Andrew, please introduce yourself.
I am Andrew Miles and I have worked with commercial vendors in informatics pre-sales for over 20 years. I originally trained for seven years as a biomedical scientist in haematology and blood transfusion science, however, I made the decision to move into an IT role, and enjoyed my responsibilities implementing IT systems into the lab.
Tell us more about your role in the lab software sector
I was in my first IT role for seven years, training scientists on how to roll out lab software. As my role progressed, I started to work on pre-sales, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the job. I then started looking for a pre-sale focused role and landed a position at LabVantage Solutions in 2000, which was a relatively small vendor at the time. Most of my experience comes from here, as it was a hugely diverse role working with customers from every area of lab testing imaginable.
In 2016 I moved to the healthcare sector on diagnostics solutions at InterSystems, before I made the decision to retire in April 2020.
Do all Lab Informatics vendors have pre-sales specialists?
I would say the majority of vendors do have specialists in this field. You can split the sector into big industry players which offer a broad range of solutions, and then smaller companies which may offer simpler or more niche solutions, or only operate in one field. These big vendors would certainly have a dedicated team, and this team will be made up of individuals (like myself) with lab experience, as an understanding of how labs operate is vital.
In addition to pre-sales and sales, some labs involve consultancies like Scimcon to help lead their projects and advise. This is how I met and built a relationship with the Scimcon team – Scimcon was consulting on a project with one of our prospective clients and was impressed with our demo, and we got to know each other quite well.
How long is the process?
In terms of timing, it really varies. I worked on one project which ran for about five to six weeks in total. I have also worked on a project which spanned over 18 months until it was completed. It depends on the complexity of the project being undertaken, and the size. A small project in the UK covering only one or two labs will take much less time than a global project encompassing multiple sites.
If a pre-sales demo is successful, there is an official handover when the contract has been signed between pre-sales and sales teams, and the implementation teams. However, it would not be a clean-cut finish point, and pre-sales and sales would normally remain involved in some way as the implementation teams will have questions as the project moves forward. For example, if we had offered bespoke functionality, we would need to be held accountable and help the implementation teams understand what was offered and why. This means that we would be involved in a process for much longer in some cases.
How are customer expectations managed?
When it comes to customers, it is important to remember that labs have a clearer idea of where they are heading in the future than software vendors do, so it’s about doing your research and making sure you understand your customer as well as they understand what they need to achieve. It is difficult to create a product which ticks every single box, but most vendors are now aiming to create a product that works straight out of the box and can be configured to meet requirements. This is particularly helpful in demos, as you can offer a wide range of features within the product as it comes, but you can still offer configuration if a particular feature is needed.
What best practice have you observed in how potential clients prepare internally and brief vendors during selection processes?
I think it is particularly important that multiple people from the lab are involved in the demo. Not just the decision makers, but the lab technicians, the managers and IT departments who can understand the tech. Everyone who will be impacted by new software and products at all levels should be involved in the process, and in the past, we have found it really unusual to give a demo to only one or two people.
It also helps when clients have a clear idea of what they are looking for, and what they want to get out of their product. With this kind of information, it makes it much easier for pre-sales teams to advise further and offer a solution that is most appropriate for the client’s need. However, at the same time, a client does need to be prepared to compromise. It is difficult to create a one-size-fits-all product, and pre-sales teams have to be prepared to walk away if they are unable to meet the customers’ requirements without creating a hugely complex product. If a client is willing to negotiate, and is happy to cover additional costs, then technology vendors could then consider a more bespoke approach and solution.
How can you tell when a demo has gone well?
As I said before, a demo should be reaching the whole room, not just the decision makers. A sale is obviously a clear sign you have presented a successful demo, but you can normally grasp the general feeling in the room about halfway through. You will find that people start leaning forward and engaging more through questions and comments, which shows you have piqued their interest. It also helps if you build allies in the room, as you will find they are able to counter any negative opinions, and interest in the product spreads around the room.
Were there ever any times when you believe a demo could have gone better?
Of course, we have not always got it right, and those are the times that taught us how important market knowledge is in securing a prospective client. One instance I recall was when myself and member of the sales team were asked to do a last-minute demo, and my colleague said that the client was in the mineral mining industry. The first thing the coordinator asked us during the demo was if we had any experience with customers in the prospecting and diamond mining industry, which we did not. We managed to recover with some relevant content, but even so, it is still a situation we would definitely want to avoid. If you are not showing relevance or credibility as a vendor to prospective clients, you really set yourself up for a fall.
What is the outlook for the Lab Informatics industry, where do you see it going?
I have already seen a lot of change in my 20 years in pre-sales. Technological changes are definitely the biggest area, but more recently we’re seeing surges in specific scientific areas such as genomics and the use of biorepositories for specimen storage, donor consent and retrieval.
As technology has advanced, we are also seeing more intelligent technology come into the field. As artificial intelligence algorithms are programmed into systems such as LIMS, we could expect another surge towards extended automation, which will save both vendors and client’s money in the long term.
Do you believe the current pandemic situation will have lasting effect on technology vendors?
I do not believe the current situation will have a long-lasting impact on vendors. In the short term we may see issues with implementation of systems, as current restrictions only allow necessary work to be carried out, adhering to social distancing measures. In the long-term implementation activities will return to normal, there may be additional opportunities for vendors to provide data handling system as some labs have geared specifically towards COVID-19 testing. I am confident that the LIMS market will eventually return to something like normal.