I was asked to write this article by a vendor colleague of mine. She shared with me that a good deal of her mental energy is spent trying to “figure us out.” We had a great discussion about what I think makes a great vendor and what makes a not so great vendor. I also seem to get these types of questions frequently from new leaders and mentees. Vendor relations is a hot topic among my colleagues, and I am sure vendors have much to say about radiology leaders also.
In my experience, I have worked with some amazingly talented vendors that add real value. Some of the advice that I can offer my vendor friends are:
Know your product. The very best reps know their product line intimately, not only the specs and features, but what they are used for. I have had some vendors that could not even tell me what the difference was between CT Model A and CT Model B that cost $500,000 more. If you cannot tell me that, then chances are I would not buy either. Get to learn how your customers are actually using these features in the field. Experienced Radiology Directors know that there are sometimes disconnects between equipment designers and technologists and that fancy new costly features may be impractical and rarely used.
Get to know my clinical needs and how your product can solve them. The very best vendors take the time to really learn and understand our patient populations, the types of work we do and the unique challenges we face. I want a partner in a vendor, who is passionate in our patients getting the very best care. I am not the one who is benefitting from this machine it is our patients. I have had wonderfully productive relationships with vendors that were great sources of knowledge and information.
Realize that although I may not be your customer today, how you treat me matters for tomorrow. I have had many vendors react very unprofessionally to losing a sale. It is your responsibility to sell your product, not mine to buy it. If I chose to go with another vendor, don’t tell me I am making a mistake or that I don’t know what I’m doing. It is better to take the high road, and responding with, “ I understand, and I hope that you and your patients get what you need.” In speaking to my director friends, every one of them said that vendors trashing other vendors is never received well.
Make it easy for us with the little things. For example, one of my biggest pet peeves with vendors is when they do not put their full contact information when they sign an email. I thought I was the only one, until I vented in a group text to other directors and everyone chimed in that it also drives them nuts. We deal with many different vendors and many different people from each vendor. If I want to call you, I do not want to have to find your business card or search through a bunch of contacts. I am going to pull up the last email. Also, we may not remember all the people and roles within your company, so signing an email “Jim” does not help me remember. Was Jim the apps guy, or the sales rep, or the vice president of sales? Also, ask what good follow-up timing looks like. Giving a presentation today and calling tomorrow to ask if I made a decision is not helpful. It is an art to gauge how much is too much communication and what is too little. If in doubt, just ask us what would work best.
Do not ever try and do an end around or circumvent the radiology director. Trash talking the director to a radiologist, vice president or anyone else will not gain you support. I have actually had a vendor email my boss to say that I was making a huge mistake, and was being unfair because I had a favorite in mind already. I was not happy having to show that every vendor had equal presenting time and access and that it was a group decision.
My buying decision is not based on whether I like or dislike the vendor personally. If I do not buy from you it is not personal, it is only because I did not feel it was the best equipment at the best price.
Yes, we will pressure you on price. No, most of us do not get a bonus if we save money on the purchase. Capital dollars are very scarce in health care and we are competing with everyone else in the hospital for needs. Every dollar spent on radiology is a dollar that is not going to support some other need of the hospital. For many of us the prime motivation is to support our organizational mission by being the best stewards of the capital money we do get and for the hospital to maximize their capital spend across all needs. Work hard for us to get us the very best pricing possible with that in mind.
In summary, the vendors that do it right can be a valuable teammate in providing patients the very best care. Lead with your heart, be honest and keep the patients’ needs at the center of what you do. If you start there, (oh! and sign emails with your contact information) you may see your sales and relationships grow.
Mario Pistilli, CRA, MBA, FACHE, FAHRA, is administrative director for imaging and imaging research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He is an active member and volunteers time for ACHE and HFMA organizations. He is currently serving on the AHRA national Board of Directors. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.