The HIStalk Advisory Panel is a group of hospital CIOs, hospital CMIOs, practicing physicians, and a few vendor executives who have volunteered to provide their thoughts on topical industry issues. I’ll seek their input every month or so on an important news developments and also ask the non-vendor members about their recent experience with vendors. E-mail me to suggest an issue for their consideration.
If you work for a hospital or practice, you are welcome to join the panel. I am grateful to the HIStalk Advisory Panel members for their help in making HIStalk better.
This question: Vendors are finalizing their preparations for the HIMSS conference. What are some things they should and shouldn’t do to get decision-makers into their booths and then present their company and products effectively?
Pricing is a touchy topic and I understand the sales logic that you don’t want to share the dollars too soon. However, I may need to understand ballpark pricing to even know if it’s worth my time to talk with you. We’ve all been talking about reimbursement cuts. Those cuts directly impact how much we can spend for essential and cool tools. If I go to pricing early in the conversation, I’m probably trying to determine if it’s worth my time and your time to continue the discussion. At a recent conference, we encountered a vendor with a unique solution to challenge we were facing. However, my enthusiasm to continue discussions was notably less after multiple conversations that led to a summary of, "It’s really hard to give you an idea of how much it will cost" and "My price will be less than whatever you currently pay." Instead of being on the top of my follow-up pile, this vendor is a much lower priority, in part because I don’t know if my work will all be for naught because the price is more than we consider reasonable.
Coffee works. I don’t care what you say, at every trade show and conference I attend, the longest line is always where the espresso machine is. Cisco usually has a magic show — that makes me leery. Have ample seating available — people are tired of walking around all day. I think that pre-conference mail-outs have minimal success. When I know I am going to a show, I tend to pay more attention to e-mail, but not any more attention to traditional mail.
They should avoid e-mail spam, phone call spam, and otherwise being overly aggressive prior to the conference. I personally tend to avoid those who pre-annoy me like the plague. Likewise, avoid post-conference harassment. The key is to be accessible without nagging or arm twisting. There is no such thing as successful nagging or successful arm twisting – attendees might passively pay attention or pay lip service in response to such tactics, but they have zero chance of landing a "sale" or cementing a meaningful relationship.
Having and being generous with high quality giveaways never hurts. Often these may be collected by attendees to distribute to team members who cannot attend, so it’s almost like viral marketing in terms of who ends up with these and who sees them. Having edible or drinkable enticements to visit a booth is also not a bad idea, but don’t be cheap or stingy with the stuff (it is far better to have nothing than to appear cheap or to be stingy with this type of thing). Throw nice meal meetings and parties – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, after dinner, whatever (be creative). The quality with these events is of paramount importance, though. Going cheap on such an event delivers an obvious and lasting message of how important the attendees are to the vendor and reflect also on what an attendee can expect from the vendor’s customer service and support. Also, realize you are competing against places, restaurants, etc. the attendee might want to experience in the host city. Don’t make them feel like they wasted an opportunity to enjoy something else by giving you their time. A memorable positive experience will always create a favorable impression and build some relationship capital. Put yourself on HIStalk’s Bingo or "recommended" list – people pay attention even if they don’t overtly participate.
Don’t monopolize my time with long meetings. I go to HIMSS to get a "broad brush" on available products and technologies for later investigation. Instead, give me the "elevator speech" (what can you tell me while I’m trapped in the elevator with you) answer my questions, and plan to follow up with me later.
Have a crisp, compelling elevator pitch that all of your salespeople know. Tell us why we should invest our time to see you. Make it simple, clear, and easy to understand.
Quite frankly, HIMSS is so large that my senses are on overload when I hit the vendor booth area. They see CIO on your badge and you become raw meat. I have two official titles. One year I tried to have HIMSS put non-CIO title on badge. They refused. I schedule meetings with vendors weeks in advance so as to use my time more efficiently. I also try to visit the major vendors we have contracts with. Lastly, there is a vendor booth that is an actual bar. It’s a must stop.
Focus on the power of three and stories. Everybody in the booth needs to have a library of stories that show the impact of their solutions. Have the customers in the booth if possible. Secondly, everyone in the booth needs to know the three reasons to spend five minutes in the booth, the three reasons why their product has an impact, the three reasons why they are better than competitor, the three reasons customers buy from them.
I cynically assume that whatever I see on the floor is vapor-ware and do not use it in the decision making process. I am able to get 3-6 months of meetings with my current vendors into 1-2 days, which is a great time saver.
Skip the expensive direct mail pieces – most wind up in the trash. I can’t think of any vendor who has done anything memorable… I suppose that tells a lot of the story.
Don’t send me postcards with the same old prose ("Find out why we are the best / fastest / cheapest / lightest / prettiest… at booth #4321). Do send me something that is tailored to my role (e.g. physician, nurse, pharmacist, IT professional, executive) and tell me how what you do can make life easier for my role or bring real value to my organization (e.g. how does it decrease cost or increase revenue while maintaining or increasing quality.) And of course let me know if you are an HIStalk sponsor, and about any cool giveaways!
The only thing that has worked with me in the past is a special invitation from someone who had researched me and my position and offered a good proposition and a quiet audience. Made me feel special and above the clamoring crowds. Didn’t use the product, but they were in the running.
Send info that is not gimmicky ahead of time. I rarely just pop into a booth, but I will if it looks like something we are interested in. Last year, I was looking for Humedica and had a booth number. When I got there, it was Allscripts and I did not see anything for Humedica. Colocation for a vendor can be a big mistake. I felt like a dolt going all the way around the booth looking for anything with the company name and even asked a booth zombie, but they had no clue. As it turned out, they were there, but not everyone knew it at the booth. Odd and not to be repeated, I hope. On the other hand, I went to the SAS booth, and what made it a great visit is that I had access to all of the right people right away. I was to the point of what I wanted to learn and so were they. Not sales-y at all.
Vendor should bring decision makers to HIMSS. Feedback I am consistently hearing from CIOs and other organizational decision makers is that HIMSS is turning into too much of a sales pitch. Customers don’t feel like they can have meaningful conversations with the vendors. Make sure those people are there. The sales personnel are important to build relationships, heck many of them can have these meaningful conversations, but make sure that you have the right resources available to engage in these conversations, along with the correct non-threatening environment to encourage such conversation. For goodness sake, don’t hire professional talent to deliver a scripted pitch – have the thought leaders in the organization that understand the topic give the presentations and engage their audience in a conversation. It should be two way — listen, challenge, exchange ideas.