John Mason on Selling to CIOs

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John T. Mason, SVP & CIO, Quorum Health

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled “So You Want To Sell To The CIO?” and it turned out to be one of the most read, and commented articles I have written. Two years on, the same rules still apply; hopefully this was informative and helped a few folks who are in the business of selling new opportunities. Because of the interest in that article, and the annual HIMSS Conference now upon us, I thought it might be time for a follow up.

If you’ve attended HIMSS in the past, you know it’s an out-and-out mass of products, sales people, CIOs and all kinds of other interesting folks crammed into one place for several days. There are booths for days, more tchotchkes than you’ll be able to fit in an additional suitcase, and some of the most interesting and unique ‘attention grabbers’ you can imagine. Trust me, if you haven’t attended the HIMSS conference before, you’ll be in for a treat!

With that in mind, you can only imagine the number of sales opportunities that might exist, as well as the number of people trying to capture each other’s attention by standing out from the crowd. Knowing that some of you reading this are the ones looking to make the connection with the CIOs in attendance, I thought it might be helpful if I referred you back to my previous post, adding some HIMSS/Conference-specific thoughts that might come in handy as well. My intention is to help those who are out there selling a product or service have a better chance at getting their message heard. As you know, I want you to be successful, because your product/service might just be the thing I need to solve my business issues. [In fact, if you haven’t read my original article, I recommend you do that first, and then read ahead for some conference specific recommendations.]

In the spirit of my previous article, I’ll start with a few ‘real world’ examples of what doesn’t work, and what NOT to do.  All of these are real, but names have been changed to protect the innocent!

  • The ‘High Pressure’ invite. Restaurants love it when a conference comes town. Their group bookings must go up in droves as vendors try to arrange large-scale dinners and events in the evenings. While nice, and often a great way to get to know about offerings in a bit more personal setting, the high-pressure guilt trips about attending are a turn off. Make the dinner available (with the details) and let the CIO decide which ones to attend without pressure. Just like in any relationship, you really only want us there if we WANT to be there.
  • ‘Tchotchke’ overload. When a CIO walks up to your booth, resist the urge to hand them a pen, a notepad, and squishy ball. Likely, they are already overloaded with ‘stuff,’ and will have to find something to do with all the materials later on. Really, organizations as a whole should rethink their marketing strategy on tchotchkes anyway, unless it’s a high quality item like a Yeti mug!
  • The email flood. In the weeks leading up to a conference, the flood of emails going out with ‘special’ invitations to dinners, cocktail hours, lunches grow heavy. While well intentioned, the fact is that the CIO doesn’t suddenly have more time to read and process emails than they did before. A better option would be to use one of your advocate CIOs (someone you’ve worked with closely and been successful with) and see if they would offer to send out a note to their network about the good work you’ve done. As I said in my post a few years ago, a recommendation from a colleague will go much farther than a random email message.

As I did a few years ago, I want to reiterate that this post is written in the spirit of helping you better connect with, and sell to, the CIO. There is no shortage of products on the market that we need, and frankly, our stomachs are full at this point after several years of buying for various regulatory requirements like the ACA.

We might need your product, but you have to be able to effectively stand out from a very crowded market. Unfortunately, the classic techniques that might have worked in the past only serve to get you ignored.

Enjoy your time at HIMSS, and happy selling! Hope I see you there… without a pen in my hand!

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John Mason on Selling to CIOs