In 2017, I began working on KLAS’ Decision Insights project, which uses evaluations to track hundreds of buying decisions in the HIT market. It’s taught me more than just market-share data—it’s a chance to not just study the who, what and when of a buying decision, but also the why and the how.

These details, taken straight from providers’ mouths, have helped KLAS see what makes for a smooth and satisfying sales experience—and what makes for a rocky and frustrating one. So perhaps the easiest way to create a positive outcome may be to prevent the most common missteps in making purchasing decisions. Toward that end, here’s list of three of the biggest mistakes made in buying decisions, as well as a few ways that vendors and provider decision makers can avoid making these mistakes.

Mistake 1: Failing to set clear and realistic expectations

Vendor: Share your roadmap, get specific about capabilities, don’t overpromise and follow through.
Provider decision makers: Study the road map, ask specific questions about capabilities, get current customers’ feedback.

The Decision Insights data is littered with examples of expectation problems leading to current vendors being dropped or potential vendors being dismissed. These expectation problems can originate with both vendors and providers. They include ineffective marketing, uneducated customers, overpromising, vague contracts and poor follow-through.

One heartbreaking instance of miscommunication involved a vendor that, despite their new cloud product, lost several customers that apparently left to find a vendor who had a cloud product. I’ll bet those customers would be happily using their original vendor’s cloud tool if the vendor had been more vocal about their roadmap or the providers had done more research.

Challenges often appear in certain market segments. For example, population health management is a market segment that’s infamous for its undefined expectations. Too often, vendors take advantage of the vague definitions of population health functionality and contend that their tools can do everything under the sun. Providers that don’t know what questions to ask—of both the vendor and current customers—may be convinced to buy a tool, only to find that it doesn’t do everything they’d assumed it would.

This outcome doesn’t leave the vendor in a good position, either. Vendors that don’t satisfy customers are more likely to lose current customers and market energy. Overpromising to get one customer today will get a vendor unhappy customers and a poor reputation tomorrow. Both vendors and providers must strive to settle any questions of functionality upfront and include specific language in their contracts.

Mistake 2: Ignoring the end users

Vendor: Focus your R&D on pleasing the end user, tell the decision maker how the tool will benefit the end users.
Provider decision makers: Encourage end-user feedback on the tool, ask the vendor how the tool will benefit the end users.

My wife recently sent me to buy her a car. I had a wonderful buying experience; the salesman treated me well, the dealership knocked a couple thousand dollars off the original price, and I got in and out of financing in less than an hour. I brought the Honda Pilot home with a huge smile on my face. Then my wife checked it out. “Where’s the DVD player?” she asked. “I have to keep the kids occupied back there. And what about the heated seats you promised me?” I had learned a painful lesson: Even the best buying experience won’t keep the buyer happy unless the end user is happy.

CIOs are often given a similar responsibility of choosing HIT tools. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between the CIO and the end users, and this usually leads to angry clinicians. At the least, this will mean extra work and frustration. At worst, it could lead the organization to rip out the new tool and start the decision-making process all over again. Ultimately, leaders who don’t make the end users a key factor in a buying decision always regret it.

Vendors understand all too well that they can’t make a sale unless they appeal to the CIO and other decision makers. I’m not sure they all understand that appealing to the end user is just as important. We’ve seen that vendors that don’t please the end users always lose customers, whether through the loss of current customers, low market energy, or both. So vendors, tell potential customers how your tool helps end users. Use your sales pitches to show the CIO how your tool will make him or her a hero to the clinicians.

Mistake 3: Misjudging the weight of a demo

Vendor: Never assume that you will automatically make the short list, ask providers what they want to see, give an impressive demo every time.
Provider decision makers: Tell the vendor beforehand what you would like to see in the demo, don’t base your final decision on a bad demo.

Surprisingly, KLAS research indicates a significant number of vendors do a terrible job with their presale demonstrations. In fact, poor demos impact as many as 30 percent of the buying decisions in certain market segments. This shouldn’t be an issue—demos are among the easiest things to control, so vendors should have effective demos down to a science.

One of the most common provider complaints is that when they invite an incumbent vendor to demo a product, the vendor brings little more than lip service. The middle of a buying decision is no time for vendors to rest on their laurels. Incumbent vendors should take nothing for granted, no matter how well they think they’ve done in the past. After all, happy providers rarely consider replacing their current tools.

Some providers leave demos disappointed not because their vendors don’t try, but because their vendors don’t address the right people or issues. This problem may fall on the shoulders of both providers and vendors. A vendor that doesn’t yet have a relationship with a provider organization can’t know the organization’s concerns or whose input will be important in the decision unless the potential customer speaks up. Providers should clarify before demos exactly what they are looking for, and vendors should structure their demos accordingly.

Finally, an important piece of advice for a CIO should be to not let one bad demo knock a company off the list of vendor candidates. Even some high-ranking vendors are struggling to deliver flawless demos consistently, so unless a provider organization sees other reasons to show a potential vendor the door, it may be in the provider’s best interests to let the vendor know what went wrong and offer them another chance.

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