“Dear Anthony: It was great meeting you at our booth. We know you visited with many people during HIMSS and couldn’t possibly remember every encounter… ”
Interesting approach — ensuring me that I wouldn’t remember a meeting that never happened. Oh, the folly of mass, uniform responses to a pile of business cards. But alas, all the cards, I can assure you, didn’t come from those who had visited the booth. I know the exact point at which my card entered this particular company’s world, and it was far from the exhibit floor.
As Kate would say, this is a fail.
Ironically, the discussion with this particular company was exactly about how to get a foothold in the world of healthcare. As with just about any organization trying to break into the space, they lamented the insular, clubby feel that pervades healthcare’s inner circles. The fact that, for CIOs, “If I don’t know you, you better know someone I know who will vouch for you.” The bitterest of those rebuffed with this response say something like: “This industry is so behind others because healthcare CIOs are afraid to take any risks. All they want to do is what the other CIOs down the street are doing.”
My gut instinct tells me that this is largely a case of sour grapes at being turned down for meetings by those who are daily bombarded with meeting requests. CIOs, of course, do not erect walls and access barriers around them for fun, they do it for survival, for if everyone gets in, nothing gets done. And what is the effect of requiring an introduction to get in the door? It means you’ve already been pre-vetted to some degree. It means I’m being careful with my time.
As I said in my HIMSS week column, the greatest value I get from the show is reinforcing the personal relationships that are the life-blood of my work, for without CIO buy-in and participation, we have no publication. Each of those relationships is a delicate plant to be watered, fed and nurtured by both annual sit-down meetings and appropriate email hellos. But this cannot be phony, which is why it is almost impossible to be successful in just about anything if you don’t really like people, if you don’t find them interesting, compelling and fascinating. When you do, building a relationship is the natural result of that interest. When you find people interesting, you ask them questions, you learn about them, and then, for example, when we see something relevant, you send it to them. You do the little things which weave the tapestry that, over years, forms the fabric of a real relationship.
Accomplishing this, as indicated above, takes time, but folks with a hankering to sell their wares have trouble being patient. They want the relationship equivalent of mass production — instead of hand-made, they want Henry Ford.
“Why do I need to build a damn relationship?” they ask. “My software will help their hospitals function better. If they were smarter, they’d just accept it and buy the stuff!”
But wishing it so does not make it so. As CIO Dan Morreale expresses beautifully in this column, building a vendor relationship is like doing a dance, where each party moves in tune and in response to the other.
So whether you call it a dance, a tapestry or something else, what’s clear is it takes time to build a relationship with CIOs, and the effort has to be authentic. There is no short cut — especially the kind where you reference meetings that never happened.