Four Trade Show Lessons from HIMSS 2021
“COVID changed our relationship with technology forever,” said Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health during his HIMSS21 keynote “Leading for the Future.”
COVID changed our relationship with live events forever, too.
For HIMSS21, attendance numbers ballooned—like our hope for the day COVID will be behind us—only to be stabbed with a pin by the Delta variant. Attendance was also put in limbo by a decision to not require canceling exhibitors to declare their exit from Vegas like Elvis to a limousine.
Nevertheless, Golden Spiral made the pilgrimage west from Nashville to support exhibiting and attending clients and record a few episodes of our podcast, Studio CMO. Despite the 110-degree heat and a drastically reduced attendance, we walked away with four lessons worth repeating from this trade show experience.
1. Productive Trade Shows Require Flexibility
Granted, flexibility is a key lesson in trade show 101, but this year’s HIMSS required attendees to be as limber as Gumby, Mrs. Incredible, and Stretch Armstrong combined. We, like many attendees, faced canceled appointments because the vendor or fellow attendee chose to stay away. Additionally, we had other appointments canceled or rescheduled because of a good problem—our guests couldn’t leave their booths because they were signing deals.
If you attend an event this year, be flexible.
- Keep your focus on what’s important
- Don’t get disappointed when things go sideways
- Remember that pivoting when things change will maintain your momentum toward more business
Flexibility was also a major theme of Dowling’s keynote. He urged providers, payers, and vendors alike to remember that hospitals, systems, and patients’ relationships to them were transformed and reconfigured during the first 12 months of the pandemic. He mused, “Can we maintain this level of agility and flexibility in how we go forward?”
As a HealthTech company seeking to more deeply understand your customer’s needs: remain flexible. They are trying to change, working against human nature’s hatred of change, and experiencing the human psyche’s aversion to change—all at the same time. Be flexible.
Did You Attend HIMSS21?
2. Plan Ahead, Execute, and Follow Through
When I spoke to vendors in their booths, I heard one of two refrains.
- Traffic is poor. People stayed away or left early. This was a waste.
- We put a plan in place to encourage booth traffic and it worked! We’re seeing great traction for our solution.
Were these companies at the same show?
Long gone are the days when you could erect a booth and attendees would do business with you. If you are not planning ahead, executing your plan at the trade show, and following up with those who did and did not come to your booth, you’re not going to win. I call it the Trade Show Triad. Your money will be washed away by the street sweepers who patrol the Vegas Strip at 5:00 a.m. removing the previous night’s bad choices and regret.
We saw the Trade Show Triad on display at RSA before the world shut down with the way Kenna Security (now part of Cisco) ran their booth strategy.
At HIMSS, ELLKAY, Health Catalyst, Innovaccer, Lirio, Lyniate, SureTest, and others benefited from this triad of intention.
Innovaccer used a team of employees to make outbound phone calls to set appointments for their booth staff and for the partners with whom they were sharing booth space. They set over 700 appointments and each Innovaccer team member had dozens of appointments on their calendar and traveled home with a large stack of hot leads to followup on.
Healthcare email provider Paubox, whose secure tool integrates with EHR, planned ahead, too. Walking into their fourth HIMSS as attendees, they wanted to make sure their September launch of a new product made it into the minds of their buyers. They right-sized their expectations for a strange conference. In advance of HIMSS, they hosted a number of virtual social mixers to promote their HIMSS presence. Most of those who attended the mixers were craving in-person interaction. Paubox used that desire to set up 1:1 appointments for conversations about their Zero Trust Security Framework. Paubox’s VP of Sales, Scott Wong, wants those conversations to be lo-fi without a tablet or laptop in sight because the conversations Paubox craves must be frank and personal.
Here’s how to replicate these winning tactics based on the Trade Show Triad:
Planning Ahead for HIMSS
- Prepare your booth staff with training on trade show booth basics (e.g., stay on your feet, smile, look outward, greet passersby with a question)
- Add a countdown timer to your website to add a sense of excitement and urgency
- Create a landing page about your HIMSS’ releases and plans (and add as a link in outgoing content)
- Update your home and events pages with HIMSS mentions
- Craft email content for your sales team to include in 1:1 outreach
- Create social posts for your team to use on their personal channels to increase booth engagement
- Write blog posts promoting your HIMSS presence, in-booth activities, and fun sessions
- Schedule a booth event and promote seeking RSVPs
- Create, practice, and polish the content for your in-booth sessions. Coach your booth staff how to engage booth guests following those presentations. Refine the call to action at the end of the in-booth session
- Choose swag that reminds your visitors of your message
- Create a printed handout inviting attendees to the in-booth sessions
- Use paid social to prompt booth appointments
- Make “set an appointment at HIMSS” the call to action in all your outreach.
Executing Your Plan During HIMSS
- Invite all drop-ins, appointments, and passersby to your in-booth sessions. (Use that handout you printed)
- Enthusiastically host in-booth sessions
- Give away your swag
- Encourage team spirit (one woman I met had painted her nails in brand colors. Now that’s solidarity! Their booth had booming business. Are the two related? You be the judge.)
- Engage those who attend your in-booth events
- Ensure all captured contact information has notes so you’ll remember when follow-up begins
- Bonus points if you have enough brain cells at the end of the day to sit in your hotel room and begin follow-up immediately while information is still fresh in your mind.
Following Up after HIMSS
- Follow up with those who set appointments and kept them
- Follow up with spontaneous appointments set during the show
- Follow up with those who came to your in-booth sessions
- Follow up with those who scanned their badges
- Follow up with those who didn’t make it to your booth
- You get the idea
The trade show is not the end of a marketing initiative. It is the instigating force of one. Marketing begins at the trade show. And it won’t be successful if you didn’t market your presence at the trade show beforehand.
3. Ask Attendees Better Questions
I love questions—especially open-ended ones. They create an environment of honesty and revelation. Let me give you two examples of using questions I experienced at HIMSS21.
Cause the Passersby to Pause
Bob Judge was the only employee of Tredent Data Systems who made it to HIMSS. He single handedly manned a 10×10 booth with his experience, presence, and sheer will. Tredent offers a maintenance tool for Cisco users that saves them time and money. I was in a hurry to get to an appointment but his question stopped me cold. I would love to tell you his question, but I don’t remember that. I remember his smile, his pitch, and our brief conversation.
There’s something to be said for that. Whether or not the question is remembered, the conversation will be. Your conversation will echo.
Questions that cause folks to pause and engage sound like this:
“What would change if I could save you 70% in X area of your business?”
Not like this:
“Would you like a free pen?”
Open a Closed Discussion
I attended a mixer and ran into a new employee who works for a client we had done business with years ago. Our companies worked together for a few years. The relationship ended naturally and amicably. Conventional wisdom said they were not a candidate for future business.
However, I asked him a question just trying to keep the conversation going. “As a new employee, what has been the hardest part of learning your new job?” I was shocked at his answer because it opened the dialogue for future business I thought would be impossible.
It goes to show, you never know when the right person is ready to answer to right question.
Pointers for Better Trade Show Questions
- Making assumptions is always a bad idea, but it can be deadly for questions. Don’t assume you know the answer.
- For trade shows, think about questions in advance. Have a small arsenal ready to go for any number of circumstances. Don’t rely on your creativity in the moment. Having a few in your back pocket will benefit you late in the day or at the after hours party when you’re tired or distracted.
- When talking to someone, be fully present not worried about what else is happening around you. Then, engage with a thoughtful question that is in-context and keeps the conversation moving.
4. Geofencing Works for Promoting Your Trade Show Presence
Let’s take trade show preparation to the next level with an example from ravkoo.
The SaaS solution connecting providers, pharmacies, and patients used geofencing tools in Google and Facebook to serve up ads to those who actually traveled to Las Vegas. They fenced in the district right around the Sands Center including the host hotels. They created ads to prompt an appointment for a demo in the booth. They had employees on standby at their headquarters to follow up with all who clicked (a) confirming the appointments of those who completed the form and (b) to follow up with those who clicked but didn’t finish the process.
This strategy worked exceptionally well and their booth was active and full for the entire trade show. The number of deals signed—and the dollar amounts of those deals—far exceeded their expectations.
Final Things I Noticed at HIMSS21
- I was shocked at the number of times I approached booths at HIMSS where the uniformed team was looking in or looking down at their phones. They were not looking out to engage passersby.
- Even in 2021, I saw a number of people sitting down and their booths (also playing on their phones.) It didn’t matter if the employee was 20 or 60. These booths had little action, little movement, and little energy.
- The swag game was off. Most booths had the standbys of pens, pads, water bottles, and teeshirts. A few booths went the COVID route with hand sanitizer and branded masks. Swag works best when it connects your message to the item so it triggers a memory when you see it or use it later. For example, Trinisys gave away a pen that included a flashlight. I was told that the company sheds light on your data. They do a lot more than that as a data storage, management, and automation company, but I remembered the point.