Investing in new instruments and equipment is a key decision for lab managers to make. Typically, budgets are limited and only the most important items can win approval for purchase. Under these conditions, the investment decisions made by lab managers become critical because future support often hinges on the success of these investments.
When evaluating vendor options during the buying process, it is important to consider factors beyond price. While cost is a very important criterium, overall value is often a better predictor of investment success. Obtaining a new piece of equipment is important but getting that and a supportive partner is even better.
Here are three areas where vendors can provide significant value to the lab beyond the new device going into the lab.
Value driven by sales
In a competitive market, the vendor salesperson must be more than a point of transaction exchanging cash for a new piece of equipment. That salesperson needs to curate the buying experience for the lab to ensure that the investment leads to success. Especially with the power of the internet and the information content of webpages, salespeople are less about the device’s specifications and more about the relationship between the vendor and the lab.
At the beginning of the relationship, an effective salesperson will ask multiple questions in an effort to really understand the lab’s needs and priorities. Many people think that a good salesperson speaks well, but the best salespeople are very good listeners. Only after it is clear that the vendor’s device can address an important lab need does the salesperson need to start talking.
If you don’t really feel listened to, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Once the overlap between need and offering is established, the salesperson can connect the lab to knowledgeable colleagues to clearly explain the technical details of the device and answer technical questions. It will be important for the relationship to connect the lab smoothly and efficiently with experts at the vendor who can get questions answered, provide advice on the best use of the device, and establish what an installation of the device requires.
If you’re not getting clear answers quickly, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
As you move toward a purchase, the salesperson should be generating clear options with clear pricing. There should be no mysteries about the costs, options, what is included, what is not included, and the timing of delivery and installation. The salesperson can also help in providing support in the creation of the business case to be submitted to line management for approval. Typical benefits, data around return on investment, and success stories from other customers can all add depth and color to the business case.
If you’re not sure what you’re being offered, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Value driven by service
Most labs expect a newly acquired piece of equipment to last at least 10 years, and sometimes far longer than that. Part of the value proposition for the vendor is to help that new investment last as long as possible. Once the sale is completed, part of the responsibility for the relationship with the vendor moves to the service department. They will need to convince a new buyer that they have the parts, expertise, and desire to keep the device working long after the installation is complete.
One way to evaluate a new vendor is to look through your network for other labs that have the same equipment and can provide information about the quality of their service program. Ask questions about the delivery time for parts, the quality of advice or repair work, and how easy it is to talk to someone from the vendor about performance issues of the device.
If they struggle to get timely service and repairs on their equipment, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Another aspect of the value of service is the options the vendor has. Repair and maintenance of lab equipment can have many different flavors ranging from pay as you go to a comprehensive service plan and shipping the device back for service to a repair person arriving at the lab. Compare how these options mesh with your lab’s culture, purpose, and delivery needs. Ensure that there are appropriate options available when the device stops functioning properly, especially if that device is critical to your ability to serve your key stakeholders.
If there are insufficient options, or too expensive of options, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Not all vendors provide the best options for your lab. A vendor who is going to be an effective partner will help you identify other providers of the options that work best for you. They will also enable those partners to be successful through providing parts at a reasonable cost and delivery time, and helping them build the expertise needed to provide quality service.
Value driven by support
Effective product support can cover many different aspects of the relationship. Perhaps the most important value driven by support from the vendor is providing effective advice and help. The vendors know their equipment best and have good ideas of how the device works, under what circumstances it performs well, and how some have tried to use it without much success. A strong vendor relationship includes access to this advice to support your success using their products.
Effective support plays a key role from the beginning of the device’s life in your lab. Ensure that you know exactly what is required to install the device, including footprint, any required utilities, power requirements, and data requirements. The vendor should clearly communicate every detail to enable a smooth and easy installation.
If you go into an installation blind, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Once your lab is comfortable using the device, you may want to experiment with how it is used and how it contributes to your technical work. The vendor’s experts can be a great source of advice on how to modify methods, develop new methods, and apply the device to a new experiment. Their advice and support can augment what you know about the device, and help you reach your experimental goals. This kind of vendor support greatly adds value by contributing to your future success using the device and enabling your use of it to change and evolve over time.
If you don’t have free access to the vendor’s experts for technical guidance, you’re probably not dealing with the right vendor.
Getting the best value from a new equipment investment goes beyond getting the best price for the device. It involves building an effective partnership with the vendor so that your lab benefits from their knowledge, expertise, and help throughout the lifespan of the device in your lab. These additional sales, service, and support benefits can be very valuable, and might be worth exploring quotes beyond the one with the lowest price.