healthcare CIO challneges

The Healthcare CIO’s Perspective: How They Research, Buy & Want to Be Sold To

This is a deep dive into healthcare CIO challenges and how this impacts how you sell to them. To that end I recently had the pleasure of speaking with JD Whitlock, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Dayton Children’s Hospital, on The Healthtech Marketing Show.  


I’m continually fascinated by the scale and complexity of healthcare organizations. As JD pointed out, Dayton Children’s has over $600 million in annual revenue – yet in the world of hospitals and health systems, that puts them on the smaller side. 

I wanted to pick JD’s brain to shed some light on the buying process from the customer’s perspective. As my podcast sponsor HIMSS recently uncovered in their research on the healthcare IT buying process, the complexity is only intensifying – with a quarter of buyers saying there are at least 10 core decision makers involved.

Navigating Healthcare CIO Challenges and How They Buy

JD explained that while up to 10 people may be included at some point in the buying workflow, it’s important to distinguish the actual decision-makers from the broader governance/compliance approval team. 

The core decision-making group is typically an operational leadership committee – those that have to “buy in” to adopt a new technology or platform. At Dayton Children’s, that committee consists of their executive team minus the CEO.

Syncing with the Healthcare Organization’s Budget Cycles

He stressed that it’s critical for vendors to deeply understand typical healthcare CIO challenges and, in particular, the prospect’s budget planning cadence. Large or enterprise-level purchases must be accounted for in the annual budget. At Dayton, for example, their fiscal year starts in July – so budget planning happens around March/April. 

New technologies that arise after the budget is locked in may have to wait 12 months or more before they can be considered – unless a discretionary budget is available.

Getting Early Support from Both Clinical and Technology Leadership

JD elaborated on the fact healthcare tech purchases can certainly be initiated either from the clinical side or IT – the key is ultimately getting alignment between the two. Certain technologies like AI clinical documentation tools are complex, foundational decisions that he, as the CIO, would get involved with early on to help assess options. Like new medical devices, others may require less direct IT involvement upfront.

Leveraging Analyst Firms, Peer Networks, and Events During the Research Process

I was interested in learning how they and other healthcare decision-makers leverage external resources to help with their internal research. JD cited firms like Chilmark, Gartner and KLAS Research as go-to’s – joking that if a vendor claims one of his peers is a reference, he needs to know who/where to verify if it’s a valid reference instantly.  

He is also an active user of peer networks like formal collaboratives and his own social media connections to crowd-source intel on vendors or solutions he’s evaluating. Finally, large industry trade shows like HIMSS are invaluable pipeline-building and research opportunities.

Tailoring Your Solution to their Incumbent EHR/IT Platforms

One of JD’s biggest pet peeves is when vendors claim their product “integrates” with his existing EHR platform like Epic, but can’t specifically describe how it leverages open APIs and a modern integration approach. Too often, integrations mean costly, cumbersome, and manually intensive custom interfaces. Before committing, JD will explore first-hand whether the integration is “real” by checking if it’s listed in Epic’s app marketplace. 

He urged vendors to do their homework on the core platforms in play at a given organization and clearly articulate how their technology will smoothly interoperate with existing systems.

Proving ROI through Client Case Studies

JD acknowledged that while leading with ROI estimates is important to initially capturing budget dollars, actually proving that ROI with concrete examples is where the rubber meets the road. He says healthcare CIOs and other tech buyers put the most stock in peer case studies, highlighting new solutions’ precise downstream impact – both clinical and financial ROI. Without those, it’s just hypotheticals.

Leading with Clear, Concise Value Propositions

One of JD’s biggest criticisms of how many vendors initially engage is leading with vague, overly broad promises before establishing relevance. He urged any company looking to capture mindshare with a CIO to hone their value proposition to a simple, digestible explanation of what they do and how they drive outcomes.  

Think of it as articulating the key customer needs you address within the first few sentences – whether that’s in an email, LinkedIn outreach, website explanation, etc. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.

Avoiding Annoying, “Spammy” Sales Approaches

Building on the above point, JD shared several sure-fire ways vendors immediately get off on the wrong foot – damaging their credibility right out of the gates:

  • Claiming affiliation that doesn’t exist – “I’m on your account team.” 
  • Leading phone or email contact with graphics instead of value props
  • Irrelevant voicemails to general contacts  
  • Spoofing their location/caller ID to give the impression of local presence falsely 
  • Asking for time/meetings before establishing any relevance  

He realizes individual sales reps or SDRs may not dictate these policies – but expects the feedback to be channeled back to company leadership. 

Not Denigrating their Existing IT Solutions

Finally, JD urged vendors not to badmouth or talk poorly about whatever foundational solutions Dayton Children’s (and most other hospitals) already have in place. For example, most Epic EHR customers are pretty satisfied – you won’t convince them to rip and replace it. The key is showcasing how you expand capabilities and derive even more value from those core platforms.

Building Partnerships Beyond the Sale

While we covered a wide array of “pet peeves” and sales faux-pas to avoid, JD also acknowledged his own role in continuously evaluating new technologies and participating in research. He takes pride in Dayton Children’s governance processes to ensure investments align with their needs and goals. His advice to vendors was to think beyond the initial sale and to focus on establishing trusted relationships over the long term. Go out of your way to become an expert in healthcare CIO challenges.

The Bottom Line

Selling technology to complex healthcare organizations requires deep empathy, precise targeting, concise value communication, and long-term partnership approaches. As the “buyer’s journey” continues getting more convoluted with expanding stakeholder groups across clinical, operational, and technical domains – marketing and sales teams need to land their messages and frame relevance even more adeptly to earn and sustain mindshare. 

JD Whitlock and other healthcare IT decision-makers are inundated with hundreds of solution pitches – so breaking through that noise is an immense challenge. Hopefully, by illuminating JD’s insider perspective, this gives some helpful direction to health tech vendors seeking to earn the business of healthcare delivery organizations successfully.

5 Key Takeaways for Healthtech Sales & Marketing Teams:

  1. Explore formal peer networks on LinkedIn to connect with healthcare decision-makers like CIOs directly based on interests and challenges 
  2. Analyze your prospect’s web footprint to identify the EHR, healthcare IT platforms, and other core partners they have installed before initial outreach.
  3. Lead emails and calls with a clear, concise value proposition statement focused on the precise needs of stakeholders based on #2 that show you get typical healthcare CIO challenges
  4. Develop ROI case studies proving your solution’s results based on Metrics aligned to both clinical and financial executives. 
  5. Earn advocates across clinical and technology disciplines to underscore relevance and partnership beyond just the IT integration. 

I hope you enjoyed this recap. What resonated with you most? What other leaders from the provider side would you be interested in hearing from in the future? Please leave a comment below.

You can reach JD on LinkedIn or via his website to learn more about typical healthcare CIO challenges.


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Posted by Adam Turinas
Posted in Healthtech Marketing Show, Marketing to Healthcare on March 2, 2024

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About the Author Adam Turinas

Hi, I am Adam Turinas, Healthlaunchpad's founder. I am passionate about helping healthtech firms succeed through better sales and marketing. I have hard-earned experience in healthcare technolgy as I started two healthcare businesses in the US, the first with zero healthcare experience. We sold the second business to a strategic buyer seven years later. Over 9 years building a healhtech businesses, I have learned how to sell and market effectively to healthcare organizations. Prior to this, I spent two decades in digital marketing across healthcare and other consumer industries where I sold over $100 million in products and services to corporations and healthcare orgs. I would love to talk with you. You can book a call with me on the right hand side. Best Adam (This is page 0 of many)