The HIMSS conference exhibitor roster turns over every year as a significant portion of companies either sign up for the first time or previous exhibitors decide not to return. I’ve heard from more of that latter group after HIMSS19 who are questioning the return on investment, which for most of them means generating sales leads.
Most vendors have no plans to stop exhibiting. Some are happy with the value they receive in having a lot of people they need to see who are in a single place at a single time. Others worry that their absence will be exploited by competitors as a sign of weakness or that customers will question their commitment. The exhibit hall is likely safe from mass defection, especially for long-established and large vendor players.
However, small and medium-sized vendors who rack up significant booth, travel, and staffing costs for just three frantic days may wonder if they should be spending the money elsewhere. That’s especially true as the industry has settled down into less of a land-grab mentality now that Meaningful Use money has been spent, major software decisions have been locked in at health system corporate levels, and health systems worry about margins as their core business faces unknown changes.
I asked vendor readers for ideas of how they might reallocate some or all of their HIMSS exhibition costs into efforts that would yield more tangible business results. Thanks to those who took the time to share their thoughts.
We don’t exhibit, but we send more than 10 people to HIMSS and get a meeting room instead. We set up meeting room appointments prior to the conference so we can use our time efficiently. We’ve gotten a lot out of this and plan to keep it up.
We use our budget to attend the shows where we already have a big client presence. We go as attendees, offering a dinner with our strategic client advisory board. We don’t get leads, but the partnerships lend to better product strategies and focus areas for the business. HIMSS isn’t a big lead generator for us, so the rest of the budget I would diversify into PR activities and a solid PR agency. We also do sponsored blog content and attend smaller conferences.
We go every year because we want our name on there and it’s an opportunity to meet with customers and partners. But we absolutely do not recover the cost of attendance in ROI. HIMSS is where vendors show off to each other, not where customers come away having made purchasing decisions.
We exhibited at one HIMSS conference 15 years ago as a startup selling a small departmental system and decided never again. Every year a few of us attend the show (we can always rustle up some guests-of-vendors badges), and we set ~20 meetings with current and potential partners. Every year we’re grateful we don’t exhibit. We’re still spending money attending the shows, so we’re not saving as much as we could be, but our expenses are less and we get good value out of the face-to-face meetings. We’ve never specifically allocated the funds we would have spent at HIMSS to other efforts, but the remainder has gone toward our general marketing budget.
We stopped exhibiting at HIMSS following the 2018 show. Even though we booked a booth for 2019 during the 2018 show, we forfeited our deposit because it was cheaper than following through and burning the hundreds of thousands we’d have to shell out to be present as we originally planned. Instead, we found smaller, more regional shows that offered more engagement with our specific target audience. We carried out some branding campaigns, spent more on content development and distribution, and sponsored some webinars that again allowed us to better target our outreach and drive the right people to our event.
We also invested in some technologies to help us connect with our target audience, including ZoomInfo and Definitive Healthcare. That way we could identify the accounts (health systems and hospitals) we wanted to contact and find out exactly who the people were who should be our target buyers. A quarter of a million to half a million dollars can go a long way when you spread it out to different activities and you identify those that will support your marketing and sales efforts. And we’re just a former 20×20 vendor. Think about the major players and all the floor space and investment they burn.
We will continue to exhibit, but an alternative would be to do a roadshow. We would evaluate which cities would be the best locations for existing and targeted prospects. Select an event marketing team to pick venues. Then use the money for team, rent venues, catering, AV, travel, swag, etc. A key component would be to pay to have featured customers and internal team members travel to and speak at event.
An alternative to paying for a large booth is to simply downsize and pay for a 10×20 or even a 10×10 booth. Your company will save a ton on expenses and will benefit from reduced staffing and reduced equipment, etc. But you still maintain a listing in the HIMSS guide so that customers and partners can find you. This will also force you to choose the most impactful people that need to attend and forces a decision on what products you really need to showcase. Sort of like downsizing when you move — it forces some tough decisions.
We stopped three years ago. We spent about $300,000 on a booth, had 90 leads (most were students) and only 12 actual decision makers. Twelve leads for $300,000 is a bad investment. Now we hold an industry breakfast and it has been a great event – CIOs, CTOs, and CMIOs only. We had 30-40 people for about $20,000, a much better investment. The attendees are the ones driving this and frankly we’ll spend our dollars elsewhere. This convention has become nothing but a money grab for HIMSS and the value is long gone.
I would invest those resources in organic PR, meaning I would take the time and effort to document client success stories, translate them to meaningful, educational information to prospects, and pitch that content to trade press, national media, etc. (not sponsored content). I would also consider investing in good, well-produced, reusable video content.
As a small company, we stopped having a physical booth at HIMSS a few years ago for many of the reasons you described — cost, being lost in caverns and hinterlands of the exhibit hall, very few real leads, etc. We still have what we believe is a strong presence for our size by doing other things — working with partner companies in their booths, leveraging healthcare ecosystem areas like the Intelligent Health Pavilion, and partnering with our customers to have educational sessions on the agenda. We also promote our attendance at HIMSS before the conference with customers and on our website / social media so we can make sure to connect with those who we need to see during the show. A few weeks prior, we do a press release about the various ways we will be participating at HIMSS, and during the show we are posting / tweeting “Live from HIMSS”. I guess you could say we have virtualized our booth for HIMSS!
Register as a participant, attend be at all the social events and relevant educational sessions, keep the elevator speech short (2-3 sentences), arrange for a Wednesday or Thursday evening offsite event that can be promoted over the week. Don’t try to cram so much in up front. Create some mystery and intrigue. Useful or unique bling (or chocolate) may help.
This actually occurred at my last company. We opted to host an event at HIMSS, a one-night, blowout event that was half the cost of the booth for the week. We spent months prospecting and getting folks to the event, while setting up meetings outside of the exhibit area (restaurants, hospitality suite, etc.) for 1:1 meetings. This works much better in Las Vegas than it does Orlando.
Is HIMSS a huge financial commitment? It sure is. And if all you’re going to measure is lead generation, then it won’t be worth it. The cost per qualified lead at HIMSS in my experience is north of $10K or even $15K. And clearly there are cheaper ways to get to leads if that is your only measure of success.
But HIMSS is also a place to get stuff done. Strategic partnerships, briefings with current and potential partners, window shopping for possible M&A, early look at emerging trends and competitor positioning, and … gasp … customer engagement (which shouldn’t be confused with lead generation.) A well-planned and executed HIMSS with proper organizational support yields far more benefits than simple leads.
Having said all that, if HIMSS were to disappear as an expo, I would not be all that disappointed. It’s become more of a place to be seen. The nuclear arms race of HIT marketing, if you will. Unfortunately denuclearization only works if everyone disarms. And we know that won’t happen. So we make the most of it with planning and outreach months in advance.
Finally let’s not forget the HIMSS points system. If you have years spent supporting HIMSS, pulling out for even one year knocks you back to zero. And suddenly you’re at the back of the bus in terms of booth selection, making it an even harder ROI to justify.
Have a party right across the street with free alcohol and food. Has that been done before?
Invest in breakfast briefings and lunch and learns as a way to drive targeted executives interested in your solutions and offerings.
As a provider, I don’t care if vendors exhibit, especially if I’m told in advance the reason for not having an actual booth. Having some company representation at the conference to meet with, even if not at a booth, is generally sufficient for my needs.
Exhibit at AHIMA and select state HIMA conferences.
No customers come to HIMSS, just other vendors. I would rather invite customers and prospects to a smaller, more intimate event and invest in interesting thought leadership or education for that base. For example, physician roundtables with an industry thought leader.
Work with Becker’s and CHIME more closely.
Drive a subject matter interest thought leadership 1.5 day summit for 50 persons