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A Selection Story

November 2, 2010
by Bobbie Byrne
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When a dark horse comes out in vendor selection

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience sitting through some vendor demos—some were mind-numbingly boring and some were great. Since then, we have moved a bit further in one of the selections.

Edward requires a product for what is an immature information technology market. There are only a few vendors who provide this technology. Nobody in the organization has any personal experience in this segment.

We engaged a consultant. They issued the RFI, collected responses, coordinated demos, and generally guided the process. I am the IT owner, and the business owner is a well-respected physician—I’ll call him Dr. Smith.

We received four responses. Two products were eliminated immediately because of lack of fit. One product stood head and shoulders above the others, I will call them the A-team. Dr. Smith had seen this product several times over the last year and was a big fan. Another product was really a distant second. They had an interesting story to tell around quality but seemed to sort of miss some of our key “needs”. I will call them the Q-team.

We considered only bringing in the A-team for demos to physicians. In discussions with our consultants, we agreed to bring in both the A-team and the Q-team. There was enough value in the Q-team to make it worth the physician’s time. We also believed that the comparison between the clearly superior A-team and the second place Q-team would ease the decision process and gain buy-in for the project.

Demos proceeded. The A-team was pretty impressive. Their screens were clean, their presentations polished. They hit all our “needs” and many of our “wants”. They did show a few screen shots instead of live code but their only real mistake was pulling up the bus. There were way too many of those irritating “brief introductions”. It felt a little sale-sy for m, but the room scored them very highly.

The Q-team presented second. They were better in person than on paper. They delivered their differentiators and their value proposition effectively. They were almost painfully honest. We could barely get them to agree to try to work with us on some new functionality. In the end, the room scored them almost as highly as the A-team.

In post-demo discussions with our consultants we agreed to proceed with reference calls for both vendors since there was some doubt about what was real and what was future vision.

Once again, the A-team came through immediately. They connected us with two strong sites that were successfully doing exactly what we wanted to do and loved the A-team. One of the sites was even a hospital of about our size that was running Meditech inpatient and Allscripts for ambulatory—our exact footprint.

The Q-team struggled a bit here as well. We did hear that the Q-team was a great company to work with, but their references were not as strong as the A-team’s. They were able to give us one Meditech site, but not one with our same vision or goals, much less one that was actually up and running with our desired scope.

Needless to say, we started contract negotiations with the A-team. One of the first steps was to clarify some confusion in pricing. Because there was a sliding scale for the ambulatory portion of the selection for the A-team, different members of the team had a different interpretation of the total cost. Once we got to the correct total A-team cost, we realized that it was fully twice as expensive as the Q-team.

We took a deep breath.

The A-team started to negotiate on price but this change in momentum prompted our business owner, Dr. Smith, to look again at the Q-team.


Over the next few weeks, there was a lot of back and forth. The Q-team was able discuss some additional offerings. Price negotiations continued with the A-team. An interesting thing happened. Dr. Smith moved across the field from the A-team to the Q-team.

The extra time allowed him and the organization to consider the additional Q-team benefits that we had not even identified in our RFI. Dr. Smith also thought long and hard about how success would be measured for this initiative. We are looking for far more ROI than just recouping the IT investment. The Q-team painted a clearer picture on how sustainable financial benefits could be attained.

In the end, after all the price negotiations were done, the A-team and the Q-team were pretty darn close on price. I could never say that price drove this decision. However, I am absolutely certain of one thing: if the A-team had initially quoted a more reasonable price—one that was closer to their ultimate bottom line—we would have been signed, sealed, and delivered A-team customers.


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