Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Salesman End Run Around IT

In my 15 years as CIO, I've experienced a gamut of sales techniques - the "end of quarter deal never to be repeated", the "we're your partner and you always get our best price", and the selling of products that don't yet exist.

However, today I experienced one of the most reprehensible - The Salesman End Run Around IT.

Don't like the answer IT is giving you?  Go to the CFO and try to convince financial leadership that IT leadership is squandering budgets.

Here's the redacted email that the salesman sent the CFO.

"From: Storage Sales Specialist at a large company
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 9:00 AM
To:  BIDMC Chief Financial Officer
Subject: Lower Storage Costs

I am the Storage Sales rep for the Caregroup hospitals.  We have been working with healthcare organizations that are typically XXX shops and saving them $500,000+ in storage cost and associated resources. We will guarantee that we migrate your current environment to 50% or less storage.  The industry leading analyst group Gartner has named our storage as the leader.

Why am I reaching out to you?  I met with IT a few weeks ago and they told me they didn’t have the time or the resources to evaluate new technology and they were happy with XXX.  I know healthcare organization have to think smarter and get more value out of the IT dollar.  Our storage is easier to manage (we have customers who reduce admin by 90%+ with our storage), our storage is faster, highly available (ability to have five 9’s reliability for critical applications) and has superior service/support.

Can I schedule some time with you next week to go into detail on how our storage can make your IT budget go further and give your stakeholders the best experience they deserve?  Please let me know a time that fits your calendar.

Best Regards,

Storage Sales Specialist at a large company"

I completely respect the challenges of commissioned salespeople and the difficulty that large companies face in a lackluster economy.   However, there is no better way to sour a long term relationship than to bypass the usual lines of hierarchy in an organization via an end run.

This salesperson works at a company I respect a great deal, so I believe this is an example of rogue behavior.  However, I welcome your comments and feedback - have you experienced the end run and how have you responded to it?

17 comments:

Anthony Guerra said...

More critical than your response, which should be non-phased, is your CFO's. Since you are showing the email, I assume your CFO did the right thing and forwarded it to you.

Business is business, and so emotions should not enter into it. If it was a bad offer before, it still is now. The salesperson's behavior should not effect yours at all. If, at some point, their value proposition makes sense, you may need to work with the individual again.

Jacob said...

Hey, John. Welcome to my world!!! As you know, I'm an intermediate in the supply chain and as such, I see all kinds of crazy vendor stunts. This one, frankly, is pretty benign. He did not call you an idiot; he did not accuse anyone of taking kickbacks from his competitor; he did not invoke the old "lives are in jeopardy and patients are going to die" line.

My only other comment is that when a sales rep is doing this kind of thing, it is probably not because that person is a jerk. It's because he has boss who threatens to fire him if he does not do everything in his means to get his message through. If it is not his boss, it's his boss' boss. Good advice is to ignore it. Better advice is to figure out how to have fun with it.

Chris Howe said...

As a salesman this is a tactic that I frequently employ, but not like that.

Yes, if nobody in the IT dept will entertain a conversation on how a product will benefit them then try to speak with someone in financing, HR, Sales. But never, NEVER, say IT isn't doing their job.

Usually the goal is to work with the IT dept, and unless you dislike repeat business you probably want them to trust you.

I actually started laughing when I read your post today. The person working for "large company" obviously has no idea who you are or what you do for the hospital system or healthcare IT nationally. Hats off to you.

And I guess salespeople all have to learn somehow.

John Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing. I love to rip inappropriate salespeople as well. The amazing part is how many sales people come and complain on my site when I rip sales people who mislead or are dishonest. They should be glad when we out those that work in inappropriate ways...unless they use the same crazy tactics.

I agree the key here is the CFO's response. If you don't have a good relationship with them, then the end around can cause misery for you as CIO.

Glen said...

I have seen this internally as a vendor, where a salesman did not like an honest answer given by the product-line people then went over their heads to an executive who was less careful with the truth.

The result was multiple dissatisfied customers. The salesman had already gotten his commission checks, and was not accountable for the cost of fixing the customers' issues. That lack of accountability was a root cause.

You can assume that if the salesman in question is doing this to you, he is also doing it to his own employer. Ask him to put his cost-saving claims into a binding contract that makes his employer responsible for any difference between the claims and the actual results.

Anonymous said...

As CIO - don't you get calls when your IT Directors don't engage with a salesperson? There is no difference, really from this case, is there? I think its all about attitude - everyone's attitude. In this case, the salesperson's attitude was lousy and your CFO's seems supportive (he sent you the note).

Barbara Duck said...

I had to laugh to a degree as well as I spent over 25 years in outside sales and not tactic I would use much for sure as it comes back to bite.

If all else fails, bring food:) I know sounds funny but everyone has to eat. I used to get called on the carpet for "not" spending enough entertainment money years ago, never mind I was the top rep of several hundred country wide so he may have had some sales manager beating him on the head to show some proof of what he has or maybe has not been doing too and maybe his quotas were too high:)

Again though, I agree he should have a better clue of who you are and who you work for as well:) Better not to build walls though as a sales rep for sure.

Richard Koffler said...

Assume for a moment that the salesman is right in that his company can save your hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars in reduced staff, storage, performance.

Wouldn't he making your hospital (not you, personally) a favor by insisting that you guys take a look?

I say this because I'm certain that the salesman has met plenty of IT decision-makers who aren't very good at their jobs and whose poor decisions hurt their organizations. I've had my fair share of outcomes where I prevailed past the initial "not enough resources" boilerplate excuse, obtained the sale, and was thanked by those customers for persevering.

Richard Koffler said...

I guess it's my day to read about the dynamics between salespeople and prospects. This post from one of today's best marketing minds: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/03/why-lie.html

Wordherder said...

Sweet! You clearly have the trust of and a strong relationship with your CFO. At this point, I would respond to the CFO and copy the sales rep and the rep's supervisor with a reply e-mail. I'd just say that you want to reiterate that now is not the time and you're not interested in what the rep has to offer and that you've discussed this with the CFO and given the CFO your version of the conversation that the sales rep has recounted. And, again, reiterate that IT makes IT decisions in your organization and that structure should be kept in mind if the rep intends to continue to attempt to do business.

Ernest said...

This happened to me too, the CEO was more annoyed than I was. If due process and solid decisions are clearly transparent to the management team, the sales person looks very bad. If the IT department is incompetent to choose products properly, perhaps the vendor shouldn't want a sale on those terms, because ill will, disaster and bad implementation are sure to follow.

Glen McCallum said...

This technique is described in Chet Holmes' book, "The Ultimate Sales Machine." They call it the CEO bunt method. You approach the person above the person you really want to talk to. They downward delegate to the person you can't get in touch with. Voila - you get a response because their superior asked them to deal with it.

DFW Desi said...

Interesting post and responses. I have been in Healthcare IT sales for over 10 ten years, and can see that this tactic is pretty much a burnt bridge for rest of the salesperson's career.

However, I would like to comment from the salesperson's perspective. Yes, you all know the end of quarter Sales Manager's pressure. But what is the best way for the salesperson to get someone in IT to look at their product. At the last HIMSS Dallas CIO roundtable, this question was asked of 3 respected area CIOs, and the answers ranged from "We are very happy with our current vendors" to "Follow this long process, but don't have any hope to sell to us..."

So its not a simple black and white discussion...

Anonymous said...

I've done my tour as a successful HIT salesperson and was expected to employ the tactics described in the essay. I was instructed to "crawl in through the window" and end-around whomever I must in order to close deals. As Jacob stated, sales VP's and CEO's tend to have ZERO regard for their salespeople's long-term personal relationships. A certain Newton-based HIT company comes to mind. Bottom line is, salespeople will either a) develop a taste for the cowboy approach b) exit for firms where long-term relationships are risked for (often long-shot) short-term sales or c) shed their scaly hydes and exit sales altogether- as I have.

Eddie Pat said...

This is a poor execution of the technique described by Glen above. This guy is obviously naive and is probably a year or two into his IT career.

That said, I would certainly reach out far and wide with my message, if I had the potential to demonstrate savings of that magnitude to any customer. I would even reach out to the CEO if all else fails.

BUT, and it is a big but, I would only do it after "all" my attempts have failed at connecting with the rest of the organization, through events, conferences, dinners, lunches and every other avenue. I would not just take a first or second rebuff based on a cold call or a few emails.

And when I reach out to the higher ups, it would be purely around the value proposition and what I have to offer, rather than bad mouthing anyone else in the organization. No one likes to deal with a whiny baby at work.

Finally, do I think that organizations should keep entertaining everyone that rattles off a 50/80/90% savings number? No. Because every vendor and their uncles have astronomical savings that they are already delivering to other companies (sarc.).

Anonymous said...

As a librarian who reads your blog I can tell you this hits us all the time.

One large online point of care tool that is VERY expensive has been relentlessly trying to get our institution to pay for off site access. We would love off site access to their product because that would mean we could integrate into the EMR. However off site access costs significantly more (significant isn't even strong enough of a word, the extra charge alone is the entire library budget).

They repeatedly have gone around to the IT department, doctors, Professional Staff Affairs, and various heads of departments basically saying we (the library) refuse to pay for off campus access to their product and that our institution NEEDS it. Several times a year we field calls from the solicited doctors and administration explaining the costs and if they had that in their budget we would be more than happy to get off campus access but the library's budget can't afford it.

It is more than tiresome to be dealing with it on an continual basis. I would love to drop their product because of the continued unprofessional behavior, but it is a product the doctors will not do without, despite other legit alternatives.

Clay said...

While my posts is late, I think this is worthwhile to comment. I run a National Sales Organization delivering Healthcare IT solutions. As a sales professional, I have always taken the approach that as long as first listen and learn what the goals are, then act in the best interest of the customer, then they will eventually appreciate my work ethic and reward me. In order for a sales rep to WORK FOR YOU and NOT AGAINST YOU, I believe you should identify who your key partners are and give them regular access to learn and understand your business. Don't give them a reason to GUESS what you need, but tell them what you need and let them work for you. If you clearly identify a tier 1, 2, 3 level partner, delegate IT Leadership responsibilities to manage the partners, and allocate them opportunities to help you, you will find the best sales relationships you ever had and success in solving your problems. Many times Supply Chain/Procurement likes to keep sales seperated from an organization, keep sales people isolated and in the dark so they can minimalize their value and simply bid them down to minimal profit for their services. Getting a good deal for your ogranization is important, but keeping sales people on the outide and solely having them bid for business creates moments of desperation in some sales reps to try tactics like reaching out to new contacts to find someone who will listen to them. After all, how do you know if they can help you if you don't give them an opportunity? Does your organization know everything and don't need any help? I know you can't meet with every vendor that has a product, but try selecting your tier 1, 2, 3 level partners, tell them their level of partnership and why, and allocate proper time... Good things will happen in the relationship. Thank you for sharing your life and experiences, very helpful for people like me to learn what is important to properly serve you and your mission in delivering the best and most reliable technology environment that enables your organization to deliver the best patient Care. Truley appreciative.

Clay