by Ben Wilson
March 2017 – If you’re like me, you’re tired of wasting time on healthcare technology partnership deals that go nowhere. These deals often take time, travel expense, and most of all, incur a significant opportunity cost. Healthcare provider and payer organizations have complex and sophisticated IT environments with hundreds of applications. These healthcare organizations don’t purchase technologies. They purchase solutions that are the result of partnerships between technology companies that provide one or more of the components of the overall solution. The trend is certainly moving towards providers innovating on top of structured digital clinical data accessible through the EMRs by purchasing or building solutions that leverage that same data. Thus, partnerships focused on delivering solutions that healthcare customers demand is mission critical to the success of your business.
I’ve had the privilege of driving partnerships for several healthcare solutions providers, large and small. Many of those partnerships went well, but many of them did not.
So, if you want to be successful, don’t make the mistakes I’ve made!
For the balance of this article, I will take you through my Top Five Mistakes in building partnerships, and hopefully help you to avoid them. Some people only learn after they make the mistake themselves, but you, my wise reader, are not one of them.
- Pursued Unwilling Partners
You know who I’m talking about. They show up late, don’t get the concept, and ask obtuse questions. Yes, they are a big player in the market and own the customer relationships to which you want access. You may have to be honest with yourself and admit you don’t bring enough to the table to make this partnership worth their time. Or they may not be willing to understand the value you deliver. Either way, my rule of thumb is two meetings. If YOU always have to suggest scheduling a follow up meeting or if they always cancel, take the hint and move on. If your business plan is overly reliant on one partner, you need a new business plan. That said, priorities and strategies change, so don’t burn any bridges and suggest you reconvene at HIMSS, AHIP, or some event at least six months away.
2. Did Not Agree on Success Metrics and Goals
This one is so obvious, yet so hard to execute. Most of us fear that by identifying success metrics and setting goals for the partnership, we will fall short of those goals and all the hard work we put into the partnership will be deemed a failure. Obviously, the opposite is true. If you don’t agree on success metrics and set goals, by definition you have not defined success and thus there is no way to know how to achieve it—or when you’ve achieved it. I have certainly been part of a corporate culture that enjoys establishing success metrics and goals retroactively, so all projects are successful, but that house of cards will eventually implode.
I suggest a qualitative goal for the program such as, “Together we want to deliver a best of breed cloud-based healthcare analytics solution that enables our hospital customers to improve patient care.” Then, some quantitative marketing goals such as the number of attendees to an event, leads from a conference, or social media impressions. Also, some quantitative sales goals such as the number of meetings, proof of concepts, closed deals and revenue.
3. Sales Incentives Were not Aligned
This is the hardest one to get right, but probably has the largest payoff if done well. Partnerships almost exclusively deliver value only when they drive revenue. Most healthcare technology companies drive revenue through improved sales either to their current customers or new ones. The crux of the problem is that often the leadership driving partnerships is not aligned with the sales leadership, even if they are part of the same organization. Thus, when a partner program requires cooperation from sales, it is a challenge to get the sales organization engaged, let alone to set the proper financial incentives for their salespeople. In my experience the key is to get sales leadership engaged early so they feel ownership over the partner program. Once leadership is onboard, focus on compensation plans, educating salespeople on why and how to sell it, and providing top quality sales support collateral and systems. Deals are relatively easy. Executing them is hard.
4. Not Focused on Deliverables and Outcomes
Are you tired of showing up to partner meetings and nothing has been done since the last meeting? Then have a bias towards action rather than process. Pick one or two things to do next quarter and make sure you get them done. Having an annual strategic plan is nice, but it will fall apart if nothing gets done next quarter. Also, own the planning yourself (or at least someone who works for you)—meaning take the meeting notes and distribute them with action items assigned to their owners, manage the task list and project schedule for both organizations, and create the project documents, including presentations and spreadsheets.
5. Did not Build Sufficient Trust
At the end of the day, good partnerships are built on good relationships between the people involved. Good relationships are built on trust. Trust comes from getting to know your counterparts. Figure out a way to build the personal relationships and the business results will follow. Yes, conference calls are efficient and often very productive, but at least start meetings with introductions. Also, encourage humor because it allows for personalities to come out and people get to know each other better. If possible, find a time at HIMSS or at someone’s office to meet in person at least once a year. Go get drinks and dinner and get to know each other. Once trust is established, your counterparts will let a deal point go because they trust you will be flexible the next time around.
About the Author
Ben Wilson has over 20 years of healthcare experience in business development, marketing, consulting, product management, and technology. Most recently as the Senior Director, Healthcare Strategy at Citrix, Mr. Wilson was responsible for developing and implementing the Citrix healthcare strategy, developing strategic relationships with partners, supporting the sales teams in selling to healthcare customers, developing healthcare messaging and consulting to the product development teams. Prior to Citrix Mr Wilson spent 10 years at Intel as the Global Healthcare Business Client Lead. Also, Mr. Wilson serves as the Co-Chair of the Mobile Health Consortium– a consortium of healthcare IT leaders that are committed to collaborate on issues of mutual concern for the benefit of providers deploying a mobile health strategy.
Prior to Intel, Mr. Wilson was Executive Vice President and Founder of HealthAlliant, the premier boutique consulting firm serving HIEs. Prior to HealthAlliant, Mr. Wilson held executive positions at two successful start-ups: General Manager of the healthcare division of BabyCenter.com, and President and Founder of Consumer Health Interactive (CHI). Mr. Wilson holds an MBA and a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from UC Berkeley and degree in Political Science from Stanford University.