The CIO vs. the sales end run

What better way for a salesperson to sour a long-term relationship than to bypass the CIO and tell the CFO that IT is wasting money?

In my 15 years as a CIO, I've experienced a gamut of questionable sales techniques. Some favorites, so to speak, include the "end-of-quarter deal never to be repeated," which is then repeated at the end of the next quarter; the promise that "we're your partner and you always get our best price," which you suspect is being made to all of the company's hundreds of other customers; and the selling of products that don't yet exist.

As much as I hate all of those, they can't compare to a reprehensible technique I recently experienced: the salesperson end run around IT.

Here's how it works: The vendor's salesperson doesn't like the answer IT is giving him. That's normal; salespeople don't like to be told no. But the salesperson then goes to the CFO and tries to convince financial leadership that IT leadership is squandering the budget.

Here's the email that the salesman in question sent to the CFO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The salesman's name, along with a few other identifying bits, has been redacted, though I'm not sure why I want to protect the identity of this weasel.

"From: Storage Sales Specialist at a large vendor

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 costs and associated resources. We will guarantee that we will 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 organizations 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 vendor"

I completely respect the challenges that commissioned salespeople face, as well as the difficulties that the lackluster economy has presented for large technology vendors. But an end run such as this is intolerable. Quite simply, there is no better way to sour a long-term relationship than to bypass the usual lines of hierarchy in an organization. I am unlikely to be receptive in the future to someone who has tried to undermine the trust that exists between me and BIDMC's CFO and who is willing to suggest that I and my group are cavalier about how we spend the organization's money. You can be sure that no one on my team will return the calls of this salesperson for years to come.

This salesperson works at a company I respect a great deal, so I believe this is an example of rogue behavior. I am curious to know, though, about your experiences with such end runs and how have you responded.

John D. Halamka is CIO at CareGroup Healthcare System, CIO and associate dean for educational technology at Harvard Medical School, chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network, chairman of the national Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel and a practicing emergency physician. You can contact him at jhalamka@caregroup.harvard.edu.

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