Reflections on RSNA 2013

I have attended the RSNA show for over a decade, but always as a vendor. My days consisted of many meetings with many customers of varying needs, trying to convince them that the products that our company made were superior to those offered across the aisle by the competitors.

This year was my first year as a consultant. I attended on behalf of clients, meeting with several vendors to discover how their solution could help my client meet their business and clinical objectives.

In short, I was on the other side of the fence for the first time. And it was enlightening.

First, as a vendor, you are on your feet for hours, actively listening, talking, and demonstrating software or presenting information at a high energy level. It is exhausting and your body feels it by the end of the show.

As an attendee, representing a recognized and respected healthcare institution, I had a much different experience. Upon arrival at the vendor’s booth, we (I was accompanied by one or more representatives from the hospital), were led to the comfy couches. We were offered water or coffee or a latte. Everyone was attentive and polite. I would be lying if I said that I did not enjoy this more than the grueling schedule of vendor staff (do thank them when you see them—they work very hard at RSNA).

My personal user experience aside, I had some observations on the way vendors manage the interaction with a potential (or existing) customer.

Caveat: I am not a sales person and have not been one in any capacity since working retail just out of high school. I do not profess to be a sales expert, but I have observed some of the best and worst at their craft, so I know some things about the art of selling.

Observation #1: Vendors do not ask enough questions

I thought this was Sales 101. Qualify the lead.

What problem are they trying to solve? Why did they come to the booth? What are they trying to learn/accomplish during the appointment? Where are they in the buying cycle? Do they have budget? Who is involved in making a decision? What solutions are under consideration?

It did vary from vendor to vendor, but I was amazed at how few questions were asked. Most just went right into their pitch, often trying to convince us of something that we already knew or believed.

Observation #2: Vendors fail to understand the roles of the people in the meeting

Vendors need to remember who the actual buyer is in the meeting. In every meeting, we clearly defined our titles and roles. I was always identified as a consultant. My client representatives were of roles that make buying decisions, yet in some meetings, the sales person made all their eye contact, and spoke directly, with me. In one case, they did this so much, I felt awkward for my client—they were practically ignored. Consultants may be decision influencers, but when you have an actual decision maker in the meeting, pitch to them.

Observation #3: Vendors don’t prepare well enough for meetings with existing customers

If you are a vendor that already does business with the customer, be prepared for the meeting. Know the outstanding issues that customer is having. Know which of your company’s products are installed there and what version they are on. Know the basic installation details (e.g. physical deployment) and which user communities are using the product.

If you don’t know these things, asking them in the meeting does not instill confidence in the customer, especially if there are some outstanding issues to be resolved.

And don’t tell the customer that they are the only one having these problems. It only makes them feel worse.

Observation #4: Solutions are stabilizing

I didn’t see anything that really amazed me. As a person involved mostly in product definition and development with a vendor, we were always told (often by sales people) that everyone else had amazing products and that we were so far behind. In my experience, the solutions offered in various categories do vary in their strengths, but none are abjectly poor at what they are intended to do.

The quality of sales professional varied more than the quality/functionality of the products offered, quite frankly.

In seeking solutions, it is not so much about finding the best product, but the product that fits the institution’s needs the best. Which requires that you know what those needs are, of course.

Observation #5: Analytics are evolving; So are monitoring solutions

Lots of vendors are offering some form of analytics package. Especially those offering products to optimize workflow (they get lots of info that they can make use of in those HL7 messages).

System monitoring is improving, but still have a ways to go. I think customers need to become better educated as to what is possible with a well-designed system monitoring solution, and the benefits (so that they can get the budget approval needed to put it in place).

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