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Three Questions Healthcare Leaders Should Ask Vendors

December 14, 2015 | By Jennifer Russo

  • Technology vendors are interested in the healthcare industry, but are only now beginning to develop enough knowledge to service the sector effectively
  • Marketing and sales leaders in healthcare must ask specific questions that relate to critical industry and business needs when evaluating vendors
  • As with any vendor, success with marketing and sales technology vendors is supported by transparency and ongoing learnings

So, they’ve already answered your obvious first question: “What other [med device/HIT/health plan/life sciences orgs] do you work with?” They’ve shown you their impressive logo slide, which actually has a few healthcare clients on it. How else should you evaluate a new marketing/sales technology vendor? What else should you ask?

No matter the sector of the healthcare industry you’re in, we see common challenges that vendors encounter when working with those of us in healthcare. Beyond the “industry experience” question, here are a few more questions to ask prospective vendors as you try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

1. Given your experience, what modifications have you found typical clients [in my sector] have needed from your base offering?

Realizing that the fact that “healthcare is just different,” several large vendors have begun to develop offerings that address the needs of specific sectors (e.g. Oracle Marketing Cloud offers the Marketing Automation Platform for the Life Sciences Industry and Healthcare Providers; SAP Cloud for Sales offers the Sales Force Automation system for Insurers), and several niche vendors offer solutions only for the healthcare sector to specifically address b-to-b-to-c relationships (e.g. eVariant offers a CRM/PRM system to facilitate patient engagement and physician alignment). Meanwhile, there are vendors present in adjacent spaces that also offer marketing technologies (e.g. IMS Health). Depending on the technology platforms you are looking to implement, it may be important to broaden your lens of evaluation beyond the largest players in the market.

Many healthcare organizations also have legacy and/or homegrown systems that have been developed in absence of specific offerings from technology service providers. If this is the case, it’s imperative to understand how the vendor’s system may (or may not) be able to plug into your own.

2. Explain how you demonstrate commitment to compliance.

By this time, most vendors have at least heard of HIPAA. However, being able to “talk the talk” may not be enough. In many cases, you’ll need your technology partner to demonstrate their systems’ abilities to address the complexities that your organization may require. Aspects to probe on include the following:

  • Do you have a chief compliance officer?
  • What stumbling blocks have arisen during discussions about a business associate agreement?
  • What experience do you have in medical/legal/compliance panel discussions? What support can you provide during these discussions?
  • How can you help demonstrate/fulfill my audit trail requirements?
  • Tell me about a security breach, and how your organization responded.

3. How do you handle complex relationships in your system (one-to-many, many-to-many)?

Many healthcare clients have extremely complex b-to-b, b-to-HCP and b-to-b-to-c relationships. A best practice is to map out the relationships that exist for your organization on a single page, and ask the technology vendor to respond with how its systems can accommodate these relationships.

You may find that more than one technology service provider may be needed to address all the relationships at your organization, and in this case, it’s important to consider the interfaces that will be needed across platforms. It’s also perfectly acceptable to implement a solution for only a specific part of your buyer/HCP/patient journey, and measure success as proof-of-concept for a larger initiative in the future.

Given the increased compliance and regulatory requirements for many teams across the healthcare industry, marketing and sales leaders across healthcare have lagged in the adopted of technology. Although this may be the source of frustration, it can also prove beneficial – by allowing us to avoid pitfalls that have arisen for other industries. Be sure to establish early and ongoing dialogue with any marketing/technology service provider to enable the transparency that will be needed to prove success.

Jennifer Russo

Jennifer is director of the healthcare segment at SiriusDecisions. She is a product and marketing leader with a background in health information technology, payers (health plans and pharmacy benefits), and strategic selling into bio/pharma. Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @Jrusso346.
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