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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.





Great insight and advice. Not only will our industry's software vendors benefit from your counsel, but anyone who is tasked with delivering a sales presentation of any kind would be wise to soak in your tips, as well. I'll be linking to your article in my next client newsletter - thanks!


Thanks for your comment. I don't want to throw pot shots from the cheap seat as I believe that selling is hard work. I think that those who make it look easy have probably actually worked the hardest of all!


Budman & Doc Bormel got it right, tell a story AND it better be the buyers story. If you don't now or understand the buyers story (for whatever reason) find another audience.. fast.

No one said, "tell a story." I did demo's for 3 years. I found the way to captivate an audience was to tell a story. If you can artfully weave in the details of the software's features and functions within the story of "patient John Doe with X condition" it holds the interest of clinicians, IT folks and management/execs alike.

Then if you can equally fold in the parts of meaningful use, ROI and saving lives the story enriches the overall presentation. Ultimately, the success of these products after the fancy shmancy demo is training, support (from the vendor AND the host) and a fair upgrade schedule to meet increasing needs. And, yes, avoid Bozo, the Seven Dwarves and the Three Musketeers.

Demos - one of my favorite topics, Thanks Dr. Byrne.

And what about the other side of the demo?

I once was told that for each hour of class room presentation you need to put in at least 3 hours of preparation. As someone who's done many a lecture /presentation, I think it's maybe more.

That's why I really liked Jim Hooks comment: 'ensure they showed us what was important to the client buyer". Now the question is how can a vendor really know what's important to a client buyer? The answer is: spend time with the buyer BEFORE the demo. In my book, that means the vendor product support staff should spent at least two hours per each demo hour at the site learning what really is important to the buyer.

Too many demos I have seen (and in some cases participated in) were 'show'm everything you got' or 'don't worry we'll blow them away with the new release stuff'. These are doomed to failure.

Question: As a buyer what would your response be to a vendor if the seller said: We are more than willing to do a two day EMR demo (incurring thousands of dollars in travel costs), but in order to fully understand your priorities / needs/ unique issues we'd like to come visit the week before and will need about two days of your staffs time to meet individually with each audience participant. This will insure we demo what is critical to you and not what we think is just 'neat' in our system."

As a buyer do you agree? Or do you say, 'look at the RFP, its all in there'. Sometimes the buyer is not willing to spend the time necessary with the vendor before the demo.
If that's the buyers response, I say ...head for the hills!

The other side: Too many vendors think: the demo sells, so do all the demos you can. They even measure sales people on how many demos they got lined up. You'd think vendors were paid to do demos. My advice has always been, do less (but better) demos, and sell more! In other words don't be afraid to say no to a demo invite if the buyer will not invest time with you. If you do not insist on that, odds are you will end up with a Dr. Byrne demo.

Bobbie, you've really tapped an artery with this post!

I'd like to validate and build on Frank's point. It's an extension of Bobbie's point "Get in the room." Not only can you not phone in your demo, without some on-site assessment (research) by the vendor, you can only do a shotgun demo. That's cool if you're buying a shotgun. That's also cool if you're buying a laser with a single, pre-agreed upon target. Beyond that, a pre-demo, on-site assessment is very valuable. We are invited or allowed to do these with about half of our prospects.   When we do tell a story (thanks Dr Budman), it's the prospect's and the prospect's management team's story, not some vendor's vision.

Why aren't we invited to do pre-demo-engagement assessments? Sometimes the structure of the vendor selection precludes this degree of intimacy. That's a two-edge sword. The other big reason in my experience is the short engagement timelines, combined with the nonavailability of some of the key stakeholders at the prospect.

Are you headed for long term Victory or Defeat?

That's understandable. If it's a harbinger of what the implementation process is going to look like, forget about achieving MU in 2012. (I did say  twenty twelve.  Most rational, experience folks would agree that achieving MU in 2011 with a dead start in late 2010 or 2011 is not achievable.)

Most of us have learned multiple things from Glaser.  One is "ROI isn't something that you buy; it's something that you manage to."  If the stakeholders aren't involved pre-demo, co-negotiating an ROI they're engaged and committed to, managing to the ROI simply will not happen. 

For example, if the return you're looking for is improved safety that comes with CPOE, the stakeholders need to be involved and engaged in the product selection. 

This is an old problem in the HCIT business.  It didn't suddenly go away with ARRA/HITECH provision's Meaningful Use objectives.   I think this is why Bobbie's post is so incredibly salient.

You are right on with that comment, Joe. We constantly have to remind vendors that we want to see all the major capabilities of their system, not just what they feel comfortable demoing. To that end, we developed a Vendor Demonstration checklist which we handed out in advance to ensure they showed us what was important to the client buyer.

Nicely done. I especially appreciate the "Get past the bozo" comment. I'm seeing a lot less of those kinds of digressions than in years past.

My two cents are these. The buyer will benefit from communicating to the vendor what they are looking for and will be scored on. This should not be a "guess what we are looking for" game. And, following that, the vendor will always benefit from doing a dry run, the day before the demo, as a team. That has the greatest impact on identifying and addressing many of the issues you clearly identified.


You said brilliantly in few words what others have taken whole white papers to express. Yowza! I especially liked your insights on clinical presentation under the heading "Details matter." How could any vendor present to clinicians and not get such basic things right? You're right, such missteps can be infuriating! Great blog.