Besieged by Vendor Communications: How to Handle Those Cold Calls

If you feel you can run but can't hide from hounding sales reps, you need to hear these CIOs' strategies. You might even find something worth buying.

Steve Smith's best defense against cold-calling vendors is a No. 2 pencil.

As the CIO of Tarrant County in Texas, Smith relies on the decidedly low-tech writing instrument to disable the bar codes that emblazon the attendee cards he receives at most vendor shows these days. The bar codes, which contain demographic information and are designed for easy scanning by vendor representatives on the show floor, offer an open invitation to cold calls, something that Smith -- like time-pressed CIOs everywhere -- wants to avoid.

So Smith takes his trusty pencil and draws three imperceptible horizontal lines through the bar code; when the scanner doesn't work, Smith is quick to provide a business card he's had specially printed for such occasions. The card contains a secondary email address to which unsuspecting vendors happily send pitches regarding their latest IT wares.

But that's not to say these solicitations go into a black hole. Smith knows that a vendor he's never heard of may actually offer something he needs. So he's assigned three IT employees to regularly troll the junk email box.

"Every so often, we do get a vendor with something interesting," he says.

Dealing with the onslaught of vendor communications is a delicate dance CIOs must master. Though there are times CIOs may actively seek out a vendor they've met at a trade show or that has authored a white paper, the rest of the time they are challenged to winnow down the number of cold calls they field and respond to without closing the door on a potentially valuable technology.

"It's just like free agency in football: You may only ask one of every 1,000 to come in, and even that one may not make the team," says Smith. He has hired vendors this way, though. For example, he recently signed on with Sonic Software, whose service-oriented architecture he first heard about via a message sent to the secondary email box.

The need for CIOs to preserve their precious time has resulted in techniques that are a study in time management. Those who do it well minimize the misses and maximize the hits. Here is their advice.

This was first published in August 2006

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