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CIO Unplugged 5/18/11

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

This is the third in a short series of posts on The CIO’s Best Friends, BFFs who are critical in ensuring CIO effectiveness. This time we cover the vendor account executive–CIO relationship.

Don’t Fudge the CIO–Account Executive Relationship

I was new in my role as a director. For that matter, I was new to managing a vendor relationship. I was getting by, but only because the vendor account executive (AE) took pity and mentored me in how to manage such a relationship.

I had a responsibility to implement new applications to make our hospital easier to use than the competitor down the street. We had significant success, but it had little to do with my abilities. It was the AE.

I nearly ruined this relationship.

I set out to leave the office, looking forward to a family vacation the next morning. I don’t recall the infraction, but I said something unfair and unkind to the AE. I knew I was wrong and felt awful. I fired off an e-mail apology,  but I wanted to do more. My time was scrunched.

On my desk laid two large, wrapped boxes of fudge from the famous Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. An AE from another company had shipped these to me as a thank you for hosting a site visit for a prospect. I set aside one box for my team and intended to open the other. In my haste to demonstrate remorse, I repurposed that second box, taped my handwritten note to it, and sent to the offended AE. Damage repaired, I left for vacation.

I posted previously on maximizing vendor relationships, which I prefer to call partnerships. Strong relations in this area are instrumental to the success of provider organizations. The AE is the face of the partner and is as critical to the relationship as any product or service provided.

Partners use unique approaches and generally assign one or two AEs to the provider. I prefer one AE. Some partners have multiple AEs representing specific products and services, which I find suboptimal and challenging to manage. Others call their representative an AE, but those are only a salesperson in disguise. Some are assigned exclusively to healthcare, while others are assigned to diverse industries but have some exclusivity to specific accounts.

I’ve experienced many approaches. What trumps any specific structure is the AE themselves. A strong AE can overcome the weakest structure. Conversely, a weak AE can ruin the reputation and business of the most progressive vendor.

That said, here is what I have found works best:

I asked my partner AEs for their perspective. Their key success factors proved similar:

The benefits to all parties are measurable: More innovative ideas to help the company improve its market position. More revenue generating and clinically effective solutions. More cost savings proposals. More vendor stability for the account, reducing personnel turnover. Success for both organizations and, by association, the AE and CIO.

Following my vacation, I returned to the office and found a note from the AE I had offended. “Ed, thank you for your card. Apology accepted. And thank you for the box of fudge. FYI– next time, you might want to make sure there is no note inside of it (from another partner). I am glad your demo went so well! I had a good laugh, and all is forgiven.”

Embarrassed and humbled, I put my tail between my legs. But I did learn many great lessons through that AE. So remember, if you receive fudge from me …

What are your ideas on what makes for a great AE relationship? I would love to hear from both AE and providers.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.