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Advice for Vendors

October 5, 2010
by Bobbie Byrne
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How to captivate clinicians during the selection process

For the last two days I have been sitting in a dark 1970s era auditorium looking at software products. This is the second vendor selection that I have been involved in during the last month. Both product selections are for immature markets where there is almost no experience or reputation to regard. For both, we were following a common process: Each vendor has a prescribed amount of time. There is a script. The audience has an evaluation sheet.

The vendor’s goal is to keep the audience engaged and scoring high. I am actually astonished at how few presentations actually accomplished this. Here is my unsolicited advice to vendors:

Selecting a good sales team is half your battle. Sometimes the smartest or most knowledgeable person is not a good presenter. Humor and energy keeps me engaged, and so I am less likely to check my e-mail or step out of the room to take a call.

Get in the room
Do not have someone support by phone. I am all for electronic communication but there is no situation where a person on the phone presenting to an auditorium full of people is going to go well. The vendor spends too much time trying to work the logistics of this kind of presentation, and the audience gets distracted. If I am distracted, I am not scoring you highly. And this may be obvious, but the presenter should turn off their IM and Skype.

Don’t pull up the bus
Just as important as getting the right person in the room, don’t bring too many people. When you bring four or five people, it does not make us feel more important. It makes us feel like you are so complicated you need many people to tell your story. This is reinforced when you have more than one “brief introduction”. Inevitably, everyone collapses into a repetitive drone.

At least pretend to get along
Some presenters interrupt each other, correcting, or adding color commentary. This is not value add. It just makes the team look like they are not a team. One group had someone who would frequently leap up from his seat—drawing physical attention to the lack of cohesiveness. We all know that the person driving the demo is usually the most junior member of the team. Unless the demo’r is crashing and burning, we don’t like to see their boss interrupting their flow.

Be a kindergarten teacher
Use simple terms. Make the point and move on. If you are rearranging our script, be crystal clear on what you are showing. Plan for breaks. Do not allow the lights to be too dim. We all become five-year-olds after an hour or so.

Details matter
Major clinical errors tell me you are not really serious about healthcare. One vendor showed a bunch of lab values. The hemoglobin was 14, and the hematocrit was 16. For non-clinical folks, that is not humanly possible. The hematocrit is always about three times the hemoglobin. Another demo patient had a potassium level of 12. If our patient had a potassium of 12, we would relocating that patient to the morgue. As a doctor, this just pisses me off enough that I score you lower.

Looks matter
Clean up the screens. Do not use the patients from the last demo, especially patient names that have our competitor organization as the demo patient’s last name.

Screen shots make us nervous
If your application cannot be demoed, can it be implemented?

Finish your preparation
One vendor had some slides that were clearly still in the construction phase with bullets saying “Richard to fill this in”. Hello—review your slides before you present!

Get past the bozo
We customers cannot always control our peers, as we should. A 15-minute conversation about how to unmerge patients during the middle of a server back up on alternate-Tuesdays-when-the-moon-is-full is just a waste of 15 minutes. The vendor does not get that time back. If we don’t get to a part of the script, we are putting zeros on those scores and most of the scoring audience is quietly listening for answers to real problems.

I have been far more on the sales side than on the customer side so I know just how hard these presentations can be to deliver. These mistakes are pervasive. Most vendors make one or two errors, but some vendors actually made none. Their presentations are a joy to watch. They made us love them and their products. We dream. We buy their vision. We trust and like them. I have no idea if their technology or products are really the best, but I am sure we will be smiling as we write the check.


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