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American Association for Physician Leadership
American Association for Physician Leadership

Strategy and Innovation

Picking Vendors’ Brains

AAPL Editorial Team


Veteran practice managers and physicians have found a “secret weapon” in their daily battle to identify and absorb the essential information necessary to run their practices effectively. Vendors.

Veteran practice managers and physicians have found a “secret weapon” in their daily battle to identify and absorb the essential information necessary to run their practices effectively. Vendors.

Many of the vendors who want to gain or keep your business can become valuable information sources for you.

Here’s how you can capitalize on these opportunities.

Relationships: Types and Phases

Your relationships with different vendors vary considerably—from the “cold-call” sales rep you just met to the trusted supplier you’ve known for years. What you can expect from each will depend greatly on how long and how well you know him or her. Further, you have different types of relationships, too. Most vendor-relationships fall into one of four general categories:

  • Sales reps and their managers

  • After-sale support managers and technicians

  • Managers, executives, marketers and other administrative types

  • Repair and maintenance workers

While the vendor’s chief products or services will focus your attention toward topics related to them, the relationship type should guide your expectations about the kinds of information you can acquire. The length of your relationship will also affect your sense of how far you can go when asking for favors.

Gathering Intelligence

“Picking vendors’ brains” entails using normal business contacts to engage in casual conversations and do a little intelligence work. Here are a few examples:

  • Technician service calls. When the computer people show up to do an installation, fix a problem or run a new network cable, break away from your desk and watch them. Ask about what they’re doing. Ask related questions about computers or broadband access or software recommendations. Try not to appear as hovering over the repair or checking up on the tech. Use your charm; crack a joke and listen carefully. You’ll learn more than you might guess.

  • Lunch with the banker. Invite your banker to lunch. (You ought to do this at least once a quarter anyway.) Ask about banking services. Show an interest in the banking industry. Ask about how to run a bank, how banks make a profit or what kinds of new services have become available. People like talking about what they know. You’ll learn what bankers are looking for and thereby you’ll become a more effective negotiator when you need financing or cash-management services.

  • Meeting with the accountant. Most accountants—generally at the partner/owner level—love to instruct their clients about bookkeeping and financial management. At the same time, many accountants find it challenging to understand some of the unique accounting requirements associated with medical revenue cycle management. You should meet with your accountant at least quarterly anyway, so take the opportunity to make sure you clearly understand the accounting principles that lie behind those statements. In return, you can help the accountant understand medical billing a little better.

  • Collection agency representative visits. If you have a good collection agency, you’ll see an account rep periodically. Professional collectors know a great deal about collection strategies and regulations about making demands. You can learn principles that you can apply in your own billing department, potentially improving your in-house collection rates.

With a little creativity and an inquisitive mind, you can learn more from your business associates than you might guess. It doesn’t have to take much extra time or effort—it’s really a matter of developing a style that’s respectful and inquisitive. Learn to leverage your vendors. They are there to help you.

For over 45 years.

The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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