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6/8/2010
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Guerra On Healthcare: Why CIOs Need To Sell

It's not enough for health system IT pros to do great work -- you have to tell people about it, too.

Until founding my own company earlier this year, I had no interest in the sales side of the publishing business. I really didn't have to think about sales because there was a whole group of people dedicated to bringing in cash so we could all get paid.

When I launched healthsystemCIO.com, I carried that semi-contempt for sales into my first 90-day business plan -- there was no time slotted for selling.

I thought I'd simply make a great product and people would come. As a matter of fact, the readers did come. But as I was banging out copy and watching my Google Analytics reports improve every week, I suddenly realized I wasn't selling anything. Nobody was "blowing up my phone" to snap up a banner or partner on a Webinar. I built it, but the advertisers weren't coming.

After some "encouragement" from my wife -- who saw the lack of cash flow turning my business into a hobby (and her dreams of a house into the reality of us living with her parents forever), I did a complete 180, bought some books on selling, and now devote about 40% of my time to spreading the word about my site to potential advertisers.

I believe many healthcare CIOs live in the same fantasyland I had created. One in which they can do great work and everyone will magically know exactly what has been done, and how much effort it took to do it. In hospitals -- as in most other organizations -- IT is often seen as a necessary evil, a cost center that must be kept under control. IT can also be seen as a part of the organization which is slow and never has enough bandwidth to support the company at the level employees expect.

The fact is that most IT departments do incredibly important work that often takes place behind the scenes (think infrastructure) or perhaps just never gets communicated.

Almost 100% of CIOs have come up through the IT department, and many find the idea of "selling" their department's accomplishments distasteful. But more and more, they are realizing that without tooting their horns, no one will understand the crucial work being accomplished. This self-promotion is critical to offsetting the irritation that arises when they must say "no" to a particular project.

I recently interviewed Glenn Mamary, the VP & CIO at Hunterdon Healthcare in New York. During our talk, he discussed being a "natural marketer," and we delved into how this has helped him create an environment where IT is respected and appreciated. Mamary said another key to his success has been focusing on building and nurturing relationships with the rest of the C-suite, clinicians, and vendor/partners. In all those relationships, he has focused on communicating his needs, resources, and, yes, accomplishments.

I learned quickly that "building it" is not enough to running a successful business. As a friend recently told me, "Nothing happens in a business until something gets sold." I took his advice, started selling, and the results were immediate.

Hospital CIOs who want the good will of the organization should continue to "build it," but then let everyone know what's been done.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of healthsystemCIO.com, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at aguerra@healthsystemCIO.com.

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