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What I Wish I’d Known Before … Taking a Job Selling Software to Hospitals or Practices

February 10, 2018 What I Wish I'd Known Before 4 Comments

I wish I would have known that the company had a policy of customizing the application to whatever they thought the prospect needed. Functionally what we wound up doing was demoing vaporware, and there was no way the clients would ever get that content without customizing. It’s entirely unethical. I was gone within a few months.

As someone who has started two small HIT software companies (both acquired by larger HIT companies) and was responsible for designing, selling, and implementing the systems and overall customer satisfaction, a couple things I would want to know:

What is the main value that customers get from the system?

What percent of the customers get that value? (Software companies love to highlight their reference sites, but what is more important is what benefit do the majority of the customers derive from the software. Reference sites are nice, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Can you quantify the value?

How does the value stack up against the investment?

How long does it take to get the software installed and how long before the customer starts receiving the value?

How much work is it going to take by the customer to get the software running and keep it up and running and is that amount of work and cost part of the return on investment analysis?

Why would a prospect buy the competitors’ products rather than the product we are selling?

What is the customer retention rate, and don’t include the customers that have to renew because they are in a multi-year agreement. I would want to know what percent of customers renewed the last 2-3 years that had the option to turn off the system.

Do Epic and Cerner have a similar offering?

What is my quota and how have the current sales team done with respect to that quota over the last two years?

What is the retention rate of the sale staff over the last 2-3 years?

How long has the sales leader been in the role?

Can I live in San Diego?

Do I have to wear a tie to client meetings?

Most of the people you talk to or not meaningfully involved in the decision-making process.

The people who are using your software are often not at all involved in the decision process, which injects hostility once purchase and deployment happens.

Don’t sell your software without the client having a strong change management plan in place. The sale is usually worth less money than having your name dragged through the mud later if adoption is poor.

You should aim to sell one client multiple things over the course of a long relationship more than trying to get clients.

Take your estimate of the sales cycle and double it.

Old-fashioned networking and being able to discuss specific use cases that resulted in success are the best methods for selling. Healthcare is not very impressionable by social media, content marketing, email campaigns, or other more modern marketing tactics.

How lonely the job can be.

For five years in my career, I sold an EMR to physician practices. Looking back, I wish I had understood better the degree to which physicians lacked the appreciation of the overall efficiency and throughput of their practices (which they usually owned) versus their role within the practice. Most thought only in terms of themselves and their own time, and these were the ones that struggled or refused to modernize their practices (also usually the ones with full waiting rooms of frustrated patients). Those I worked with that recognized that they were a part of a larger system embraced changes to their practices supported by EMR, they flourished, and tended to have happier patients with shorter waits for appointments.

How difficult it was going to be to accurately forecast when the sales would close.

My job is a hybrid, or at least it’s supposed to be. I have a half dozen clients that I am responsible for their satisfaction as well as a quota for each client. However much our company likes to say “It all comes down to satisfaction! Keep your clients happy!” and even with tying a portion of our compensation to client satisfaction surveys, it’s obviously all about selling. Leadership would rather you sell whatever you can, however you can, even if you piss off everyone in the process. It’s a very short-sighted model, but with how the direction this company is moving, I’m not very surprised. If you have any ounce of empathy, or like to forge client relationships that focus on more than dollars and cents, selling may not be for you. (If there are companies we can work for that actually give a hoot about clients beyond what they buy quarter to quarter, please share!)

That some of the “function and features” are pure vaporware. They haven’t been tested or met compliance in any setting other than the developer’s environment. This obviously causes major concerns from the client at go-live. I end up selling future versions that a user will not experience until 12-24 months later.

In no particular order or rank, here are a few of the things I wish I’d known before getting into the HIT sales field.

The training for salespeople is very limited and you’ll hear, “We don’t want you to train them, just sell it.” My product training for my first job included watching two demos of the application by my manager, one of which was provided while we waited for our plane at the airport. EHR software is complicated enough that vendors should either sufficiently train sales reps or use product specialists for all demos.

You’ll want to ask a lot of questions about your territory (how often does it change, how successful were previous sales reps, what is the turnover in this territory, are there any/many happy customers in my territory, etc.) to try and figure out if you really can make your numbers. Sales managers like to pretend that all sales territories are created equal, but they are not.

To truly provide a demo that shows a provider how your software works for their workflow, you will need to do a discovery with the provider or someone who truly understands the workflow. In the ambulatory physician space, it can be very difficult to get face time with the doctor and critical staff, so you know this beforehand and be able to prepare sufficiently to show them what they want/need to see. This discovery isn’t or shouldn’t be done to use smoke and mirrors and trick the staff. It’s no different than a doctor not being able to accurately diagnose a patient unless they’ve had sufficient time to do an assessment and evaluation before they prescribe the correct treatment. Salespeople should really refuse to do demos if they don’t get this time, but as long as they have quotas, they will do it.

Many physicians and their practice staff won’t bother to complete the requisite pre-work before their implementation, which further compromises their ability to optimize the expensive software they just bought. It is time-consuming, but it’s usually a question of “pay me now or pay me later.”

Not sales, but working in HIT for 16 years for companies that sell commercial software to doctors and nurses. I wish I’d known about the stress of being morally compromised on a daily basis as keeping my job (and thus my ability to pay my rent and buy food) requires either doing things I know are the wrong thing to do, or not doing things that are the right thing to do (way more of the latter than the former, fortunately). I’ve seen some very dark instincts on the business and technology “leadership” side of the house. If you ask why I stay, the only answer I have is: if I leave, that’s one less person banging the drum for what is right.

How often solutions aren’t fully baked before companies try to package them as GA.

Does the product actually work? Can the company actually implement and deliver it? Can they support it? Do they have any idea who will actually buy it? And who pays for it? Too many healthcare software companies I’ve worked for/with think that “if it treats patients better” or “makes the organization better” or “makes clinicians better” or “makes patients safer” (etc.) their product will fly off the shelves. All you, Mr. Salesperson, have to is bust your hump, get in front of the right people, and do your sales magic. Healthcare sales today is ALL about compliance or cash. C-Levels are only buying that which they HAVE to have, will save them money, or make them money (hard ROI).

Who are the competitors who are investing in the same product line?

While software is 100 percent margin, software companies in healthcare don’t want to pay as much as other technologies and their products are usually late.

I was in a sales support position, demonstrating application software. I suppose I was naïve to think that I would have to stretch the truth about the functionality of said software. Salespeople would provide me with what my response should be to certain questions. To which I stated, “That’s when I turn to you, because I won’t lie.” Ultimately, I transferred to another department within the vendor company to training so that the end user would find out how the system really worked. I would hear, “But they said [that being the salesperson] the system could do that.” To which I replied, “I know what they said, but I’m here to tell you the truth.”

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. Wow. Not one positive thing written by these sales people. The other thing that jumps out at me is that all the complaining is aimed outwardly.

    • El Jeffe,
      You wrote “The other thing that jumps out at me is that all the complaining is aimed outwardly.: So I’m wondering what you would expect these folks (sales people) to say? The question posed was “what do you wish you’d known beforehand”. People responded with their answers which were fairly varied. I am not sure if you’ve ever been an HIT salesperson, but I’m guessing not, so not sure if you think they should have said something like “I wish I’d known I wasn’t going to succeed in this field” or what. I thought all of the answers made perfect sense for someone who has been a sales rep in HIT even though they varied based on the company worked for and a few other variables. I am at a loss to understand what type of response you thought should have been included. I don’t think people weren’t being honest, I actually think the answers were vary telling and none of them surprised me. Maybe you can explain further.

  2. “… while software is 100% margin…”

    !?! Please bear with me while I detour to address this misconception.

    Software is most assuredly *not* 100% margin. In order to arrive at the conclusion that any piece of software should be developed, it costs time, thought, experience and most probably training to come up with the idea, or acquire the expertise in standards, etc. After that comes the development process itself: development is done by real people who require money to buy groceries etc. Then there’s sales. Also done by people. And support: more people again. If you think you’d like to promote your product (perhaps by attending HIMSS, for example), well there’s a lot of money sunk there too. Then we have accountants, office furniture, servers, rent, the list goes on. And what about some compensation for the people who went out on a limb and decided to bring that to the market, to offer it to our world as their contribution?

    Developing software is risky (what if no-one buys it after all that?) and expensive. And some of this activity is funded by real people putting their money where their mouth is. It is not 100% margin, not at all.

    That being said, the comment was also about software being late. Software companies should be held to high standards here, just like anyone else.

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