CIO Leadership, IT Performance

Becoming a CIO Rainmaker

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How to Become a Rainmaker is one of my all time favorite books which offers a very useful blueprint for becoming a CIO rainmaker. This post is not a book review of How to Become a Rainmaker. It is about how CIO’s can retool their thinking to that of a CIO Rainmaker in order to raise their value contribution and set themselves apart from their peers. For those willing to embrace becoming a CIO Rainmaker, it may even be the first step on a path to better income and professional achievement.

What is a Rainmaker

Rainmakers are the one or two people in an organization that are responsible for generating the most revenue and bringing in the most new customers. Simply put, the rainmaker is the person who makes the cash register ring.

Most rainmakers are the top sales person, CEO, fund-raiser, recruiter, owner, or partner and they can be found everywhere in the for-profit and non-profit world.

Fox, author of How to Become a Rainmaker, also identifies another type of rainmaker.  They are the people responsible for finding, attracting and keeping customers. These are the key support people that have ongoing contact with customers or  perform the vital role of inside sales.

The CIO Rainmaker

The obvious path to becoming a CIO Rainmaker is to directly ring the cash register. This of course is a common dream of many CIO’s in every industry to actually generate revenue from IT services.

However, simply generating revenues from IT services doesn’t necessarily make you a CIO Rainmaker  if you are simply acting as a product manager or production manager. To be a CIO Rainmaker also means developing the products and markets and bringing in the customers.

The less obvious path to becoming a CIO Rainmaker is through the support role of identifying prospective customers, converting them, and growing the relationship with them over time. It also means supporting the development of new products and supporting the business strategy in response to market forces.

The CIO Rainmaker acting in the support role is an active, proactive contributor to the growth of revenue, opening new markets, bringing in new customers and retaining existing customers.

CIO Rainmakers in Higher Ed

The most troubling findings in the Four Questions on CIO’s research of the EDUCAUSE CIO Listserv are:

  • The role of the CIO in higher education is overwhelmingly that of a Department Head with 92% of the CIO Listserv posts having a tactical focus and where 96% of the posts are focused on the routine operational issues of running the organization.
  • 42% of issues that CIO’s are working on are technology issues in Software and infrastructure (Network and Hardware) with only 13% of CIO’s attention going toward Business and IT Strategy issues which are all on the low end of the IT value proposition.

That means higher Ed CIO’s are not ringing the cash register by growing revenues from enrollment, research funding, grants, fund-raising, giving, or state apportionment. It also means higher Ed CIO’s are working on identifying new students or research sponsors, improving conversion rates, opening up new markets, or retaining existing customers.

Those are only a fraction of the opportunities for CIO’s where the pathways can also be through the business plan, social media plan, marketing plan or the CRM or recruitment application choices.

Don’t forget opportunities to generate revenue from IT services to outside agencies, other institutions, affiliates and so on. Just be careful to avoid being fooled by the traps of chargebacks. Similarly, be sure your business plan for IT services isn’t being priced for cost recovery.

The pathway to being a CIO Rainmaker also includes the LMS as a tool for growing enrollment, new product offerings, improving persistence and retention, and graduation which in turn impact formula funding in many state revenue models.

How to Become a Rainmaker

Just to close this out I wanted to be sure and be clear on my recommendation for How to Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox. It is a small book (roughly 4×7 inches) and only 192 pages with absolutely no BS.

I think most CIO’s will find a high degree of applicability even if they are not pursuing status as a CIO Rainmaker.

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Joshua Brusse 33 Points | Sat, 06/23/2012 - 21:43

One of the basic things I learned is never use the words “always and never”…but I can’t beat the temptation…when it comes to “demand and supply” I experience that CIO almost never spend the time on demand and thus almost always spend their time on supply. And that needs to change…it should have been changed many year ago… I believe that a CIO can only become “a rainmaker” when he or she does change the focus from supply to demand…

It is my honest opinion that in the future IT organization the CIO leaves the supply to the COO and thus makes time to interact with the business, leads the business engagement (both proactive and reactive) and thus creates value faster. The CIO of the future will significantly drive the (service) strategy, the service portfolio and “enterprise architecture for IT” focusing on (proactively) improving business processes and thus increase business outcome.

This “new CIO” will turn IT in to an asset that is strategic rather than what it is now: an expensive necessity. The new CIO will thus earn the seat at the board table where it can be part of innovation and contribute to the entire companies sustainability and growth…then it is a rainmaker.

Paul Calento 255 Points | Mon, 06/18/2012 - 17:14

"Rainmaker" is about letting people do what they always wanted to do ... but didn't know how to do it before. Good management, combined with two transformative technology trends, cloud computing and Big Data, can make this a reality. But whereas rainmakers are perceived to be the boisterous sales types, CIOs can have a different demeanor. Identify the patterns, develop the new services, but also let the businesses and customers you support get their portion of credit. CIO rainmakers can also be enablers.

--Paul Calento

(note: I work on projects sponsored by and HP)

Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Mon, 06/18/2012 - 18:00

I probably disagree preferring to stick with Rainmaker meaning those who ring the cash register - who are not always in sales. For CIO's chasing ideas or tech trends like Big Data if they can't connect the dots to how it is monetized (re: rings the cash register) then it is probably same-old-same-old.

John Dodge 1535 Points | Tue, 06/19/2012 - 18:54

At Enterprise 2.0 here in Boston, there's been a lot discussion about getting people to work differently, gamification and mobile apps. Real rainmaking stuff. Have a post coming on a very cool mobile app American Airlines (mobile = customer service) is developing and the gamification strategy at Fedex.

Sounds like enterprises are getting much kinder and gentler about apps...that forcing users to do anything is the wrong approach. That listening has become a key tenet of IT. 


Pearl Zhu 90 Points | Thu, 06/14/2012 - 17:56

Hi, Jerry, here, I think you put emphasis on the business value CIO as rain maker can help create, as numerous discussions concluded: CIO need not only serve internal customers, but also target serving end customers via understanding them better by the latest analytical tools or social platform; CIO as rain maker will help improve both business's top line (deploying new customers & revenue stream) and bottom line (keep the light on, sustainability., etc.). thanks

Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Fri, 06/15/2012 - 13:24

Thanks Pearl. I am always looking for new ways to articulate the top line opportunities for CIO's. It seems genreralities are not helpful enough. I am also trying to find a comfortable way to tell CIO's to get out of the bottom line focus and truly delegate that to their staff.

Stephen Van Vreede 2 Points | Wed, 06/20/2012 - 16:21

Hi Jerry,


Great post. In my experience, many CIO's get stuck having a bottom-line focus because of the organizational structured put in place by the CEO. Many CIOs report in to the CFO. As we all know, most CFOs focus on cutting or controlling costs. So for many CIOs, the cost-cutting emphasis simply reflects what their "boss" wants them to accomplish.

I agree that a top-line focus can bring more value to the organization, as can leveraging technology products and services to transform the operation. Cost reduction, while important, is really a tertiary objective.



Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Wed, 06/20/2012 - 20:01

So true and why I encourage CIO job candidates to properly diagnose what role they will be expected to play and how much latitude will be supported. The mismatch in what role will be allowed/supported and what role is desired/suited for is the heart of CIO success.

When you find yourself in a disconnect, wanting to do more top-line contributions, you may just have to double your effort until you canshift the operational down to staff and win support for your new focus.

Stephen Van Vreede 2 Points | Thu, 06/21/2012 - 13:44

Hi Jerry,

I agree...thanks so much for the reply =)


Joel Dobbs 339 Points | Thu, 06/14/2012 - 15:46


Interesting topic.  I tend to believe that the CIO role as a true “officer-level” position will only survive in organizations where the CIO has real P&L responsibility and excels in the following:

-       Enhancing customer loyalty;

-       Generating significant revenue through creative uses of technology;

-       Identifying and exploiting opportunities for new business opportunities and incremental revenue through technology; and,

-       Transforming existing businesses through technology and process innovation.

Some CIOs have made significant progress on the last one but the real future lies in the first three.  As you point out, the “rainmakers” will be those who can excel in all of these.

Success here requires a synergistic match between an innovative and business savvy CIO and a forward thinking and innovative CEO and executive team.  A constructive approach to risk tolerance on the part of everyone is also important. 

I just had a discussion with the CIO of a company in the communications industry who has derived some really fascinating opportunities to use the trove of customer data his company has to help better target their marketing and to offer highly customized services at a small cost.  Unfortunately, no one in the business units wants to spend the money or assume any risk.  The bottom line for him is that he may be in the wrong company.

Having made the transition into academia over the past year your observations on higher ed IT are spot on.  There are tremendous opportunities in everything from distance learning to more creative uses of multimedia in the classroom, not to mention the ultimate BYOD challenge that most universities face.  What is happening is that, being smart and creative people, professors are finding ways to solve these on their own.  

Jerry Bishop 100 Points | Fri, 06/15/2012 - 13:32

I suppose a strong argument could be made for CIO's forming 'informatics' functions inside the IT department staffed by a bunch of math wiz’s that spend their days digging for relationships in the data, doing mash-ups to produce insights, and showing the value of adding their analysis which when operationalized gets moved out into the organization. It could even be a skunk works team that convenes a couple of times a year to go on a treasure hunt.

One of my own experiences as CIO included a skunk works project to add geo-references to student data to highlight a different 'truth' about remote campus utilizations, student demographics, revenues-expenditures which was used for a number of decisions.