The Buyers Journey: A Guide to Intelligent Veterinary Equipment Purchases Part 5: Scheduling a Demo

By June 30, 2020July 16th, 2020Buyers Journey

This is the fifth of a 9-part series of articles intended to walk you through all the ins-and-outs of purchasing capital equipment for a veterinary practice.  Far too often important steps/factors are glossed over during the sales process, items that may not be clearly defined on product literature. Missed information can lead to confusion prior to purchase, other information gaps can lead to more serious issues down the line, when there is no turning back.

In this series, we cover the details and importance of:

  • Evaluating Your Practice
  • Assessing Your Needs
  • Evaluating the Market
  • Pre-Demo Homework
  • Scheduling a Demo
  • Post Demo
  • Final Decision Time
  • The Waiting Game
  • Post-Install Support

By now you’ve presumably done your homework and are prepared to see the equipment “live”. You’re ready to batter an equipment specialist with thoughtful, pointed questions and not let them escape without answering the hard ones. If you need to review those, click here.

There is still one step of preparation left: setting the stage for the demo…

  • How much time should you allot?
  • Who from your practice should attend?
  • How many of what types of patients should you line up?
  • What questions should you ask?
  • What are some “sales tricks” you should be aware of and avoid?
  • How many competitors should you interview/demo?

Some of these answers differ depending on the modality you are being demonstrated (Digital Radiography, Ultrasound, Therapy Laser, etc.), but what follows are some general guidelines. 

How much time should you allot?
For most general practice demonstrations, you should allot roughly 1-1.5 hours for a product demonstration.  This will give the salesperson an opportunity to review the company and product benefits and leave plenty of time to use the system on 2-3 test patients.

During this you should spend time on 2 key areas:

Ease of use of the software: how intuitive is the workflow and will it be easy for all of your techs to learn? Is there a lot of ambiguity regarding “which button should I press for this”  or does the equipment require multiple steps to accomplish one simple task?

Image Quality and Consistency from image-to-image, shot-to-shot: is there a lot of pre-shot/scan work (measure patient, pick correct view every time, adjust technique) that needs to be done to get good image quality?

Because ultrasound is such a user driven technology, do not be afraid to ask for a longer demonstration time slot to ensure you have tested the full range of the systems capabilities. For more advanced or specialty products, an all-day demonstration is a common expectation.

Who from your practice should attend?
You have a busy, working clinic, and the equipment specialist should understand that as well as the idea that he/she may have to repeat this demo more than once to reach the full audience. That said, it is important for you to respect the time of this salesperson and get them in front of all the relevant staff members. This should include:

  • the lead veterinarian
  • the one or two technicians that will use the system the most
  • the practice manager
  • the “decision maker” (if that is someone other than above)

Each of these individuals should have different areas they are evaluating. Of course the salesperson will want everyone there for the whole spiel, but that’s neither necessary nor feasible all the time.

The veterinarian should be most concerned with image quality and consistency of images across techs. The techs need to be convinced of the ease-of-use and assured that there is sufficient training, both on the device itself and with whatever initial training comes with the equipment purchase. The practice manager will be most interested in the on-going technical support and whatever uptime guarantees/statistics can be offered.

In general, anyone that will be using the technology and any decision makers (billing, practice owner, etc.) who need confidence in the economic sustainability/return on investment should have some time. Don’t let the salesperson leave until each of these parties gets their questions answered.

How many of what types of patients should you line up?
The quick answer is 3-4 patients. The important thing is for you to see consistency across different patient types/sizes per system AND on the SAME (or at least very similar) patients across competitor systems.

To start, you want to see an “everyday” patient/condition, something you’re familiar with performing and viewing so that you can easily spot any advantages of the demo system vs your current one.

Then you’ll want to try something that you currently have some difficulties visualizing: something with a deeper/thicker chest or an organ that is hiding behind another structure. A lot of systems (particularly ultrasound) can provide “good enough” images for a healthy, lean animal. Better technology will separate itself from the rest of the pack as you scan more challenging patients (chunky bulldog, deep-chested boxer, etc).

Remember, every patient is different so the only way to evaluate image quality is to image the same patient and the same view with each system. I know this could be a challenge logistically (because you seldom have multiple competing salespeople in the clinic on the same day), but using cooperative staff pets for these comparisons is vital and will make your decision process easier.

What questions should you ask?
The first four articles in this Buyer’s Journey series were dedicated to arming you with the right questions to ask. Below we’ll touch on some of the ones you CAN’T forget, but be sure to click here to review your previous diligence.

Vendor Relationships: How long have you been representing this manufacture? Is your relationship exclusive? Ideally this answer should be at a minimum 5 years. If less, this should be a concern because support for the next 5-7 years may be a problem. Make them provide some general history of their company in the veterinary market and manufacturer relationship(s); yes, many equipment companies switch manufacturers more often than they’d like to admit.

Install Base: How many systems do they have installed near you, and how many do you sell each year? Ideally this answer should include at least a few installs within a 25-mile radius of your clinic if you are in a reasonably populated area. If there are not any, I would find out what others are buying. Which veterinary teaching universities use their systems, and for how long?

Education: Is there on demand help and tutorials if my techs forget how to do something? Help menu’s should be easily accessible from the system without having to go to books or other online websites. What training is included with the system purchase, and also what level of education/CE is available post sale?

Support/Warranty: Who supports the system? The vendor selling or the manufacturer? Ideally this answer is the vendor selling. The company who sold you this has a lot more skin in the game than the manufacturer. Where is the service organization located, what are the tech support/service hours? What is turn-around time on repairs? Do you get a loaner in the mean-time or do they “advance replace” the system if it breaks? What is the length of warranty? And post-warranty, what are my options and what does the service protocol look like?

Software/Updates: How are software updates handled? Are they free? How do they get installed? Ideally this answer is when updates are available they are pushed to your workstation for you to install when time permits and there is no charge for this. What is standard in the package, and what features or software is additional?

Multi-Modalities: Does this vendor sell more than just DR or US or the modality you are buying? If they only sell 1 modality then this means you need to work with different vendors every time you want to purchase or upgrade some of your modalities. Finding a partner that can work with you on multiple modalities in your clinic will give you as a buyer more leverage to negotiate and is a good indicator that the vendor is committed to the animal health industry.

Vet-Specific: Was this product designed and validated for animal healthcare or is this a product that was designed for human and is now being offered for vet? Ideally this answer is designed for vet, or at the very least the company needs to convince you that they’ve put in the work to customize the interface/features/tools/workflow to the veterinary world, NOT making your staff conform to “how they do it in human medical”.

What are some “sales tricks” you should be aware of and avoid?

Bait-n-switch: Demoing something different than what you are looking to purchase. Especially in this virtual world, make sure the model you see is the one you get.

Human Settings are “Fine”: Presets or protocols or technique charts that are designed for human use by-and-large are not optimal for veterinary application without some customization.  Beware if you see human anatomy listed and they say “oh yeah, we can change that…”.

Hiding behind COVID: While the current climate has made it difficult, and at times impossible, to perform on-site demos, that is not reason for you to buy equipment without a full demo of that system. Virtual demos ARE possible, with pre-recorded videos, live chat/Zoom, software emulators, and robust visual presentations. If a salesperson is not prepared to show you everything you need, find someone who is.

Mud-slinging: Be aware of companies stating “facts” about their competition. The “wild west” veterinary industry is not regulated, so any claims about a competitor should be thoroughly fact-checked for accuracy, either against that company’s website, brochures, or install-base/reference list.

Fine Print: Pay attention to the details. A good example is Extended Warranty: often items are built into the cost of the purchase and do not cover common service issues.

Promises of future software updates: Often updates are not veterinary beneficial or are not offered for free.

“Free” education: All CE is not created equal. Be sure to ask specifics on where the course is being held, credentials of the instructors, how the patients are monitored and treated, student-to-teacher ratio, RACE-approval of CE credits, and equipment being used.

How many competitors should you interview/demo?
Three companies are usually sufficient. Odds are each of those companies is going to present a couple systems (with varying price points, feature-sets, and application capabilities), so with all those options, you should be able to see a configuration that fits best. Narrowing down to two competitors is probably ideal (if you’ve done enough homework ahead of time to get the “right” two competitors), but sometimes three is needed.

Take away
Be educated. Be prepared. Be attentive. Beware of the tricks. And don’t let them leave without answering the hard questions. And for some of those questions, “I’m not sure…” is an acceptable response. Just make sure it is followed by “…but I will find out and get back to you ASAP”.