While the majority of health system CIOs are open to vendor pitches, only a fraction of that number, 16 percent, are ok with unsolicited phone calls, according to the August healthsystemCIO.com SnapSurvey. But that majority, at 53 percent, is certainly not overwhelming, with the remainder taking a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude. If contacted, the vast majority, 79 percent, say a lack of response is no indication to keep trying, with the rest ok with being pinged from time to time. If not heard from, vendors take a very big risk by “going around” the CIO to drum up support among clinicians and administrative staff, with 58 percent describing the tactic as “unacceptable.” In what is no surprise, vendors that do the leg work of attending industry conferences and obtaining face-to-face meetings have a much better chance of getting a second look. Finally, in a testament to the professionalism of HIT industry sales folks, 81 percent of CIOs say the majority of them employ professional tactics.
Scroll to Question 6 to read some brilliant anecdotes from health system CIOs recounting their most humorous/annoying sales encounters.
(SnapSurveys are answered by the healthsystemCIO.com CIO Advisory Panel. To see a full-size version of all charts, click here. To go directly to a full-size version of any individual chart, click on that chart)
1. In general, are you open to being pitched by vendors?
Yes, by phone or electronic communication (email, LinkedIn message, Twitter direct message)
- But please learn to take “Not Interested” gracefully!
- It can be problematic at times because there are many more inquiries than is possible to address. You tend to act on those relevant to your current and future focus.
- With the material caveat that the pitch support an initiative that is within line of site of our vision….in short, I do not have time for vendors/solutions that are not part of our expected path.
- This is a slippery slope. I think the biggest thing is that the cold calls just don’t work. If they can get their product info to us CIOs some other way, they would have more success. The larger companies are the worst at this. I get calls all the time from firms where I already have an account exec. Those are the most troublesome.
- I’m open to learning, but the subject matter and approach must make it worth my time.
Yes, by electronic communication only
- I’m more generally inclined towards the third answer but sometimes something of interest catches my eye. I am not at all happy with vendors who somehow get their hands on any of my personal phone numbers.
- I will take phone calls from vendors I know and have a relationship with. I will not take cold calls from vendors. I will most often forward emails to someone on my staff to decide whether follow-up is warranted.
- Not to excess. If they do not get a reply, I do not want a series of “follow ups” in a short period of time.
No, I’ll find them if I’m interested
- To be honest, this is one of my pet peeves. I don’t appreciate having my work interrupted by someone who cold calls and expects me to take out 20 minutes of my day and tell them about my system setup, my most pressing issues and/or challenges.
- Email has become a productivity drag due to the amount of unsolicited vendor emails.
- I get way too many calls and too much email, and most of it doesn’t apply to my needs or my budget.
- In the past, I was okay to be pitched. These days, current work pushes out almost all opportunities to meet with vendors or, frankly, even answer the phone.
- It would consume all waking hours if I paid indiscriminate attention to all the email and incoming requests for just 30 minutes.
- Nothing I hate worse than answering the phone and the vendor simply assuming 1) I want to talk with them 2) I have time at the moment to speak.
- I have too many calls, and unless I am shopping for a particular solution, I do not have the time to speak to every cold caller.
2. How do you feel about vendors speaking directly to clinicians or administrative staff?
I don’t mind because I will be involved in the final decision anyway
- I don’t mind them having the conversation, but they need to have the common courtesy to also have a conversation with me, especially if there is technology or IT resources required.
- I just don’t appreciate vendors saying that IT doesn’t have to be involved because they are going to do all the work. It never actually turns out that way, especially when interfaces are required.
- The question needs another response. I don’t mind because we have a governance system in place to vet IT projects and expenditures, but not everybody plays by the rules internally, and that’s when the process breaks down.
- Doesn’t really bother me unless they target the highest level of the organization. If so, this is unacceptable.
- Clinicians and administrative staff are going to look for solutions anyway. Whether it’s unacceptable or not — well — it just is. I’m not going to stop this any more than stopping the sun from coming up, so I might as well figure out how to leverage it. When something comes from a clinician, I listen and ask questions, and use it as an opportunity to build a relationship with the clinician.
- This is sometimes okay, sometimes very bad. For the most part, it is okay. I believe it spreads around the vetting process and 25% or more of the time, if it passes that test, it was a good idea.
- I might have asked for degree of aggravation in the question answers. You cannot stop it. Every professional organization meeting of any substantial size is attended by vendors hawking their wares.
- As long as I understand the needs being provided by the vendor for the clinicians, I am good with clinicians providing potential vendors.
- It is my expectation of current vendors that I will be kept informed of discussions. I do not like to be blind-sided by the vendor rep.
It’s an unacceptable ‘go around’
- Vendor will not be considered if they break the rules.
- Our colleagues have a right to learn about new opportunities and, as IS doesn’t control the entire universe of HIT vendors, many have established relationships or other reasons for direct contact. Environments, contexts, and organizational structures differ significantly, challenging vendors to “play nice.” I’d suggest they know when they need to be in contact with IS and when it is a deliberate (and not appreciated) end-around.
- With prior coordination, I often encourage it….on cold calls, it is a poor form that can have negative consequences to the vendors ultimate objective…..bottom line is it can create the need for too much damage control.
- Unacceptable and pretty unethical and unfruitful for them. When push comes to shove, they have to talk with me before they go to the next level, and they will have allready left a bad taste.
- I would have picked an answer in between. This is not a control thing… but it is, really. We need to know what is being pitched and if it fits in the bigger picture before a contract gets signed for something that, in the end, is a waste of money and time for us. Some vendors are incomprehensively bad at this.
- The question itself pits two extremes of CIOs opinion: carefree attitude or police state. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t like to be triangulated (“Oh, don’t bother IS, they’ll probably say No and this is just an ASP…”). In the end, helping our joint customers see how to embrace information and technology in novel ways to improve business helps both vendor/partner and IS, so it’s best if we are aligned.
- Typically when speaking directly to clinicians or administrative staff, they get sold on a product vs really trying to determine the appropriate requirements and select the right tool.
- It is inevitable, but what I do mind is when they use the name of a senior administrator as a way to get me to speak with them.
3. Vendors should take a lack of response to their calls or emails by me as an indication to:
Stop contacting me – if I was interested, I would have responded
- The shotgun approach (business Spam) sometimes works for both vendor and CIO, but rarely. The problem is that “occasionally” doesn’t translate to reducing the noise.
- A few comments:
1. re-forwarding the same email never works
2. sending a blind meeting invite never works
3. using my first name (from a sales database) never works, as I go by my middle name. Using my first name only gets the email deleted sooner.
- Usually I am polite enough to return the call and ask to be taken off the list or respond by email that I am not interested. What is really annoying is when you do that and they come back with the “But what about” emails and calls. I was just being nice to respond at all, and it begins to wear very thinly.
- They should realize that if we don’t call back, the message is “It’s not you, it’s me” or something to that effect. AND FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, STOP STATING OUR CEO SUGGESTED THEY TALK TO US WHEN IT WAS JUST HIS ASSISTANT THAT SAID “YES, OUR CIO IS…..” OMG, if I could reach through the wires to grab that proverbial one throat to choke sometimes.
- I will never respond to an email to say I am not interested. I’ll just build a rule to automatically delete them.
- Do both, be reasonable. Periodic emails/voice mails are fine. Calling me, my admin, and weekly emails are not okay.
- Unfortunately I would love to respond to every person who contacts me, but I receive up to 10 emails and 10 phone calls a day from vendors.
Keep trying occasionally. I may just be busy or not have a current need. If I want you to stop contacting me, I’ll let you know
- Life is a long time, things change, and maintaining some sort of contact (or better yet relationship) is reasonable and appropriate. Different from a sales pitch, the “stay in touch” mode is not only fine by me but occasionally actually helpful.
- Occasionally is the key word, and take no offense if I do not respond.
- Occasionally (every few months) is fine… weekly is annoying.
- I do not want a vendor leaving messages continuously.
4. Sales folks I have meet at industry conferences and other events have a much greater chance of obtaining a meeting with me:
True – it builds trust and credibility
- It’s all about relationships – if I know who you are and what you represent (not necessarily the company you work for this year or what you are trying to sell me) I am more apt to respond positively to a request for contact. Just don’t abuse the relationship!
- Absolutely – take time to meet me and understand my organization before the sales pitch comes.
- Yes, spend the time and effort to get to know us first. This is like dating. And no, you don’t get to first base on the first date.
- Also both, when I meet them I find out what they have to offer, pre-qualification. If there isn’t a fit, doesn’t matter that I met them. I’ve had a number of vendors I met at conferences pursue me as if our meeting was a license to become more assertive scheduling a second meeting.
- Again, the question has an extreme—”a MUCH GREATER.” I don’t know if it’s that, but I’m likely to have sparked a conversation with someone and would possibly follow up.
- Prior relationships always help, but do not guarantee anything.
- Absolutely – face to face is much more credible.
- Not all of the time. I don’t disagree that it is helpful for me to learn about what I don’t know; however, if I took every call, that is all I would do all day.
False – if I need what they are selling, a prior relationship is unnecessary
- Generally false, but we all know that relationships matter…but meeting at an industry event in itself is not much of a relationship.
- I am definitely more likely to talk to people I know and have had prior successful dealings. It isn’t enough just to have met, they need to have demonstrated their value and their trustworthiness.
5. The majority of healthcare IT vendors I have interacted with employ professional sales tactics
- Some, yes, and unfortunately many, no. I’d say that I generally deal with the senior sales representatives and find them to be, for the most part, professionals who respect the relationship. Young “account reps” are often not worth the trouble….
- I really dislike cold calling. It is especially irritating when a company that I am already a customer with cold calls. Recently, Merge, SAP, IBM, Oracle.
- A significant portion, however, will use any method possible to get me on the phone. My admin gets calls from people I’ve never met telling her that we are fast friends.
- A few vendors go to our CEO when they do not receive a response/encouragement. We make note of these firms/individuals and ensure that we won’t do business.
NO, not the majority. Far from it. Unless in their alternative universe majority and professional means something different.
Some are very professional, while other appear to feel that I owe them a portion of my day.
6. The most irritating/comical sales pitch I ever experienced went like this:
- I really love it when I get a call that states that my boss (CEO) “asked” them to contact me about their products or services. I sometimes wonder if the sales folks don’t think that we talk internally. I can assure you that if my boss wants me to look into something, I will get an email or phone call.
- “I’ve spoken with your CEO and he says we should talk.”
- “Your IT department will only have to help for 2 days during this installation. For interfaces, just send us what you have and we’ll take what we need.”
The reality is that we have to coordinate all of the vendor interactions and perform all of the contracting and testing for several interfaces. We have to conduct many rounds of conference calls to work out the nuances of the interface requirements. The technical team is not the same group that sold the system.
- “You or someone from your health system contacted my office about xxxx. I am your sales associate in charge of following up with you.”
- “This system is easy to install and does not require IT involvement, as the department and vendor will control setup.” About 2 minutes later the vendor is talking about the required interface transactions. The department was clueless and never caught on.
- In the “who do you think you are kidding” category I’ve had a number of amusing calls from senior ‘Cs’ in our organization letting me know that sales rep ‘x’ was there trying to pitch them – makes it easier for me to know what I want to do when I next hear from them. Right up there with the lead-in, “I was speaking with your CEO recently, and he asked me to contact you about his interest in xxx.” Not.
- “Hi, I just talked to your boss and he recommended that you contact me right away about this opportunity for your organization.” That is really frustrating to me.
- Presenting themselves to my assistant as an old friend/colleague when I’ve never even met them.
- In response to me voicing displeasure in their direct sales attempt with a department, they said, “Well, next time I just won’t tell you that we already made the deal.” Fact is, they had sold it…except they forgot that only the CIO can give final sign-off for IT-enabled solutions. Can you spell rejected and black listed?
- Vendor: We can reduce the maintenance you are paying by 50% or more.
ME: We don’t pay any maintenance.
Vendor: Don’t you want it reduced.
Me: We don’t pay any maintenance. We keep spares and swap them out, repair the old hardware or replace and go on.
Vendor: Don’t you want to save money?
Me: The only way I can save money in a scenario where we don’t pay maintenance is for you to send me a check every month without me buying anything.
Vendor: We don’t do kickbacks if we’re not even making a sale
You gotta wonder
- Not pitch, but we had a RFP process once where one company was not invited to move on the next step. They guy was incessant in trying to get back in. My project manager handled it to a point. Then I got involved and sent a cease and desist note to the AE. Months later, a board member contacted me about it. I explained, he laughed, and I thought that was it. Months after that, AE got to our weakest board member (she could not spell “I T”) and she went to CEO complaining about how I treated the poor AE. CEO sided with board member. I quit a month later over it. If CEO would sell me out to a board member over a AE who could not take no for an answer, then would have he supported me for something tough and important? My guess is no, he would not have. And I decided not to wait his retirement out. It was a good decision. And I will never do business with the aforementioned AE and company, ever.
- Overall, the vendors that want to pitch me solutions that are hardcore technical and better directed to IT management are the most annoying. They should know our business better.
- The account executive of an infrastructure company made major inroads in our far-flung business operations, such as women’s health and HR, with an altruistic pitch about sharing back with the community with no direct connection to their company’s products. And then the individual became incensed when I wanted to clip their wings. Why, oh why, would I want to keep our organization from the gift of their free wisdom? In the end, they were just trying to gather internal intelligence…
- Sending me gimmicky gifts…like a small electronic race car, and then telling me I’ll get the remote-control if I meet with them. I send all these gimmicks back to them.
- Voicemail: “Hi, this is XXX, please call me at ###-###-####”
- The voice mail message said – “Hi, This is Dr. Gomez, please call me asap.” We have a Dr. Gomez on staff. I returned the call to Dr. Gomez but it was not our Dr. Gomez. It was Dr. Gomez who worked for a vendor selling business intelligence. I spent the next 45 minutes on the phone hearing the sales pitch. I was eventually convinced to a brief face to face meeting. On the day the meeting was scheduled, the vendor did not show up. How frustrating!!
- Repeated inquiries that since a person’s boss wanted to meet with me I should accept the meeting, as if the vendor representative was going to get in “trouble” if I didn’t meet with them and didn’t I understand the “honor” that the CEO of the company wanted to meet with me. Who is the customer?
- Had a salesperson who was making a cold call and became increasingly irritated over several weeks that I had not returned his call. He finally accused me of being impolite.
- The saddest was a man who broke down in tears during the holiday season to say that my decision to avoid a purchase would mean no Christmas for his kids. I believed him and felt terrible for a week until I realized that he had 11 months prior to that and many other customers to make the holiday a good one for his kids. The most aggravating was a guy who said he needed to get his sale so that his son, who I knew was attending Annapolis, could buy his books and pay tuition. What a load of hooey. The Navy provides the books and there is no tuition. He lost my trust that day. BTW, that guy who is 8 years younger (now in his fifties), has purchased a second home and retired.