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Is there any point in trying to win NHS business locally when it’s all decided at National level?

Recently I wrote that to succeed any potential supplier needs to have a clear picture of who is involved in the flow leading to the purchase decision. Purchasing departments usually have assigned managers responsible for particular categories, for example medical bandages and dressings, or surgical equipment, or building maintenance, etc.

Users are the people actually using a product or working with the service. These can be actual medical professionals like specialist nurses and doctors who use the product during an intervention with a patient or in non-medical functions such as a manager responsible for furniture.

The relative importance of Users and Purchasers is influenced by two factors. First is who holds the budget for purchasing a particular item and second is the complexity of your product or service. If you offer a product that requires a degree of medical or technical knowledge to understand the benefits in use, the opinion of the user is key in the buying process. The more general the item, such as print or marketing design, then the category buyer can be the gatekeeper.

Recognising the different positions of each person in the buying decision chain helps to determine what are the most effective methods of communication and what to communicate to each player in the process. There is no substitute for making contact with hospital purchasing departments and relevant clinical or administrative departments to find who are the best people to talk to. Knocking on doors is probably one of the most effective methods to identify contacts. It is key to be sensitive to the hospital environment and to expect the first call to only be for gathering information, such as confirming the right departments and names of contacts. Be aware that most procurement departments do not like commercial representatives wandering hospital corridors so make sure to have an “elevator” pitch of no more than 1 minute to kick off any conversation. Be prepared with a set of questions to gain the contact information. Now it could take five visits or phone calls before being able to make an appointment and have time in front of the prospect.

There are short cuts if you want to break into the NHS. One way is to find a business already supplying the NHS and see if it is possible to establish a collaboration. In my time working with medical businesses I have seen a number of collaborations yield significant revenue. Of course, you would need ensure you seek out businesses selling complementary products not in competition! Why would a company already selling to the NHS be pleased to get into bed (pun intended) with your business? The main reason is to reduce the cost of each sale. Running a sales force selling into hospitals can be more expensive than other industries. Hospitals are geographically dispersed, especially outside London. Therefore, many sales people are spending more time travelling rather than being in front of customers. So, if a company can have it’s sales force selling a greater number of products into the hospitals they are already calling on, then the greater chance of improving sales call cost effectiveness.

One way to find collaborators is to engage with someone who has experience in the medical industry and has contacts through the industry. Another possible way is to look at business that provide contract salesforces selling into the NHS. Although the type of product they have experience selling is important. For instance, many such businesses provide support in the sales of pharmaceuticals but may not be suited to technical products. Background is key.

Empiric Partners can help your business to become a supplier to the NHS and identify the best route. Call David Butler, Senior Partner, NHS Sales, for more details.