Who are the real NHS decision-makers (and how do you reach them)?

The NHS is always changing. New roles are constantly emerging, particularly at the moment within Primary Care Networks and General Practice, where we also have federations and super practices, different ways of working and people taking on a variety of responsibilities.

The challenge for the Pharma, MedTech and Devices industry is not how to get in front of these people – that’s the easy bit. It’s to make sure the people you are presenting to are the actual decision makers.

Who is the right contact for you?

As the NHS evolves into Integrated Care Systems, you could find yourself pitching a wider group of stakeholders, e.g., to a mental health trust, representatives from the community or voluntary sector or a local community pharmacy involved in delivering a pathway of care. You might need to build relationships with local social care providers, or big hospital foundations trusts.

It’s a different cohort to those you may have traditionally worked with who have been involved in commissioning and CCGs. The people emerging as key contacts now are individuals who have always worked exclusively as service providers.

The drives home the importance of developing a stakeholder plan. In my days in Pharma it was something I would always prioritise. You have to make sure you have the right people in front of you, the real decision-makers, the people with the power to decide whether or not you could collaborate.

The reason this approach presents a challenge for the industry is the obsession that now exists with the call rate – the physical number of people we see or engage with. But the trick here is to zoom in on the key customers, the ones who can deliver for you as opposed to those customers you just see but don’t end up progressing with.

Stakeholder Planning Is Key

The solution is a simple mini-plan, just half a side of A4 with bullet points identifying the key stakeholders and outlining how you plan to engage with each one. You’ll need to have a really good understanding of your contact’s current situation and their plans, and how you might shape your agenda to mould and engage completely with theirs.

You need to understand their role, and their standing and the full range and reach of their influence within their organisation. And you need answers to some basic questions:

  • Why do we want to see them?
  • What have they got to gain from a meeting with you?
  • What influence do you expect to have on them?
  • What outcomes do you expect to be able to deliver that are squarely on their agenda?
  • And what problem does a collaboration between you solve?

Learn what motivates your customer

The key question for me was always, ‘what is going to motivate my customer?’. Many of them will have various different motivations of course, but a basic understanding of their primary motivation gives you something to engage with.

Sometimes that will be about the information you’ve got that you may be able to impart and support them with.

Their motivation to work with you may also come down to their opinion of you. If that’s not good, you don’t have to throw in the towel – think how you can turn that round. What might make the difference? Having really strong case studies is essential here, testimonials about how you work and the results you’ve been able to achieve are strong motivators for people. These will all help you demonstrate your authority and build trust. That’s also why you should never be shy about asking clients to rate the project you’re working on.

In the new world, Pharma, MedTech and Devices need to think about stakeholders in the broadest possible sense – across General Practice, Community Services, Mental Health Trusts, as well as voluntary sector providers of NHS services.

How are you going to engage them? What’s going to motivate them to be working with you? And then how does that knowledge then enable you to develop a cluster of stakeholders in a community that you can confidently work with?

Make yourself indispensable

Ideally, you will build your local stakeholder model in such a way that you are seen as the go-to person when your stakeholders have pathways and services they want to redesign. This will allow you the legitimate opportunity to connect with them again and again.

As discussed previously, taking the complete pathway approach is vital. Don’t make the mistake of concentrating only on the bit that interests your company – because the entire pathway is what’s important to the NHS.

You don’t have to focus on what happens before they reach you in the pathway or after they reach you in the pathway – your focus should be on where your technology, your apps, your equipment or your drugs fit along the pathway to make sure you’re embedded in it and contributing toward an improved patient outcome.

That could be reduced appointments in General Practice, reduced referrals, reduced admissions, improved patient outcomes, or tackling health inequalities – whatever it is, your offer needs to be seen as an important part of that solution.

Understanding the new stakeholder landscape – at system, at place, at network and at individual general practice level – is going to be key for the industry. And if you get it wrong, it could be severely detrimental to your sales effort. You can read more advice on how to succeed as the NHS evolves on our website here.

Scott McKenzie helps pharmaceutical, medical technology and device firms increase revenue by getting their products and services in front of the right NHS decision-makers. If you want to get your products fully embedded into treatment pathways we can help you. We’ve doubled revenue for our clients and can share these processes with you too. If you want to improve the way you sell to the NHS you might find our free webinar useful.