In an earlier essay, I wrote about how a great relationship between a vendor and a CIO is like a Tango. It is an association in which there is dependence, alliance, consanguinity and passion toward coordinated goals. Shortly after that blog, I received a note from a (vendor) friend asking how best to develop that type of relationship. She went on to say that it is frequently difficult to even get a return phone call let alone an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting, and asked if I could offer any suggestions on the topic.
That question got me to thinking on how I would define — and, if possible — operationalize the process of choreographing a connection between a vendor and a client CIO. I half wondered if it was the right thing to do, as I would not want to upset my colleagues, some of whom I hold in very high regard, and in so doing may force me to turn in my healthcare CIO club membership card.
I figured what I could do is describe what works for me. In no way do I claim to be a typical healthcare CIO and submit there are many CIOs out there a whole lot smarter and a whole lot better adjusted me. But here goes. As I think this may be a lengthy discussion, I will to break this into multiple essays. Also, I have the attention span of a gnat so breaking into several parts will help me define and concentrate on the topic. With that, let’s start today, as with any story, at the beginning.
“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct”, wrote Frank Herbert in my favorite book ever, Dune.
Any relationship, but more importantly, a vendor-client relationship, starts with a beginning. For some of us that have been around for a while, this beginning may be rooted in history. In some cases, it may be brand new. In either case there was a delicate start that found a balance. That delicate start is not a sales pitch. It is neither a PowerPoint nor a list of the other health systems that have vastly adopted your service or offering. It is not a platitude on how busy I must be, or an occasion to take me for a meal. A delicate start is a discussion, a chat, a conversation, and it does not much matter on the topic.
The delicate start conversation is a chance to tell each other who we are. It is not, at least for me, a conversation about “what”; it is a discourse on “who.” Many vendors and CIOs like to define themselves by what they do. This is important, but not at the beginning. What we do does not define the grand scheme of the universe and it can get in the way of understanding and knowing each other.
Both vendors and CIOs must describe your dreams and your visions. Help each other know your imagination and how you think about health care, technology, adoption and the points where they intercede. It should not be about goals, problems, opportunities, or tribulations. The delicate balance is not about reason or consciously making sense of things. It is not a time for verifying facts or applying logic. The beginning is about your larger dreams, the big picture, and the future. Albert Einstein once said logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. Help each other understand the bigger picture and expand your imagination.
We each must listen. Understand the vision and the imagination of the person to whom you are speaking. If you just focus on the small details, you never get the big picture right. It is not about winning and losing, nor is it about making a sale. It is embracing and understanding a vision and dream. It is about starting to develop a relationship.
An example that jumps to mind — actually, leaps to mind — occurred many years ago. A sales person came to my office from a large storage provider. Bill did not talk to me about storage, did not ask me about my favorite sports team (I have none), and did not try to show me pages of collateral information he brought with him. He did ask me about the collection of robots that filled several bookcases in my office. We talked about robots, why I was interested in them (I’m a geek), where did I get them (eBay), and how I started collecting them (my first one was a gift). We never talked about storage or his company. We just talked.
Over years I have purchased petabytes of storage from Bill and his company, but it started as a conversation and finding that delicate balance. Today we talk about families, what’s new in the industry, and what’s happening in our fields, and we still find the time to educate each other and, where appropriate, buy the products he can offer.
From that delicate beginning and over time we have solidified a relationship, dealt with conflict, and learned how to communicate which, coincidentally, will be the topics of future essays. We have a balance. I know that Bill gets me. I know that I get him. We do our dance and we rely on each other.
So remember, beginnings are delicate, and how we balance the beginning will define what comes next and sanction us to embrace the benefits of cooperating with one another.