So the unannounced salesman theme continues, with our last installment looking at the software salesman. Who exactly am I talking about? I’m talking about the individuals who want you to purchase their large piece of software. This includes your behemoth practice management software, but also anybody demoing something at a convention booth, or even the salesforce in a retail outlet trying to push Word or Photoshop or Dragon Naturally Speaking. I usually relate examples from the consumer side because that is what I am more familiar with, but this time I’m going to label the commission-hungry folks at Fry’s Electronics as “the wilderness” which is to say, you’re on your own. No, this week let’s focus solely on the business side. This week I’m only talking about the salesmen that are trying to push software in your office.
A key distinction from last week is that predatory IT is more IT than salesman: completely competent at their job, but hoping to leverage your ignorance and fear. The software salesman is pure salesman. If we drop our cynicism, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when you are talking practice management software, you are talking about entering into a long-term relationship with the company, meaning they do not have the used-car salesman’s motivation to “sell you a lemon.” They are going to see you next week, and every other week after that. So, inadvertently, my first piece of advice is that if you are the cynical sort, it might be reasonable to lighten up with the software salesman – at least where long-term relationships are implied. (Now and again I take pot shots at explaining why Apple has surged in popularity in recent years, and now would be a good time to point out that for many consumers, purchasing a computer is a long-term relationship with the manufacturer and Apple is better at respecting that than most Windows-box manufacturers, but I digress).
What makes the “pure salesman” observation an important distinction is that the software salesman is usually very far removed from the craft of making the software that you are being sold. Put another way, they don’t know any more than you do. A constructive way of looking at this would be to consider how complex high tech innovations get marketed, (I wrote about the Intel i7 a long time ago). The story usually is that when a bunch of computing engineers make a significant new piece of technology, they are put in a tough spot because a) they have genuinely created something new, exciting and better and b) there is no way the average consumer is going to understand why their innovation is new, exciting and better. So it all gets wrapped up in slick marketing. This means honest innovations get mixed in with the dishonest sales pitches. So, I repeat: the salesman doesn’t know any more than you do. They just know their bullet points, and even if you’re the toughest, most self-righteous customer in the world, you aren’t going to get at the full truth even after you put them through the wringer.
It’s unfriendly, and you are entering into long-term relationship, remember? And we’re talking about someone who is only lying to you by accident, if they are lying at all. What’s more important is that you treat every, “but our product has such and such which is much faster” with a grain of salt. Technology buzz word? Ignore it. Don’t be angered by the salesman doublespeak, because there is a reasonable chance that they are addressing something that is actually amazing and great, it’s just not going to be very easy for you to discern those.
But “ignore everything” isn’t very helpful advice. So what do you do? First, let me get one topic out of the way. Again.
Database technology. I’ve written about this before. My impression is that a small business will not have enough records to have the database technology make much of a difference in terms of speed. It needs to work and that’s about the extent of your worries. Relational databases are not a buzzword per se, but the move toward them in practice management software has a greater impact in their ability to efficiently develop their product than your ability to efficiently use it. What I didn’t say last time is that not using a relational database is laughably old-fashioned, but I think the transition took so long because dental practices are small enough that it doesn’t actually matter that much.
And don’t think it’s bad that I say things like “dental practices are small.” This is usually one of your advantages. Dental practices are small enough that they don’t get steeped in draconian corporate rules. Dental practices are small enough that they can focus on their local community of customers. Dental practices are small enough that your pleasant user experiences trumps the technologies under the hood.
Which brings me to my last point: Your user experience trumps the technologies under the hood. If you are going to wring anything out of your salesman, get a solid demo of the product. Get a test drive. Even better, get your staff to test drive – in total, they will use it more than you will. This is one area where going by feel, where sticking with what emotionally resonates, is totally appropriate. I’m going to suggest that the most popular practice management software is the most popular for a reason: it feels right to the most people. But if you and your staff prefer something else, that’s fine, go with that. Unless you think the software developer is going to go belly up in a few months, or you have a suspicion that their customer service is criminally negligent, I would simply go with the option that felt the most intuitive and comfortable to you.