Buying the First Customer: When (If Ever) Is It Worth It?

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There’s an adage in digital health sales that you have to buy your first couple of customers in the absence of any evidence.

Now, that POV has been challenged many times by many people, but it’s true. Even with a perfect product-market fit, you do have to give a little more at the onset of any entrepreneurial effort. For one thing, it’s human nature to scrutinize dollars spent on unknown returns. But more specifically to the sector, selling into healthcare is a whole other beast: There’s IT infrastructure and internal politics and more stakeholders than you can fit in a room.

That’s why, to be clear, approaching your first few prospects while simultaneously trying to build up proofs of concept is not always easy. Health systems have their own financial pressures, perceptions of value, and a list of things that are and aren’t executable within their system. Taking a chance on your unproven solution involves a great deal of risk that many facilities can’t afford.

Still, that doesn’t mean that they won’t bite if you sweeten the sale.

 But Don’t Just Give It Away

Most people think buying a sale means giving it away—like providing a free pilot or short-term trial. But in reality, health systems don’t trust free; any product of value has a price. If you’re willing to take nothing for it, it must not have value, right?

The other problem with free solutions is that they leave no room for accountability on the prospect’s side. If there’s no investment on the part of the hospital, there’s no one responsible for ensuring that investment holds up. And that means you have no internal champions who can earnestly root for your success. Whether it works or not, it was only free.

So instead, explore different ways to buy the sale that don’t devalue your solution. Things like temporary discounts and early-bird pricing can incentivize health systems to jump in and get started as an early adopter.

Even now, we’ve seen things get quite creative with “pandemic pricing”—as in, a product doesn’t cost until it generates X result or outcome. Or entrepreneurs seek new types of currency to supplement discounts, like a customer’s agreement to participate in case studies or website testimonials.

If the solution works, those short-term “gives” yield long-term gains. Once your product is steeped into the hospital’s IT ecosystem, most people won’t want to decouple from it even when the discounts expire and the rates go up: The legwork of doing so will exceed any savings from shopping around.

Articulate the Mutual Value

Whichever way you decide to buy the sale, you can’t forget to acknowledge the unique benefit to the health system. If they’re taking on some degree of risk on your product—on entering a partnership with you, as an early-stage company—they need to know the value and what they get that others further up your pipeline won’t.

But just as importantly, they need to know your expectations, too. What do you need from them to be successful in exchange for those early-adopter discounts or deals? Whether that’s clinical resources, physician champions, or integration access, make those expectations known so that you get what you want out of the deal.

And what do you want out of the deal? Documentation of success, of course. If you have to buy it, don’t be afraid to do so. It may be the only way to get that first fish to bite before the rest of them follow.

Have a question about your sales process? Reach out and ask us.

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