Janez Bensa, chief executive of An Open Line Group company, Parsek, discusses market entry challenges that international firms face in working with the NHS and how an expert marketing, PR and sales acceleration company can help to address them.
Tell us about Parsek
Parsek started out in Slovenia, but over the years we have built a strong presence across the Netherlands and the UK. Our Vitaly suite is built on an integration platform that enables the record systems used by different healthcare providers to exchange data with our tools for multi-disciplinary team meetings, care co-ordination, and patient-initiated follow-up.
Everything is cloud-based, built around international standards for data exchange, and designed with users to streamline as much of their workload as possible, so they can focus on making good decisions and delivering for patients.
Why did you look at the UK market?
We started looking at our UK market entry in 2017. At the time, we saw the NHS as one of the most positive health systems for us. It had payers and providers in the same system, and a commitment to taking a regional approach to collaboration and patient engagement.
We also saw an ambition to adopt interoperability standards, such as HL7, FHIR, IHE and OpenEHR standards, and a culture that was receptive to foreign vendors with high quality systems.
Tell us about your first experience of the UK
In 2018, our market entry into the UK was quite easy. One of England’s academic health science networks organised a trip to continental Europe to see some of the work that was being done on national and regional health information exchanges.
They went to Austria and saw the national portal for Slovenia and some of our patient engagement tools. This group was really convinced by the idea of a single digital front door for patients, rather than many portals based on their disease. After a year, we had secured our first regional customer.
Why did you decide you needed a marketing partner?
Then, we found it difficult to scale. So, I went back to one of our AHSN contacts and said: ‘Ok, like any international company, or scale up, we must invest in PR and marketing and sales acceleration.” And he said: ‘This is what Highland Marketing is best placed to offer.’
I do not think that just having a marketing campaign or some PR delivers success. I think you need to operate across the whole stack from making people aware of your company to being ready to sign a contract. That is what Highland was able to commit to.
Plus, there is always another factor in business, and that is the factor of people – of trust. With Highland, we got that. They signed a contract to deliver agreed KPIs, but they also made a commitment to go on the journey with us.
What deliverables went into the plan?
There were some things we didn’t have and some things we were not doing. We did not have a real overview of the people who are influential and who are taking decisions in the UK, and we were not doing webinars to reach them or putting PR articles into the right journals.
All of these were part of the contract that we agreed with Highland in the last days of 2021. We co-designed PR campaigns that led to a webinar to engage with trusts and integrated care systems and we organised pre- and post-webinar sales acceleration activity to secure meetings. We were sure this would make sense in the post-Covid era.
How did the campaign go?
Healthcare has been disrupted by Covid and the political challenges that the UK has faced post-Brexit. So, we did the PR and the webinar and that went well, but we didn’t quite secure the meetings we anticipated in the timeline we planned. However, we had great engagement: Highland put more resources in, and we put more resources in, and we got there.
Did you get the awareness you were looking for?
Awareness isn’t easy to measure. Sometimes, you get more awareness from talking to somebody in-person than you do from marketing and PR, but you might not get that in-person interaction without PR and marketing.
So, it is a mixture but, overall, we have gone from being in one region to being in two regions and being exposed nationally. Also, by getting leads we have made progress on our corporate and financial objectives. We have created a credible UK entity to attract UK employers and supporters, and that’s because we had access to Highland’s contacts and because of the buzz we created.
So, we are far from being a super scale-up in the UK. But we have gained one additional region, and are having new conversations on the back of meetings that Highland arranged, and the organisation is there, and the right people are there. We are part of all the prominent events in UK health tech – Digital Health Rewired and HETT and the Digital Health summer schools – and the people speaking for us are keynote speakers at those events. So, I think we are heading in the right direction.
Tell us how you see the UK market now
If we check back with the NHS Long Term Plan that was published in 2019, one of the biggest priorities was multi-disciplinary team meetings and the other was care co-ordination. This makes us think that this is still the right market for us.
Because of Covid and Brexit, it is taking time to scale. We are six years on from when we first looked at the UK. But we are on the right path. Another thing that is encouraging is that everybody in healthcare policy and planning thinks digital first, which is very different to continental Europe.
How has working with Highland Marketing worked for you?
I would say that Highland Marketing is very like Parsek. They do not leave anybody behind. You really supported us on the journey with both hands and heart.