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For Managed Services… the best vCIO wins

1 Jul, 2015 By: Chris Ryne, Growth Achievement Partners

Focus: Answers for finding and maximizing the impact of this critical resource – the vCIO.

We have learned and shared many things since we began leading dealerships into the Managed IT Services space in 2010, and there have been a number of constants.  Dealer principal commitment to being “all-in,” determining the appropriate go-to-market strategy, focusing sales activities to target market accounts, following a repeatable sales process that helps establish MS as a business decision before a technology one, and appropriate sales compensation to incent the traditional reps to participate in lead generation are all on the list.  But the one that we are seeing that could rise above all others is that the dealerships that have the best vCIO’s win the most deals and expand the most contracts.  We have communicated the importance of this position since day one, and given the increased complexity with technology today, the speed of transition that businesses are making, and the rise in competition in the space, we are seeing this play out.  Dealers understand that, but are struggling to find, manage, and develop this critical resource.  The following will provide insight into what makes a good vCIO, where to find them, and what they should be doing, whether you are seeking your first vCIO or looking to develop the one(s) you have today.

What makes a good vCIO

In April of this year, we hosted a vCIO Conference and Workshop for our clients’ vCIO’s.  The feedback and impact was tremendous.  Over the course of two days, we focused on Operational Efficiency, their (vCIO’s) role in Pre-Sales Activities, Account Management and Expansion via the Technology Roadmap, and Individual Development Plans.  This was a room of high-performing, engaged vCIO’s, and we found that the group has very similar traits. They possess the right mix of technical and business acumen. They are as comfortable with their hands on a keyboard as they are with a pen on a whiteboard. They have network administration and support backgrounds and can win a technical swordfight, but don’t feel like they have to. They appreciate the customer’s perspective. They are strong communicators and can be commanding without being condescending.  vCIO’s have an understanding of emerging technologies and how they can be applied to solve business issues, and they can explain them in business terms to a non-technical and technical audience.  And they all want to be an integral part of building a world class program, and are energized by it. They are not on every street corner, but they are out there, and they are not as rare (or expensive) as you might think, if you know what you are looking for, and where to find them. 

Where to find them

Unfortunately, the ideal vCIO is likely not working within your dealership today. You will have to look outside to fill this role and probably should, whether through a traditional recruit and hire process or through acquisition of a MSP/IT firm that has resources that can take on the role.  We have seen examples where vCIO’s have come from within the dealership, but in the ones that have been the most successful there has been a “clean break” between their old position and their new role as the vCIO.  In situations where there is dual responsibility – retaining some of the old role and taking on the new vCIO responsibilities – both roles have suffered.  It is difficult to have high performance in two roles, and one will no doubt lag behind the other, causing frustration and confusion for everyone involved.  Bringing in an outside candidate (or acquisition) not only demonstrates the dealership commitment to the program and its difference from the traditional business, but also brings in skills that are not within the dealership today and can provide a fresh perspective across a number of key areas, such as best practices for client satisfaction.  We have recently helped a number of clients find very qualified vCIO’s.  They are not ex-CIO’s with pages of certifications or high-level IT consultants, but rather have worked within medium to large sized organizations in a technical capacity with business acumen and an understanding of how corporate strategy and departmental needs can be accomplished with technology.  Or they may have been the Administrator of a medium to upper-medium sized network and have led the transition to implementing emerging technologies like cloud applications, virtualization, or mobility.  They may be working within a traditional IT services provider today, but are frustrated that they are not making the MS transition fast enough.  In short, they understand where the market is going, in particular for the target small to medium sized business client, and are willing and able to lead businesses in that direction, operationally and strategically. 

What they should do 

Communicating the position correctly in your job posting is critical to finding the right candidates.  As you can imagine, the traits and experiences above don’t always jump out on paper.  Plus, we often see that applicants choose to highlight more technical and operational aspects of their background thinking this is solely an operational or administrative position, making it much more difficult for you to identify them.  You will also need to recognize where you are in your Managed Services “maturity” – are you still in “growth mode” and building your client base and processes? Have you worked through the initial stages of implementation and adoption and are seeking additional staff to support the next round of growth (focusing more on the Ideal Client, operational efficiency, and profitability)? Or are you at a place where you have built the business and are staffing additional vCIO’s with specific skill-sets and expertise to round out or expand your offerings?  In all cases, when conducting interviews on behalf of our clients, we tell candidates that the role is very customer-facing to include both external and internal customers. The high impact activities your vCIO should spend the majority of their time on include supporting the sales process, account and partner management to include resource allocation (having the appropriate resources perform the appropriate tasks. For example, the on-site break/fix that a filed tech could do vs. activities a partner should/could handle vs. project work the vCIO should do in a billable fashion), creating Technology Roadmaps to manage the on-going relationship and expand services, and leading the programs products, services, and applications mix.  We have seen that having the vCIO prioritize those activities has a direct impact to the top and bottom line, and overall customer satisfaction for external and internal customers alike.


The vCIO role is a main ingredient to a successful Managed IT Services program for both your dealership and your clients.  Remember, the best vCIO wins.  Chances are you will not find a candidate that meets all of the criteria right out of the chute.  And finding one is only half the battle.  Developing them on an ongoing basis is critical to future success, and you may not have anyone in the dealership with experience in doing that. With the understanding of what makes a good vCIO, where to look, your specific needs, and support in the creation and management of an ongoing Individual Development Plan, you can ensure a high-performing vCIO.   If you would like assistance, GAP is happy to discuss how we can help your dealership and vCIO.


Chris Ryne is a Principal of Growth Achievement Partners (GAP) with Mitch Morgan. GAP provides strategic sales & operational consulting, helping dealers take advantage of the changing market landscape in 4 key areas: Core Sales, Solutions, Managed Services, and The Managed Services Business Model.  For detailed information visit http://www.GrowthAchievemenPartners.com

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