Advice for NHS IT suppliers: marketing in tough times

By: Corrie Williams, Managing Director of Elemental
15 June 2018

The NHS IT market expected to reach £4bn by 2022 and yet despite market opportunities in abundance, it is a turbulent commercial landscape for IT suppliers.

Some suppliers are making great strides through funding programmes such as the Global Digital Exemplars (GDE) scheme where they will benefit economically from government investment via their NHS customers and potentially win new contracts as ‘Fast Followers’.

But despite this success, I hear some suppliers are still waiting to be paid for services incurred as part of the programme.

Then there are the suppliers that fall outside these programmes, who rely on winning individual contracts or tenders. They face a real competitive threat and will have to adjust their strategies to ensure the pipeline remains as stable as possible.

And new market entrants? The NHS IT market is as attractive as it is difficult to secure sales. Faced with the chicken and egg scenario of needing a first reference site to generate an initial sale, seldom do you see short-term gains.

All these scenarios highlight a major issue for suppliers at the moment: cash flow.

Impact health IT marketers

And what is often the first thing to be cut in times of austerity? Marketing.

It’s always a tense moment when you are sitting in front of your CEO or finance director waiting to find out how much marketing budget you will get in the next financial year.

And then they deliver the bad news. Budget is down next year. So, what should you prioritise? Which activities do you drop?

It’s a tough choice. There’s not many marketers that would argue about the value of integrated marketing campaigns and investing in multiple channels to reach your audiences effectively.

For example, some of the most successful sales acceleration campaigns we’ve delivered at Elemental have been boosted by some brilliant press coverage to generate awareness and build credibility, making the conversation with a prospect that bit easier.

But, as the saying goes, ‘needs must’. The biggest need in times of austerity is revenue.

Bang for your buck

It’s widely acknowledged that the further you go up the sales pipeline, the more difficult marketing is to measure. The metrics for measuring brand presence are often hotly debated among PR circles (reach vs. engagement, anyone?), but what you cannot dispute is the clear return on investment for sales acceleration activity.

Sales acceleration – If you are not aware – is the process of segmenting your market, prospecting targets, generating leads and gaining qualified appointments to increase the pace in which you hit your sales targets.

It outstrips ROI performance of communications activities such as PR, social media, advertising, events if you are looking for a rapid assessment of your sales pipeline.

This is a particularly attractive approach when selling technology to the NHS where procurement cycles can be long, protracted and require huge investment.

How, and why now?

Spend on NHS IT is going up with major opportunities for services such as cloud, interoperability, cyber security and clinical software. Despite cash flow challenges, the market is primed for new and established technology solutions to support the NHS’ wider digital ambitions, such as a paperless working.

My mantra has always been to ‘market through the tough times’, but to do that you need to be savvy about your approach by identifying high value segments and going direct with your sales messages.

Pitching to the NHS is not easy. It is a complex purchasing machine and there are often multiple stakeholders in the NHS IT procurement process – crossing clinical, operational, financial and technology backgrounds – all with differing priorities and needs.

They are also very busy people working in an under-resourced institution – you only have to look at the media headlines.

Finding out who they are, their pain points, and how your solution can solve their needs is key to sales acceleration.

You have one shot at impressing these people. Being able to identify who to target, how to contact them and what to say is essential to making sales acceleration a success.

Throughout my 20+ years developing contacts and relationships with the people driving NHS IT transformation, I can hand on heart, say it’s something of an art form. And it works.

By using our vast experience in the NHS IT market, we have planned and executed sales acceleration campaigns that have seen our clients get appointments with 20% of their target audience in just three months.

The real winners however, invest in sales acceleration more strategically and in 12 months can see this percentage rise to 45%. Just imagine that – face-to-face appointments with a whopping 45% of your total market in one year.

My pitch

The team here at Elemental are an experienced bunch of Sales Development Specialists (SDS) and marketing veterans, focused on delivering exceptional results in niched sectors. We’ve been blowing the trumpet for sales acceleration for nearly a decade now and have made some sweet music in the process – our clients will vouch for that.

If you want the opportunity to get in front of decision-makers across the NHS, drop us a line at 0808 168 6426 or on: [email protected]

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