Consider this scenario: You have a great idea for a piece of automation that will significantly enhance your pharmacy operations, but how do you convince the organization and, more specifically, the capital budget committee that the facility should invest in your concept?
In his book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink notes that we are all in the business of sales. In fact, he estimates that people currently spend about 40% of their time at work selling something.1 Whether it is a piece of equipment or an idea, we all are competing for limited resources against a wide variety of other people, ideas, departments, and proposals. To give your case the best opportunity for success, a systematic approach and a comprehensive proposal that aligns itself with the facility’s overarching goals are necessary.
The first step in creating an influential automation acquisition proposal is to clearly identify its purpose before attempting to convince administrative decision makers of its validity. With that information in hand, it is then important to be mindful of the decision makers’ points of view. Three of the most relevant questions to consider in the early stages of this process are:
When approaching this sales opportunity, recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. Therefore, the focus of the presentation must be customized and must emphasize how the automation fits into the specific values and needs of the organization. Only by understanding these factors ahead of time can you craft a proposal that presupposes and addresses them.
Value-added functions that often are highly regarded in the majority of capital acquisition processes include revenue generation, cost reduction, improvements in quality and/or safety, meeting regulatory requirements, and improvements in efficiency. Therefore, it is wise to address each of these points in the presentation.
It also is important to keep in mind the two most common reasons for the capital budget committee to deny a request:
Given these commonalities, be sure the proposal is not offering a solution to something the organization does not perceive as a problem.2
Know The Competition
Successful sports teams always prepare extensively for game day by thoroughly analyzing the competition. What are their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies in key situations? How do they respond to different game conditions, weather, surfaces, etc? Effective preparation and research pays off. Successful coaches thoroughly forecast their game plan ahead of time, and on game day, they execute accordingly.
Approaching a budget committee is, in effect, a competition. The pharmacy is competing for limited dollars against others in the organization. Thus, success depends heavily on understanding both your opponents and the playing field. Consider the following in your preparations:
By carefully analyzing the opposition, pharmacy can work to craft an automation proposal that positively positions the desired technology relative to the competition and gives it the best chance of success.
Understand the Committee’s Motivations
Prior to generating any proposals, the best sales professionals determine what will excite or motivate their target audience to care about their idea. In doing so, they identify the what’s in it for them (WIIFT) elements that will convince the decision makers of the concept’s value.3 When budget committee members consider the various ideas that come before them, they immediately try to determine what they will gain by approving a proposal. In most cases, a capital budget committee comprises professionals with different backgrounds, interests, goals, and WIIFTs. To be most effective, pharmacy should work to understand each of the target audience members and his or her likely WIIFTs by considering the following questions:
A simple, but effective, exercise is to construct a chart to organize the focus and WIIFTs (or motivations) of each of the target audience members (see TABLE 1).
Once the WIIFTs of all committee members have been established, you can build your proposal around these elements. As an example, a WIIFT table for a proposal for an automated packaging and dispensing system might look like TABLE 2.
It is important to focus on the benefits of your idea, rather than the features or functions of the automation. Features are the technical capabilities of the automation, whereas functions are what the features deliver, and benefits are the positive outcomes of what the functions produce.3 Decision makers on a budget committee generally are not highly involved in the daily workflow of the pharmacy and tend to be less interested in specific features and functions. Rather, they will base their decision on the potential benefits the purchase will bring to the pharmacy and to the institution as a whole.
Emphasize Ease of Adoption
A key element for decision makers in selecting from among competing proposals is ease of adoption. Therefore, it is wise to present the automation proposal in easily understandable, lay terms and to avoid detailing complex implementation steps. It is difficult to sell an automation idea that requires significant customization to fit into the organization’s established informatics and automation architecture. The more complex the automation proposal, the less inclined the decision makers will be to approve it. Conversely, emphasizing how the automation will integrate readily with established systems will increase the likelihood of success.
Know and be candid about the resources necessary for the implementation and utilization of the automation. In your preparations, consider whether the project will require a significant amount of internal resources, such as informatics specialists or biomedical engineering. Quite often, hospital informatics departments (IT) are stretched thin with little capacity for new projects, so automation proposals that require extensive interfaces or other informatics support are often passed over for simpler alternatives.
Proactively address how internal resources, such as IT, can be conserved and work to procure support from any affected departments before presenting the case for your project. Consider the following:
It is important to address staffing requirements as part of a larger discussion about the overall value of the technology. In other words, the cost of any additional personnel should be netted against the projected and ongoing value of the automation. Consider whether any special expertise will be necessary to implement and/or operate the automation. Will this require hiring specially trained experts, or can internal personnel be trained to meet these needs? If so, what are the costs associated with that training?
Making The Case
With the baseline research complete and a strong understanding of the WIIFTs and values of each of the budget committee members, the final step is to create a strong presentation that will seal the deal. The best sales professionals are invariably good closers; they understand that facts and figures alone will not secure the sale. Making a connection with the decision makers and presenting a memorable case that demonstrates why the proposal is the best among its competition will go a long way in gaining approval.
When presenting to the budget committee:
Finally, like any superior salesperson, close by specifically asking for the committee’s commitment or at least a specific date by which you will receive a response. Before you leave the room, ensure that all of the committee members’ questions have been fully addressed.
Practice Your Presentation
Give the presentation to other stakeholders to make certain your proposition is clear and that you can deliver the proposal effectively. Consider including the prospective automation vendor in your practice sessions; vendors tend to not only have a wealth of experience and product knowledge, but also a perspective that is especially sensitive to ROI for the organization.
Making an effective and compelling case for pharmacy automation is a critical skill for pharmacy leaders. The art of selling your idea starts with understanding the values of those on the budget committee who will be deciding how to allocate limited capital resources. Diagnosing their WIIFTs is a critical step toward convincing decision makers of the institutional benefits of the proposed technology. Support from influential internal and external experts is helpful, as is an endorsement by a finance authority regarding your ROI model and its assumptions. Finally, keeping the presentation succinct and focused on expected benefits, and illustrating it with facility-specific stories, will help you connect with the decision makers and increase the likelihood of a positive decision in this competitive funding environment.
James G. Stevenson, PharmD, FASHP, is president of hospitals and health systems services at Visante, Inc, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before joining Visante, Stevenson was chief pharmacy officer at the University of Michigan Health System and associate dean and department chair of clinical, social, and administrative sciences at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy.
James A. Jorgenson, RPh, MS, FASHP, is chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Visante, Inc, and Visante Limited. Before joining Visante, Jim was chief pharmacy officer and vice president of Indiana University Health, where he was responsible for the design and operation of the system’s pharmacy services supporting IU Health’s integrated delivery network.
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