Earlier this year, I had the privilege to present to a large group of EMS Today Conference and Exposition sponsors and venders about what I look for when buying products and services for my EMS agency. Although this presentation was about what I look for when walking the vendor hall floor, many of the concepts and premises are transferrable to other purchasing pathways.
The first rule in buying any product or service is due diligence. Knowing what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, its impact to your business, its acquisition cost, its long-term costs and the product lifecycle are all key fundamentals of any purchase, large or small.
As you peruse the 2015 JEMS Buyer’s Guide, here are six questions to keep in mind before making that next purchase.
1. WHAT ARE YOU BUYING?
Knowing what you’re buying is the first step in the due diligence process. Most sales representatives are eager to give you all the positives associated with their product and can be good spin doctors when it comes to the limitations of their product.
Listen to what they have to offer, but before getting caught up in the hype, do some homework. Talk with customers (and not just the ones referred to you by the vendor), search the Internet, and call your peers/colleagues to see if they have any feedback.
Compile all your questions and circle back with the sales rep for answers. Sales reps who are willing to admit their product or service has shortcomings or isn’t perfect tend to get my business over the ones who insist their products can do everything you want it to do.
2. WHY BUY THIS PRODUCT/SERVICE?
Will this product/service improve patient outcomes, eliminate inefficiency, provide better business insight, improve patient or employee satisfaction, ensure business continuity, improve safety, improve reliability, cost less than an existing product/service but remain of acceptable quality, reduce staff turnover, or improve productivity?
If you can’t answer a solid “yes” to at least one of these questions, you should really question the purchase. When I’m able to check the “yes” box on two or more of these items, it yields a greater potential value to me and tends to earn my business over lesser offerings.
3. WHAT’S THE BUSINESS IMPACT OF THE PRODUCT?
Understanding the impact of a new product or service on your business is one of the more misunderstood and underappreciated aspects of buying and implementing a new product or service.
Integration of any product or service that alters an agency’s current workflow, process, practice, policy or procedure will require organizational nurturing of some sort. This can be training, explanatory meetings, written communications, project management or consultation with manufacturer or product specialists. Organizations often completely miss the boat when it comes to managing this aspect of implementing a new product, vehicle or device, especially when it comes to technology.
4. WHAT ARE THE ACQUISITION COSTS?
Purchase price is an obvious cost, but consider the unanticipated, often hidden, costs associated with the implementation of a purchase. These can include things like staff time or head count impacts, systems interfacing and connectivity, training costs, updating of existing collateral systems, security updates, hardware updates, etc.
Understanding the interconnectivity of any product or service is crucial to understanding its true cost, and these not-so-up-front costs must be taken into account prior to purchase.
5. WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM COSTS?
Many products or services can have long-term repetitive costs, such as maintenance fees, update fees, licensing fees, subscription fees, disposable expenses, etc. Make sure you understand these ongoing costs and remember to budget for these items in the future.
6. WHAT’S THE UPDATE CYCLE TIME?
You must be keenly aware of, and budget for, when the product or service will be “sunsetted,” updated or renewed. Will buying the product or service require updating or procuring a more advanced model every year or so, like a smartphone? “The next best thing” could be released next week, and if you don’t understand a product’s lifecycle, you risk being the sucker buying the last load of “the last worst thing.” This is an especially important consideration for technology purchases.
It’s my hope these tidbits will help prepare you for your next purchase. Remember to do your homework, ask the tough questions, and acquire and budget with diligence. Seek out resources, like the 2015JEMS Buyer’s Guide, which is designed to help save you money, find the right products and services and, most importantly, improve your service’s efficiency and capability to save lives.