A Path to Success: Mike Silverstein Interviews Scott Smith, CSO, API Healthcare

Scott Smith CSO API

Scott…Congratulations on being named part of ExecRank’s Top CSO Rankings for 2012! What do you think has made you successful in your career?

Key to my success early on was enlisting strong leadership mentors. All of my mentors have had certain “traits” such as a clear vision of where they wanted to go in life and a plan how they would get there.   Great leaders know that it takes time, hard work, commitment and effort to be successful. Another trait distinguishing successful leaders is that they are very focused on leveraging others to achieve success; they recognize success and teamwork are inseparable. I’ve always wanted to have strong, talented people around me and believe that if you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you’ll continually learn and position yourself for success. Another necessary trait is learning to leave your ego at the door and focus working as a team with all members enthusiastically engaging. My current team is extremely talented and very engaged in charting our ongoing success as a sales organization. Lastly, you must remain ethical; sales people are tempted to look for shortcuts that may temporarily provide a benefit but in the long run won’t lead to success.

Being a top CSO, what advice would you give sales professionals coming up the ranks?

Take the time to learn the “ins and outs” of the sales profession and the industry where you choose to focus your career. Read books, attend training sessions and tradeshows. Also, find successful sales / industry mentors who can guide you as your career progresses.

What are the biggest pitfalls sales people fall into?

Not recognizing that sales is a team effort, not an individual sport. Sales people also need strong time management skills because there is a lot of “alone time”, even when you’re on a strong team. As an example, I encourage everybody on my team to carry a card listing daily tasks which have to be accomplished to advance their sales pursuits. You also need to leverage others for help while still being effective and efficient on your own. Failure to focus on how to close business is also a pitfall. Being busy doesn’t necessarily produce results; all efforts in a sales pursuit have to be focused on getting the deal closed.

What are the biggest pitfalls organizations fall into regarding areas of sales and new business development?

The biggest pitfall for an organization to fall into is the failure to attract top talent! Organizations need to develop a long term expansion strategy and know how to attract and develop top talent. API Healthcare is a growth company and we have an aggressive growth plan – we’ve quadrupled our sales force in the past 36 months. You must also know what level of incentives and compensation you need to attract talented sales professionals. To retain talent, you must continually train them and keep them motivated.

Other than HIMSS, what other HIT industry tradeshows do you recommend professionals attend?

For the Healthcare industry, AONE and ANI are two great shows API Healthcare attends. It’s also important to formulate a strategy around tradeshows beyond just showing up. It’s critical to focus on planning what you need to do ahead of time to attract people to your booth; presales efforts are vital to success. Timing new announcements at HIMSS is a specialty of our CEO to keep competitors off balance. These tactics made a huge difference attracting new clients for API Healthcare.

What are the biggest challenges you have experienced in recruiting talent?

Properly communicating the true cost of top sales talent to the leadership team is a huge challenge. This one challenge is why I believe that the strongest relationship in a growth company should be between the CEO and CSO.  You also have to anticipate attrition and create a recruiting plan to find talent before you need it. Timing is crucial in this effort; I plan on losing 5 – 10 percent of our sales team annually and plan accordingly so were not playing catch up. Third party recruiting firms are critical for this ongoing recruitment effort as they have access to great talent.

What is one strategy you would recommend to improve the quality of a company’s sales force?

Introduce a proven sales methodology and train them and follow it. It is critical to create a uniform sales approach and coach your  team to follow it consistently. This strategy goes back to our emphasis on teamwork; if your team is on the same page with regard to sales methodology this will place you in a favorable position versus competitors who are not.  Sales personnel who won’t to follow a given methodology will “self-select” out of the organization which allows us to hire talented professionals as replacements.

What is the biggest challenge on your plate right now?

API Healthcare is a growth company, so planning for sales growth and having a rapidly expanding sales force is my biggest challenge. To plan for growth you have to maintain a pipeline of quality recruits while keeping your current sales team motivated.

What is your philosophy and/or methods with regard to retaining top talent?

I have four things that I focus on. The first is that I focus on building teams that love to work as part of a team. Second is recognition – all people are ego driven to a certain extent and it’s important to acknowledge success throughout the sales organization. Third, communication is critical — leaders can’t withhold bad news. They must be honest and forthright with what’s going on; rumors kill sales teams. Lastly, it’s important to have a fair compensation plan that is easy to understand and uncapped to encourage hard work for greater financial gain.

What are the unique ways your services can satisfy customer needs?

API Healthcare serves the healthcare industry exclusively and our sales team is well versed in the challenges facing our customers. As a former community hospital executive (CFO / COO), I understand the challenges facing my colleagues and recruit healthcare experienced salespeople who can competently communicate with hospital executives. This knowledge and experience allows us to quickly focus on the needs of our clients / prospects and offer the solutions that effectively address their business needs.

Getting into the mind of the customer, what factors lead them to choose you over your competitors?

API Healthcare is the only company in our market who provides comprehensive workforce solutions focused on creating an “Electronic Employee Record” or “EER” which is much like the EHR hospitals have deployed for patients. The” EER” allows hospitals to best leverage the abilities of their workforce to provide optimal care for patients. We call this the “Healthcare Workforce Information Exchange”.

Please tell us about a time in your career where you did not win the deal. Looking back, what would you do differently?

I tried to tackle a tough prospect alone and realized half way through the sales pursuit that I had not leveraged company resources enough to help me close the deal; I failed to realize the importance of teamwork. I lost the deal because of this, but went back and won it five years later by leveraging key individuals in my company to help us knock our competitor out of this particular client.

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