in what they do.
Illustration: Two hands giving thumps-up emerge from laptop screens

Show your appreciation for their expertise

Chances are your IT leaders made a compelling business case to your executive leadership team to get programs, services, and technologies greenlit. IT departments are often swamped with both advancing your company’s technological programs as well as maintaining various systems; take time to give them kudos on what’s going well. 

Have they recently launched a new security training webinar that you found informative? Or instituted new Zoom video conferencing privacy protocols? 

When talking with leaders in the department, communicate your appreciation for what IT teams do — whether it’s information security, operations, or an automated reminder to reboot your laptop to fulfill compliance. Flattery might not get you everywhere, but showing your genuine appreciation is often a solid icebreaker.

If it’s hard to connect with the VP of IT, reach out to directors or managers on their team (having an organizational chart handy definitely helps). This is another reminder to leverage the professional relationships you already have with members of your IT team.

Illustration: Magnifying glass hovers over a report

Research before you pitch your idea or technology

Executives, directors, and managers use different leadership styles to get the job done. Regardless of their technical know-how, they likely have a couple things in common: they’re busy and don’t want to be the last ones to know about initiatives for software adoption and program changes.

If you’re reaching out with a business-related question or request, you’re going to want to have your business case ironed out. For example, if you’re recommending that your department or organization adopts a new software as a service (SaaS) platform, such as Smartsheet:

  • Make sure you already have the support of leaders in your department. 
  • Research and share the benefits, and its impact on security, privacy, and overall compliance. Provide them with all the relevant literature and research, and if given the opportunity to present, build a deck or proposal that makes the case: return on investment (ROI), time-to-value (TTV), and testimonials from companies in your same industry.      
  • Gather feedback from stakeholders on how they will use the platform. How will people at your organization use the software to work together? What existing challenges will it solve for your stakeholders? For example, if your company needs a digital asset management (DAM) system, will it integrate with Salesforce so that your sales team has a centralized place to find assets they can share with customers and prospects?   
  • Lastly, figure out all of the other comparable platforms people are already using. Do you have their support? Will they switch to the platform you’re pitching? 

And remember — whether you work within the IT department or not — if your IT leader ultimately doesn’t approve of your proposal or agree with adopting your favorite software, don’t take it personally. You’ve established a rapport and demonstrated your willingness to contribute; and that can go a long way toward maintaining a professional connection. 

Most importantly, you didn’t contribute to the widespread issue of SaaS sprawl and shadow IT — in this case, an unauthorized adoption of a software platform without the consent of your IT department. This means you’re taking your organization’s security seriously, which can earn you some credibility for your next business request. 

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