This is the eighth 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
Congratulations on making a thoughtful, informed decision to expand your practice with a new piece of imaging technology. This is going to enhance your standard-of-care and open clinical and economic opportunities for you…when it actually arrives. But it hasn’t yet, and you may not understand why. So let’s cover some of what may be going on behind the scenes because it is not necessarily “delayed”, there are just a lot of processes involved in fulfilling your order.
What does it mean for an order to be “cleared”?
Your signature is the first step in the process, but it is far from the last. Keep in mind that all companies have their own standard operating procedures (SOP) but what follows is the basic gist for any company having more than a dozen employees…and if you’ve gone through the first phases of this article series, you’ve likely selected an organization with sufficient internal resources
How did you sign your quote? Electronically (via DocuSign or something similar) or did you physically sign the quote? Depending on the method, the order processing department either has immediate access to your signed order (if done electronically) or there could be a lag if the quotation needed to be later scanned/faxed/emailed into the office after the fact.
The next step of the process is to cross check the order’s “correctness”. Some companies have built-in ways to dictate how a quote was produced that enforces and ensures compatibility (e.g. making sure the correct transducer is sold with the correct, compatible ultrasound system) while other companies use old-fashioned Excel templates that require salespeople to “manually” enter line items. In either case it is inevitably someone’s job to check that what you signed for is accurate and able to be fulfilled correctly. And if something is not correct, this will cause delays, and sometimes forces the salesperson to come back to you with changes and for a new signature.
The same goes for other parts of the quote, such as the hospital address, points-of-contacts, and payment terms. If that information was entered incorrectly, left incomplete, or does not match internal company records, your order can be delayed until that information is verified. Beyond that, if the company needs to wait on a purchase order (PO) from your financing or distribution company or if the deal is being funded by your laboratory diagnostics partner, additional documentation is likely required to be submitted, and that will keep your equipment from progressing to the fulfillment stage. Lean on your equipment specialist to outline exactly what is required to make this process as smooth as possible.
But once all of your info is correct and matches that on whatever payment is needed, you have a “clean” order that should be “cleared”, meaning it is sent to the production/shipping department.
What does it take to fulfill my order?
Different modalities require different steps. Some are plug-and-play modalities that can be taken right “off the shelf” and shipped without any production technician doing any configuring/building/software setup/testing (those types of systems are tested before they are placed on the shelf). Other modalities are “built to order” because perhaps they use components across multiple models (e.g. the same touch-screen tablet for several different DR panels) or because they need some custom presets that are unique to your application (e.g. small animal vs equine; cardiac vs musculoskeletal).
So the fulfillment process can range from same-day to several business days. A couple other factors to consider are time of month/quarter/year as well as “in stock” availability. Sales organizations usually run on monthly/quarterly targets for their salespeople, so end of month/quarter is usually very busy (and to add some “inside information”, the modalities whose revenue can be “recognized” on delivery usually get some priority over those that require an on-site installation).
The other thing that you may not be aware of is which products are warehoused/built by the company who sold it to you vs. at another facility. Some primary examples are x-ray tables and other “large” accessories/tables/generators. Sometimes these drop-ship directly to your clinic from the manufacturer, while other times they ship to the equipment company, then to you. Obviously each method comes with its own timeline, but you are well within your rights to ask these questions (if you are not already brought into that communication loop; see that section below).
What kind of communication should I be expecting at which stages of the process?
This very much depends on the company you are dealing with. The best-case scenario (with companies who have dedicated Customer Experience departments and fully integrated CRM/ERP/shipping systems; not that you may know what all that means) is this:
- On receipt of signed order from you, whether automatically via DocuSign (or the like) or from the Order Processing department
- (Maybe) if there is some further information or clarification needed from you during processing
- (Maybe) if/when your credit card is processed for a deposit
- To schedule your installation/training (see below)
- When your equipment ships
- As a follow-up to your installation/training
At any point in this process, if you have questions, you can and should call your equipment specialist. That is always your primary point of contact, though in each of the communications listed above, you may be pointed to someone else in the process. While your equipment specialist might not have immediate answers to specific details (exactly whose desk your paperwork is on) but they should be able to give you a ballpark idea of where in the process your order currently lives and should be able to find out rather quickly the information you need.
Who needs to be available at my practice for the delivery and installation/training?
Again this depends on the modality, but it is important to differentiate between delivery and installation and training. Delivery, even for many of the “bigger” pieces of equipment usually only requires that someone is there to allow entrance into the facility. Whether this is a portable ultrasound in a small box to a fully-crated C-Arm fluoroscopy unit, the person/company delivering the system is doing just that, bringing the equipment to (or maybe into) you practice.
Some equipment requires installation, which could consist of electrical connections (with things like x-ray generators/tables), data connections (between generators and DR panels, or between your equipment and PACS servers, either directly or via internal networks), and sometimes even physical compatibility (fitting a new DR panel into the bucky tray of an existing x-ray table). In any case, to summarize, an installation refers to the engineer/technician setting up your system and confirming working order.
Sometimes the person installing your system is also the one training you on how to use it; sometimes not. But in either case, the installation portion of things requires some initial information about the room that will house the equipment (photos, videos, floorplans, networking schematics, power outlet maps, etc.) but during the on-site visit, will require very little (if any) of your staff’s time beyond allowing access to the room and the equipment itself.
Training is another story. Ideally you want to appoint a power user (or one for each shift if you are a 24-hour clinic), but also expose the rest of your technician and veterinarian staff to the equipment. The trainer will understand that you have a working clinic and that you can’t shut the doors for a few hours just to learn how to use this new equipment, so they will repeat their training a few times over the course of their visit. Still it is important to respect their time (as they are respecting yours) and make sure they have access to the appropriate personnel for sufficient training.
Another thing to keep in mind, if you purchase an ultrasound system, for example, the trainer (often called Applications Specialists) are NOT there to teach you how to ultrasound patients and interpret the results into a diagnosis. While doing some live scans (or radiographs or laser treatments or CT scans) is an efficient way to learn the knobology and general use of the equipment, and while often the specialist has some credentials that make them very good at scanning/diagnosing, their job is teach you how THIS piece of equipment’s features work, not to teach you the imaging modality in general. The next article in the series will point you in the right direction for further education and support once that trainer leaves.
Take Home Message
Patience is a virtue. You’ve signed the order but you don’t get your new piece of equipment until the order gets processed, the billing/funding gets sorted out, the inventory is fulfilled, and the package gets shipped. Each of these steps can take business days to handle, but you should be alerted with several touch-points of communication along the way so that you are not in the dark. And if you have any questions, your equipment specialist remains your primary point-of-contact.