The tortoise and the hare

posted in: Opinion | 0

By Lloyd Price, chief operating officer, Zesty


SMEs selling into the NHS, 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 more realistic representation 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, we have learnt 4 big lessons at Zesty since 2012 when we started out on our digital health journey.


Lesson 1 – Credibility

The NHS 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, so spend a lot of time, energy and focus understanding how to become credible.

Zesty, like a lot of other digital health startups became credible after we had deployed our technology in multiple live NHS environments, had collected clinical data, patient engagement stats 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 NHS in our experience requires 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 the NHS. It has also been our experience at Zesty, looking back over the last 4 years, everything has come together fine, all we needed was a little patience.

SMEs should approach the NHS 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, for example we owe a big thank you to Dr Anatole S Menon-Johansson, the clinical lead for sexual health at Guy’s and St Thomas’ for having a clear vision on what digital services he wanted to offer his patients and how he was willing to be an early adopter to Zesty’s technology.


To conclude, selling to the NHS 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.

Happy to answer any questions about this blog post, simply email [email protected] and I will do my best to help.



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