Those words sting just a little bit. But the wellness director for a 5000-employee company — participating on a recent panel discussion in Washington DC — meant it. Sitting in the back of the conference hall, my mood alternated between anger at shady colleagues and frustration with wellness service consultants and buyers.
Vendors Need to Clean Up Their Act
Just as with presidential politics, some characters spin data, misrepresent facts, take situations out of context, and lie outright if they think the truthful alternative is less favorable to them in the moment. While not stated, some hide behind the excuse that everyone is doing it, so we have to make unsubstantiated claims or we’ll be left behind.
Other vendors operate under the premise that you can fool some of the people all of the time — “As long as I can hit this year’s sales numbers, that’s good enough for me” — unfulfilled promises notwithstanding. That attitude almost always catches up to you and the result is a landscape littered with companies that failed or were bought on the cheap by larger vendors.
The unfortunate result: Those vendors trying to do and say the right (accurate) thing are tainted by their less forthright brethren and end up paying for their sins. On several occasions we’ve had to clean up after the last vendor’s mess, in terms of both execution and expectations.
For their own longevity and the health of the industry, vendors need to stop spinning, misrepresenting, embellishing, or obfuscating just to get a sale. It may mean less business in the short term, but developing a reputation for making realistic projections and delivering on them means you’ll be around long after the next shiny thing comes and goes.
Consultants Need to Do Meaningful Homework
If you’re going to print “consultant” on your business card, do some actual consulting homework, NOT:
- Put together labyrinthine surveys that obscure rather than clarify what’s important to your client
- Send those surveys to every wellness vendor that hangs out a shingle
- Have first-year associates go through vendor proposals to rank answers when they can’t possibly have enough experience or context to make a reasonable judgment
- Invite a parade of vendors in for a beauty contest to see who has the best graphic arts department.
- Clarify exactly what is important to your client in no more than 3 pages; if it takes more than that, you’re just padding your hours.
- Invite only vendors with specific expertise in your client’s needs to submit a proposal.
- Request proposals that speak directly to your client’s needs, not a panoply of services outside the scope of what they’re trying to accomplish.
- Talk to a dozen or more references — current, former, and soon-to-launch customers. Keep digging until you begin to hear recurring themes. If you don’t, and the feedback is all over the board, that’s a red flag. Astonishingly, this is the step skipped most often. If you’re not doing this, you’re just pretending to be a consultant and clearly have put your interests ahead of your client’s.
Buyers Have to Stop Being Lazy
- Visit vendors you’re recommending as well as a vendor’s clients if possible. This may not always be in the cards, but seeing the actual operation and having the ability to interact with people providing and supporting the service, not just the sales team, can be very eye-opening.
We know, you’re busy. And you don’t have time to become expert at all the services you need. But even so, if you don’t do some of the heavy lifting yourself, you deserve what you get.
- Ask for proof. If a vendor makes claims about participation, engagement, outcomes, savings, etc., and any of those things are vital to you/your management, ask them to show you real data of real clients. Then ask to speak to those clients. If they can’t/won’t produce it, you should probably ignore their claims.
- Talk to references. Even if your consultant has done this, do it yourself, then compare notes. That doesn’t mean you’re wasting money or time; it simply means you’ve taken the most important tool you have and confirmed what you think you know.
- Read the fine print. Nothing says I care less than not reading and fully understanding your RFPs, the responses you get back, and the contracts you enter. Your attorneys and/or purchasing departments will do this as well (hopefully), but it’s too important for you not to be 100% clear on what you want, what’s being proposed, and ultimately, what you and your new partner agree.
- Cut your losses if needed. In some organizations, pushing through a new service agreement with a new vendor feels like building the space shuttle. You really don’t want to do it again at the end of the first year. But your contract has an out clause for a reason. If the vendor hasn’t delivered what they promised (through no fault of yours), blow it up and start over.
Vendors, consultants, and buyers should all want the same thing: the best services at a fair price for the client. If all do their job to the best of their ability, buyers will be more likely to say “I believe everything my wellness vendor tells me”… and mean it.