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Sales Strategy, Understanding Your Customer:

The Contribution of IS/IT to the Business Strategy.

Advanced Sales Training, E-Learning

· sales strategy,Understanding your Customer,IT Strategy,sales training,Application Portfolio

This is the fifteenth in a series of articles for e-learning for Advanced Sales Training for IT and High-Tech Sales "Sales Strategy, Understanding Your Customer Part 7: The Contribution of IS/IT to the Business Strategy.”



There are many ways of categorising Information Systems, most of which are based on how they are provided rather than the role they play in the business and the contribution they make to business success.

The IS Portfolio Matrix, introduced by McFarlan classifies IT projects into four quadrants: High Potential, Strategic, Factory (Key Operational), and Support based on their contribution to the business.

This approach is of value since it enables an organisation to analyse its mix of existing, planned, and potential systems in terms of current and future contribution and hence to manage their investments accordingly. The classification allows each application or system to be considered in one of four segments of the portfolio matrix.

The Application Portfolio

Based on McFarlan Applications Portfolio


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1. High Potential Quadrant:

The High Potential quadrant encompasses projects that have the potential to deliver high business value and innovation. These projects typically involve emerging technologies or novel solutions that could reshape the industry landscape. Managing investments in this quadrant requires a proactive and risk-tolerant approach. Organizations should encourage experimentation, allocate sufficient resources, and create a supportive environment for teams working on these high-potential projects. Regular monitoring and quick decision-making are essential to capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risks.

2. Strategic Quadrant:

The Strategic quadrant focuses on projects that align closely with the organization's overall strategy. These projects are crucial for achieving long-term goals and maintaining competitiveness. Investments in this quadrant should be guided by a deep understanding of the business strategy, with a strong emphasis on alignment and integration. Regular communication between IT and business leaders is essential to ensure that the chosen projects remain in sync with strategic objectives. Additionally, organizations should invest in talent development to ensure the workforce is equipped to drive these strategic initiatives forward.

3. Factory (Key Operational) Quadrant:

The Factory quadrant includes projects that are essential for the day-to-day operations of the organization. These are the backbone projects that support key business processes and ensure operational efficiency. Efficient management of investments in this quadrant involves streamlining processes, optimizing costs, and ensuring reliability and scalability. Continuous improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma or Lean can be applied to enhance operational effectiveness. Prioritizing stability and performance in this quadrant is crucial to maintaining a strong foundation for the organization.

4. Support Quadrant:

The Support quadrant comprises projects that, while necessary, do not directly contribute to strategic goals. These projects are often essential for compliance, security, or other regulatory reasons. Effective management of investments in this quadrant involves finding cost-effective solutions, leveraging shared services, and seeking opportunities for automation. While these projects may not directly drive innovation, they are necessary for the overall health and compliance of the organization.

Clearly, the business issues to be managed in each segment of the matrix are different as are the risks/benefits. Different strategies are therefore needed to manage them.

Sales Strategy:

In an IT/IS sales conversation leveraging McFarlan's Strategic Grid, the focus would primarily be on understanding how the client's information systems and technology are aligned with their strategic business objectives. McFarlan's Grid categorizes IT applications into four quadrants based on their strategic importance and the potential for future impact: Strategic, High Potential, Key Operational, and Support.

Here's a general outline of a sales approach.

· Understanding the Business Context: Begin by gaining a clear understanding of the client's business model, strategic goals, and current challenges. This sets the stage for aligning IT/IS solutions with their strategic needs.

· Assessing Current IT Landscape: Discuss the current IT/IS setup in the client's organization. Which systems are they using? What challenges are they facing with their current technology?

Introducing McFarlan's Strategic Grid: Explain the concept of McFarlan's Grid and its relevance in aligning IT with business strategy. This helps in categorizing their IT systems according to the grid.

· Categorizing IT Applications: Work with the client to categorize their IT applications into the four quadrants of McFarlan's Grid. This involves identifying which systems are critical for day-to-day operations, which offer high potential for future growth, which are strategic, and which are merely supportive.

· Identifying Strategic IT Opportunities: Focus on the applications in the 'Strategic' and 'High Potential' quadrants. These are the areas where IT/IS investments can potentially offer the greatest strategic value to the client.

· Proposing Solutions: Based on the categorization, propose specific IT/IS solutions that align with the strategic and high potential applications. This could involve upgrading existing systems, implementing new technologies, or optimizing current processes.

· Discussing ROI and Impact: Address how the proposed solutions can impact the client’s business. Focus on return on investment, improved efficiency, competitive advantage, and alignment with long-term strategic goals.

· Handling Objections and Concerns: Be prepared to discuss any concerns the client might have regarding costs, implementation challenges, or disruption to current operations.

· Planning for Implementation: If the client shows interest, discuss the next steps for implementation. This includes timelines, budget, resource allocation, and any necessary change management strategies.

· Follow-up and Support: Finally, assure the client of ongoing support and discuss how you will work together to monitor the impact of the IT/IS solutions and make adjustments as needed.


The IS Portfolio Matrix, with its four quadrants - High Potential, Strategic, Factory, and Support - provides a structured framework for sales professionals to decode the complexities of a customer's technological landscape. Throughout the conversation, it's important to demonstrate a deep understanding of both the technology and the client’s industry, showing how IT/IS solutions can be a powerful tool in achieving their strategic objectives. By incorporating these insights into your sales approach, you can elevate your interactions from transactional to strategic partnerships, fostering long-term success for both parties.

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