I'm always amazed by companies that don't train their sales forces in the ethics and principles of selling. This continuing problem came up for discussion when I served as facilitator of a focus group of top executives during the American College of Healthcare Executives' annual congress held earlier this month in Chicago. The meeting was designed to examine how the information systems industry can better communicate with senior healthcare executives. Two chief information officers were part of the group, and their observations were invaluable. What still haunts me, however, is what some salespeople will do if they lose out when competing for an account. One of the CIOs was very open about the tactics employed by a particular information systems company. Anyone in the sales business should be embarrassed.
According to the CIO, she had made a final decision on a new computer system after going through the proper protocols of determining what was best for her institution. As we all know, in today's environment these decisions are not made by one person alone because of the cost and politics involved. Sometimes there are committees on top of committees taking part in product reviews. But after all is said and done, one person has to make the decision. The CIO did her duty accordingly, notifying the winner and the losers. Days passed and then letters started arriving to the chief executive of the healthcare system and various board members from one of the losing companies questioning the integrity and intelligence of the CIO. In short, one vendor was acting like a very sore loser. After the CIO told the story, a CEO in the focus group said: "If this ever happened at our place, I would make sure that vendor would never get a piece of our business. They would be shut out forever, plain and simple."
Of course the vendor that sent the nasty letters to the CEO and board members didn't succeed in reversing the decision. The vendor executives only succeeded in making sure they would never receive any future consideration from that health system. You can bet that CIO would remember what occurred for a long time. Other CEOs listening to the story said similar incidents had occurred at their institutions when certain vendor decisions were made, not necessarily involving computer systems. One CEO said he had come to expect this kind of behavior. "That's the way business is conducted today," he said. That's a sad commentary indeed.
In business, any personal attack on someone who makes a decision that doesn't go your way is out of line, no matter what the circumstances. It's inexcusable. Those in sales who behave this way not only cheapen the company name but make themselves look like louts. That just isn't the way to do business for the long term. There's always another day and other accounts to pursue. No matter how good any of us are, we all lose a sale now and then. Instead of getting mad, good salespeople take stock of what they could have done better and move on. Professionals don't go around whining and insulting people. They make sure the person who ruled against them knows there are no hard feelings and that they're ready to step in if things don't work out. It always hurts to lose, but down the road you just might get another chance if the relationship is intact.
As I talk to senior healthcare executives, I hear words like "principle, ethics, morality" when they talk about what they look for in vendors. Those words never go out of style.
Style and grace count,
Charles S. Lauer