I had my first experience with pitching to a CMO, a Chief Medical Officer. I learned something about the experience and thought I’d share it on here. The CMO was an MD and in charge of a large medical group.
The Chief Medical Officer
The average Chief Medical Officer is in charge of a lot of things, not just clinical matters. This person usually is an MD or DO and reports to other executives on the team.
Another important asset for a CMO to possess is having a large network of medical groups and doctors within and outside of their community. Sure, much of this will come after they become a CMO. But in order for a small organization (healthcare startup) to grow, they will need to bring in someone with a lot of connections.
This is one reason why certain CMO’s have a lot of turnover. They move from one company to another and essentially use their connections to get that company to the next level.
Communicating with a CMO
One of my healthcare consulting clients – which I always keep anonymous – asked me to be on several conference calls with the CEO and CMO of this particular medical group. The purpose was to help push our product from a clinical perspective.
As I expected, I was rather nervous before the phone call. Partially because I didn’t have all of the facts and because I didn’t have enough time to prepare.
Another reason is that I’m not the most PC of people. Sugar coating things and beating around the bush and blowing smoke up someone’s ass isn’t a good fit for me.
But actually, I didn’t have to do any of that, in hindsight. There is something very direct and precise about CEO’s and CMO’s when they are dealing with vendors and other leaders. It’s when they are facing the public, that’s when they are rather reserved.
Pitching to the CMO
My healthcare consulting client wanted to close the deal in our favor. To do so, we needed to convinced the CMO to accept certain terms which they had previously rejected.
We came in as the underdogs and wanted to push our point and change their opinion. It was our team of 5 against their team of 6. They already had their minds made up and we had to come up with convincing rebuttals against every possible argument they might present us.
We ended up making some progress and got part of what we wanted but no everything. Not a loss – not a win.
Feedback from my CEO
I asked for a debriefing after the call to see what I could have improved upon. Shockingly, my CEO said that I came across too soft and wasn’t insistent enough.
I’m only shocked because I usually come across too strong. But he was right, I held back intentionally. The feedback was that I needed to be decisive and convincing. If I am going to raise a point then I need to own it and be ready to back it up and argue for it.
We didn’t identify any knowledge gaps, which is good. Instead, it was sales and communication; something I will need to work on. Going forward, the team will include me on more such calls so that I can hone my skills.
Experience with Other CMO’s
This is probably my 5th interaction with a physician CMO. As a physician myself, what stands out is that they are able to process information from many different angles. They wear the physician hat the least, which is a good thing.
Their communication style is a little more explanatory; they don’t have the brevity of CEO’s. If anything, they have a little less empathy for anything related to the risk of healthcare, perhaps because they have seen it firsthand.
Even though physicians can be a bit intimidating and unintentionally dismissive, the CMO’s have been impassionate. They listen more than they talk, and once they frame an opinion it’s hard to convince them otherwise.
Whatever you think they might not know, chances are they have more insight than you expected. Which is actually good; getting into a pitch based solely on information disparity will only get you so far. Maybe you’ll conquer a few clients, but the higher up you go, the playing fields even out.
I find that communicating successfully with a CMO requires that you think though the problem in 100 different ways. And that you can bring cogent examples which will be a lot more convincing that your “expert” opinion.