It’s become more difficult than ever for salespeople to gain access to CIOs, forcing them to get creative. But are some going too far to secure a meeting? Yes, according to the July healthsystemCIO.com SnapSurvey, which found that the majority of respondents (63 percent) believe salespeople have become less respectful of their time.
One of the worst offenses? Contacting clinicians or administrative staff directly in hopes of pushing a sale, a workaround that 56 percent of CIOs find “unacceptable.”
“It wastes everyone’s time and is disrespectful,” said one CIO, while another went so far as to call it a “death sentence” for the vendor in question. One respondent said it creates “confusion and conflict” when clinicians are approached with a pitch, particularly when they aren’t aware of budget constraints. “They become convinced that they ‘need’ something and then are unhappy when IT Leadership Council tells them they can’t have it,” the CIO noted.
What’s worse is that sometimes the strategy works and leads to shadow purchasing, which one CIO said “has grown out of control.”
Instead of skirting the issue, a vendor’s best bet, according to the survey, is to first gain face time with a CIO at an industry conference or event before delivering the pitch, with 74 percent of respondents noting that they’re more likely to speak with those they’ve already met.
Still, familiarity doesn’t necessarily ensure a willing ear. One word of advice many CIOs offered is for vendors to back off if they haven’t received a response, and to avoid — at all costs — becoming belligerent toward CIOs who haven’t returned calls, or lying about an identity to get him or her on the phone.
The bottom line? CIOs can be tough to reach, but resorting to inappropriate tactics isn’t going to get you any closer.
(SnapSurveys are answered by the healthsystemCIO.com CIO Advisory Panel. To go directly to a full-size version of any individual chart, click on that chart.)
1. What is your policy regarding pitches from vendors?
I’m open to pitches by phone or electronic communication (email, LinkedIn message, etc)
- Cold call messages will most likely not get my attention. I turn down most LinkedIn connection requests as they are cold sales calls.
- Don’t expect call backs for unsolicited pitches.
- Within limits — I have to be looking for something in that area. I am usually very prompt about explaining that I am not interested if I truly am not — not budget, no project, etc. I get thank you’s from vendors even when I am saying I’m not interested. They actually appreciate that rather than holding out hope that I might be and just haven’t responded yet.
I’m open to pitches only by electronic communication
- My admins screen almost all my calls and I respond to virtually no cold calls (phone or email). For particularly persistent emailers, I have a form letter that politely informs them that I get way too many solicitations to respond to all of them, and that essentially says “don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
- As long as the vendor understands when I do not follow up or email back not interested and they stop the email barrage.
- I drastically limit the number of pitches that I will even respond to. I seek information from colleagues and other sources when I have a need and then prefer to reach out to the source of the product that I have determined a need for. I electively shop/buy, and I don’t like to be sold to.
- I generally don’t accept pitches unless it is something I am interested in purchasing or have reached out through a website or something.
- Very, very, rarely and usually only if I know something of the vendor from someone else. But… if I do not respond, I am NOT open to the second time when they start stalking me.
- To avoid unsolicited vendor pitches, I never pick up outside calls unless I am expecting someone. My admin screens all incoming calls during the day.
I won’t accept any pitches
- This is the single greatest frustration for me. I literally have stopped giving my direct line out and block senders of unsolicited e-mails.
- Due to the volume of calls and email, it is really hard to accept these pitches. I rely on recommendations from peers about new technology.
- If I am interested, I will contact them. Period.
- I don’t have a formal rule. If a pitch is compelling, or if they catch me in the right mood, they may get an opening. Generally I don’t respond to pitches.
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
- It is unavoidable these days, and I have to work hard at reminding my colleagues that exploring ideas is fine but any formal process must come to us for evaluation.
It’s an unacceptable ‘work-around’
- Sometimes they use the conversation to email me or call me and say that “so and so” referred me to talk to you about “XYZ.” When I follow up with “so and so,” they indicate they did not endorse or express interest in the product or service.
- It is completely unacceptable. Shadow purchasing of IT solutions has grown out of control. On the backside, the CIO gets beaten up for systems that don’t work, don’t integrate, and expenses structures growing out of control.
- Typically what occurs when they go directly to other staff, they don’t provide the appropriate information for the clinician to be successful. For example, “you don’t need IT support to implement our product.”
- Basically, it is a death sentence for them when they do this.
- Happens, but can set unreasonable expectations.
- At the end of the day, the technology purchase still has to come through me, so they have already made their jobs harder by doing the end-around. Some of them are very sheepish when they do the end around and get sent back to me anyway.
- It is also a waste of time since they end up forwarding the contact to me anyway.
- I mind sometimes, if they are actively working around me. I know that clinicians get approached from time to time. But I consider it unacceptable if I’ve worked with the vendor and given them a “no” and then they go to others.
- It creates confusion and conflict. The purchase, implementation, and support of the products hits IT’s budget and the clinicians and administrative staff don’t know what I have available. They become convinced that they “need” something and then are unhappy when IT Leadership Council (2 IT members and 10 operational members) tells them they can’t have it.
- Depends on solution and how it came about?
- Sometimes okay: If I am already involved with a vendor – they SHOULD NOT contact clinicians. If they do a broad email every clinician in the place which happens that is also bad form. If they are willing to engage with me once they come through a clinician, that is more acceptable.
- I feel it wastes everyone’s time and is disrespectful.
3. Sales folks I have met at industry conferences and other events have a much greater chance of obtaining a meeting with me:
- If I’m at a conference, I’m there for two purposes. Learn from presentations and kick the tires on vendor products. This is the correct venue for solicitation.
- A face and a name is always better than a cold call. Sending me the same email multiple times is unlikely to work. When you don’t get a response after a couple of tries, it is time to give up and move on.
- I would prefer to get to know them and the solution when I am in a different setting. Social lubricant helps tolerate it.
- But… only if I have asked them to contact me and I am interested.
- Only if it was a product or service that fit with the strategic, business or technical needs.
- Sales people with a product I desire will get a meeting with me. If I don’t need their product, I won’t waste their time or mine meeting.
- The best opening is through a vendor we already have a business relationship with or that one of my peers has worked with.
- Somewhat greater chance only because if I took the time to speak with them in the first place I had an interest.
4. The majority of healthcare IT vendors I have interacted with employ professional sales tactics:
- Professional sales tactics does not necessarily mean balanced or tolerable. Incessant emailing, phone calls, LinkedIn requests, etc. are considered part of the “professional” approach, but they clutter my day.
- I only interact with long-term, strategically selected partners.
- Becoming less so though.
- I would say mostly true. There are always outliers. And they get death.
- There are bad apples in every profession — even CIOs. I told one vendor that I would not be ugly to them because my Mother told me I was better than that. Then they apologized.
- The ones that have commission only incentives are the worst
- But… it is the bad apples that I remember and that have spoiled it for others.
- The ones I actually deal with, yes, but there are those annoying ones out there. I HATE it when they send calendar invites.
- Probably about 50-50. With a global marketplace economy, I get a huge number of solicitations, and then multiply that by the 10 attempts or so by each vendor. It gets pretty unwieldy. Would really appreciate vendors not making more than 2 contact attempts.
5. How have the tactics used by vendors to contact CIOs changed in the past 5 years?
For the better – sales people are more respectful of my time
For the worse – sales people are less respectful of my time
It hasn’t changed
6. The most irritating/comical sales pitch I ever experienced went like this:
- “Apparently you haven’t had the consideration…”
- Hi. This is Dr. Downing. Can you give me a call?
- People telling that I am rude and not professional.
- Anything via EMAIL is an automatic trip to spam.
- Give me 5 minutes and I can save you 30 percent.
- They are returning my call when I never called.
- In trouble because you won’t return my calls.
- I just need 1 min of your time… 15 minutes later.