Of the many things a CTO must do to be successful, the one that can never be pushed to the back burner is simple: Maintain an unrelenting focus on helping your company produce revenue and profits. On a purely superficial level, this sounds like the job of the CEO or vice president of sales, but successful CTOs know that being closely involved in the revenue game is the key ingredient to the growth of your company and your career.
I have always heard that it is the duty of every employee to make his or her boss's job easier, and I agree. Chances are that your CEO lives and breathes revenue and profitability, so the CTO should as well, uniquely leveraging technology to help produce the results the company needs for long-term (and these days, short-term) success.
For some technology staff aspiring to the CTO position, there is a sense that getting too close to the money sullies the purity of the greater technology mission of building elegant products and systems. This may be true in an academic environment, but in the corporate world, those elegant products and systems need to help produce a profit, or the long-term viability of the company is in question. The CTO works at the strategic intersection of technology and business, and the unique talents of the CTO mean that he or she can leverage technology for the good of the business like no one else on the executive team.
To drive revenue in a company, the CTO must work as a partner with the CEO and vice president of sales. Quite often, the tech leaders in an organization sit back and wait for executive managers to tell them what to do and then deliver requirements. A successful CTO realizes that the process of working through ideas for new products and services demands his or her participation from idea inception to final implementation.
The strategic CTO knows that his or her input throughout the process is key to the ultimate success of the company's sales initiatives. On a practical level, this means that the CTO must always present himself or herself as an enabling resource within the company by providing solid strategic input whenever it makes sense.
There is an element of subtlety to offering this kind of input -- not everyone in the company will want the CTO's opinion on every matter. The best thing the CTO can do is earn the trust of the CEO and his or her colleagues on the management team through solid decision-making, and then the CTO's counsel will be sought frequently.
While working as a partner with key executives at a company, the CTO should also keep in close contact with the sales staff members who are out talking to customers on a regular basis. Asking three simple questions of sales staff on a regular basis helps keep the CTO in the loop on the realities of external market conditions: 1) What are our customers asking for today? 2) What are customers looking for in the next 90 days? and 3) How do customers envision their needs developing in the next year to18 months? The answers help the CTO with budgeting, strategic planning, and product development, and most importantly, helping to drive revenue and profitability over the short-and long-term.
Finally, as an externally facing executive, the CTO must always have time for existing and potential customers. As I've written before, this means accompanying your sales staff on sales calls and understanding the challenges that your customers face. The CTO can then use the feedback to help the company serve customers more effectively and drive revenue. That's what it's all about.
Chad Dickerson is InfoWorld's CTO. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.