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Considerations and homework before selling your solution to the NHS

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Many companies have approached me for help with market access over the years.

Often, they are looking to break into the National Health Service (NHS) supplier market here in England with what they think is an innovative or superior product.

Sometimes they are right about their product, and on the surface have marketing and sales decks nailed.

Their confusion about why they have no interest from NHS buyers is often accompanied by anger about the procurement frameworks and regulations that support the NHS supply chain.

Often, the reason for their lack of progress is caused by issues closer to home which can be a hard pill to swallow (excuse the pun!) after what is generally years of hard work designing, funding, and developing an MVP or final product.

The need for any sort of go-to-market strategy (GTM) is dismissed by many who think their personality and product, together with investor funding and a top-notch website will do the talking!

They are wrong.

A GTM strategy helps to identify key stakeholders and helps you prepare for conversations with them.

It helps you envisage how your product would be used by end users in the real world and adapt your offering appropriately.

It helps you to develop a longer-term commercial strategy that can grow and adapt to the ever-changing environment.

Here are five questions that I ask new clients, which I hope will help you avoid the mistakes of others before you

1. Who is your customer?

When used correctly, basic business tools such as environmental analysis and stakeholder matrix can be the ideal starting point to help you navigate your customers’ world.

Take the time to understand who would use, who would buy and who would influence decision-making should your solution be presented to the NHS.

This can be desktop research but is most effective when accompanied by conversations with those working in or around your potential customers.

2. Which care pathway does your solution fit into?

A care pathway is a plan for patient care.

It can be best identified by following a patient’s journey through the health system and identifying the people, processes and systems that influence or have direct contact with that patient.

Although it is likely that care pathways will be similar across the country for each discipline, it is good practice to never assume this is always the case.

When your solution was in its infancy or MVP stage of development, its application was likely to be clear in your head.

However, where you think your product should fit, and where the real end users think it should fit are often very different.

Don’t be afraid to listen to advice and to pivot when required to make your solution fit for purpose and fit for the environment in which you wish to sell.

3. What stakeholder value does your solution provide?

The pharmaceutical industry applies three simple questions to any proposal they are looking to bring to market.

What is the value to the NHS, what is the value to the patient and what is the value to the healthcare professional?

This is a great starting point and if you are struggling to answer these questions perhaps it is time to review those papers on national policy and ambitions, or perhaps engage with stakeholders to obtain unbiased feedback and opinions.

The uncomfortable truth: Just because your solution met the needs of your family member or friend or even yourself at the time of conception, it does not mean it meets the needs of customers or end users within a healthcare setting.

4. How does your solution align with NHS’s long-term strategy and local roadmaps?

Market analysis will save you time and money in the long run, even if you pay someone else to complete it!

There is nothing more valuable than understanding policy and speaking to potential end users and project teams.

It not only helps you to develop strong promotion pitches, but it also helps you start conversations with stakeholders.

The Long-Term Plan is an excellent starting point for anyone new to the NHS. It describes the ambitions and priorities of the NHS from 2019 to 2029.

What Good Looks Like (WGLL) is another excellent source of information as it provides guidance for health leaders on good practice and safety through digital transformation. All of this is invaluable knowledge to have in your ‘tool kit’.

5. What regulatory and compliance requirements need to be met?

I am surprised by how often innovators approach the NHS with no consideration of regulatory requirements.

You should be able to demonstrate knowledge of what is required and at the very least, a roadmap detailing when you are going to get there.

Things like medical device classification, cyber security, ISOs, and GDPR all need to be considered.

Selling into the NHS is not about having a fancy website, or glossy marketing materials.

It is 100 per cent about meeting an unmet need and involves having one eye on the future to predict future needs and how your solution can evolve.

Having a robust GTM strategy is something that many start-ups and even established companies with new products fail to do.

You cannot price a product if you don’t know its value. You cannot sell it if you don’t know your customer.

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