Startups and SME's selling their digital health products and solutions into the healthcare industry, a tale of David and Goliath? Or the Tortoise and the Hare? I would say the latter.
Aesop’s famous fable of how slow and steady won the race is a much more realistic representation of how to create success as a digital health company than the biblical story of how a smaller, weaker opponent defeated a much bigger, stronger adversary with a single blow.
In terms of selling directly to the NHS and European healthcare providers and payers, I have learnt 4 big lessons at Zesty in the last 6 years since we started out on our own digital health journey. (https://www.zesty.co.uk/enterprise)
Lesson 1 – Credibility
Healthcare is an old fashioned industry where credibility has to be earned before you succeed. Building credibility is a major hurdle and barrier for new startups looking to supply their goods or services to the NHS, healthcare providers and payers .... so spend a lot of time, energy and focus understanding how to become credible.
The Cambridge English dictionary states "Credible means able to be trusted or believed."
Zesty, like a lot of other digital health startups only became credible after we had deployed our technology in multiple live environments, had collected clinical data, patient engagement statistics and were able to build case studies proving the impact of what we had delivered.
Lesson 2 – Discipline
The Oxford English dictionary defines the word discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior.” Selling into the healthcare industry in our experience requires a lot of discipline and SMEs need to understand what rules they should follow and adhere to a code of behaviour.
For example, SMEs need to understand the rules of Information Governance, data protection and procurement. Startups and small businesses should take their time to obey the rules around being IG compliant, registering with the Information Commissioner’s Office, submitting tender responses, applying to the G-Cloud government procurement frameworks etc.
Following rules significantly increases your chances of success, ignoring them could set you back months if not years.
Lesson 3 – Patience
“Said, woman, take it slow It’ll work itself out fine, All we need is just a little patience … Said, sugar, make it slow And we come together fine, All we need is just a little patience.”
These famous Guns N’ Roses lyrics are an accurate reflection of most SMEs’ experience of selling and working with healthcare providers and payers. It has also been our experience at Zesty, looking back over the last 6 years, everything has now come together fine, all we needed was a little patience.
SMEs should approach healthcare as a market which moves slowly, embraces change at its own unique pace and yields results in the medium to long term, not short term.
Lesson 4 – Luck
Quite simply, the harder you work the luckier you are! Hard work on its own will not result in success, you also need some luck by either being in the right place at the right time or by meeting an early digital health adopter.
In Zesty’s case I believe both have applied, we have been lucky enough to meet 3 early adopters looking to solve their own unique problem at 3 different healthcare providers, 2 in England and 1 in Europe.
I believe lucks the point in which preparedness meets opportunity, so always be prepared :) Every meeting, conference and event, be prepared to meet an early adopter who can have a big impact on your digital health startup or SME.
To conclude, selling to the healthcare industry as an SME is tough, you need to build trust and credibility first before you can start to generate traction. So stay focused, keep your discipline and create your own luck by working hard, your first customer and early adopter is around the corner.
Always remember your goal should be to build partnerships with healthcare providers and payers in the long term, your mindset should always be it takes two sides to make this partnership work, not you as the supplier on one side and them as the customer on the other.
Whether you like it or not, your digital health product or solution will not work or scale without the trust, support and partnership of healthcare providers and payers helping you integrate and rollout within multiple care environments.