Vendor relationship management, done with purpose and thoughtfulness, can deliver a successful partnership benefiting any medical group — small or large, multispecialty or single specialty. As the healthcare environment continues to increase in complexity, a true vendor-partner can serve as a consultant to your practice.
Vendors as educators
As a responsible buyer for your medical group, you need to know what solutions are available in the marketplace. However, in this very complex and volatile market, it is a challenge to stay "in the know." Vendors perform a very necessary role by educating buyers about products and services. Consider how providers learn about the new solutions in the pharmaceutical world — isn't that type of introduction to a new product helpful to making an informed decision?
Vendors want to establish a relationship with you — they recognize that delivering quality information and proving to be a reliable resource for you will lead to long-term investment in future sales. You can start things off on the right foot by helping the vendor understand your medical group: explain your decision-making process and timeline, identify key stakeholders in your organization, and the process you envision. Lay out your needs and preferences for a solution to meet your objective. Be open to a dialogue that allows the vendor to ask probing questions and even challenge some of your assumptions. Transparency in decision-making can help develop successful relationships.
Vendor as consultants
Vendors often lead the market with innovative solutions. Allow them to inform you about new products that may solve problems or create new efficiencies in your practice. If you're working closely with a vendor on a key part of your operation, invite representatives to sit in on strategic meetings.
Vendors employ experts that are well-versed in their products and solutions, so tap into that expertise in order to give your practice a competitive advantage. Take notes, recap action items, and follow up with the vendor when you need additional information or budgeting numbers. Let the vendor know what you expect from it, and don't forget to ask if your expectations mesh with the vendor's ability to deliver. Remember, your vendor expects a certain level of commitment from you too.
Vendors as negotiators
Once you have settled on a solution, make sure to set objectives well before contract discussions. Know what you want as an end result, and try to set aside preconceptions about how to get that result.
Be prepared: Collate all the information that will be helpful to the vendor in preparing a solution and a thorough quote for you; examine your past purchase history; invite the staff who will be most affected by the purchase to participate in the vendor exploration. If you don't manage the process, the vendor will and their timeframes may not mesh well with your timing.
Contracts are critical documents that are important to buyers and sellers. Be sure to take note of important items discussed throughout the sales process and include specifics in a contract addendum to establish the importance of each of those items. If you're using an RFP (request for proposal) in your purchase process, let the vendor know you plan to include their RFP response as a contract addendum — so it can prepare a specific response to your needs.
Healthcare may at first glance appear to be a very specialized market, but it is a business like all others when it comes to relationships and managing vendors. Get your game plan in place and be prepared to deliver honest and deliberate communications in your quest to obtain the right solution for your practice. Invest in your relationship with your vendor to develop a partnership that will reward your practice over and over.
Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA healthcare consulting group. She conducts educational seminars and provides keynote speeches on a variety of healthcare-technology and operational topics. Drawing upon her diverse experience, Nelson provides practical solutions to help medical groups succeed in their practices. She may be reached at www.mgma.com/consulting/nelson.