Conferences are popular ways to connect your healthcare organization’s internal intelligence to the external intelligence that conference speakers, exhibitors, and attendees offer. Educational sessions, keynote addresses, pre-conference events, and a myriad of opportunities to meet with conference speakers, exhibitors, and attendees in both structured and informal settings are very powerful ways to gather the information you need to make smart decisions. But healthcare conferences can have thousands, even tens of thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors. How can you efficiently sort through so many potential opportunities? It’s important to not let the sheer size of these events overwhelm your ability to realize the value they present. Speed-dating vendors at healthcare conferences is one potentially useful approach to conquering the conference crowd.
In a previous post, Getting the Most Out of Vendor Interactions at Healthcare Conferences, some ideas were shared about meeting and interacting with others at healthcare conferences like the upcoming 2018 HIMSS Conference & Exhibition and HLTH's The Future of Healthcare conference events. In this post, some ideas on efficiently identifying and interacting with vendors and others at healthcare conferences will be shared.
‘Speed-Dating’ Vendors at Healthcare Conferences
One way to derive the most value from your conference attendance is to employ a speed-dating approach where you try to get as much information as possible from as many potential partners as possible in as short period of time as possible. This vendor speed-dating approach involves identifying vendors that best match your needs, using pre-defined, structured discussion topics and questions to enable comparison between different vendors, and capturing key information offered by vendor staff and others with knowledge of the vendor's solution offerings.
Identifying Vendor Solutions to Address Healthcare Opportunities, Challenges and Issues
Because such a wide range of vendors and vendor staff attend trade shows, it’s important to establish a target audience before the conference begins. The following are some ways to help identify potential vendor partners and others who can help you connect with vendors best suited to meet your needs.
Any existing company you have a relationship should be among those you review when new needs arise; if for no other reason than to confirm what they've formally communicated to you as an existing customer. Or to rule them out.
Referrals from Peers and Colleagues
In the month's and weeks leading up to the conference, reach out to your cohort for recommendations as to specific vendors they think may be able to address the needs you’ve identified. Have some names ready to mention.
Session Speakers and Other Attendees
Conference speakers and fellow attendees can be good sources on insight about companies offering the kinds of solutions you may be looking for. Attending sessions having a topic related to your needs can be a good way to obtain candid insight into a company. Introduce yourself to the speaker afterwards and mention your interest in a specific aspect of their presentation. Ask the speaker if they know of any vendors who can address your need.
Mobile Apps and Online Exhibitor Directories
Many conferences offer an event-specific microsite, online vendor directories searchable using multiple criteria, and/or a mobile application covering the event. Directories should be reviewed in advance of the event and, depending on sophistication, a mobile app can make navigating large exhibit halls, locating sessions, and taking notes about specific vendors and sessions much easier.
As noted in the previous blog post, pre-conference events can be good opportunities to meet others to glean insight on conference exhibitors, speakers, and attendees who may provide value to your company. One example of a healthcare-related, pre-conference event is the Power Press Party scheduled immediately before this year's 2018 HIMSS Conference & Exhibition.
Consultants & Research Organizations
Additional Sources of Market & Supplier Information
Major events that may impact your decision about a specific approach or vendor happen every day. Some additional ways to obtain the most current information about vendors, their solutions, and things happening at a specific vendor’s company that might influence your decisions include:
- Reviewing trade journals and publications - Here’s a Twitter list of healthcare journalists, media companies and others sharing info about healthcare and healthcare technology.
- Searching news feeds for stories about the company
- Checking with industry associations like the following - among many others:
- Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA)
- America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)
- Medical Group Management Association (MGMA)
Collecting Information by Speed-Dating Vendors at Healthcare Conferences
Given that a lot of information on a vendor’s products and services can be gathered prior to even contacting the vendor, attending a conference offers you the opportunity to solicit information you weren’t able to collect or that requires more nuanced review and discussion. While the exact questions you’ll want to review and the type of additional information to gather will depend on the nature of your specific needs, some areas to explore include:
- How much effort, time, and cost can be expected in terms of delivery, implementation, configuration, and support?
- Which 3rd party data, software, and/or services do the vendor’s solutions utilize?
- What challenges and risks do the vendor’s customers typically experience?
- How have existing customers used the vendor’s products in ‘off-label ways?’
- How might the vendor solution be impacted by current regulatory uncertainty? And what their plan to address that risk entails?
- What types of professional services and other value-adding opportunities are available?
- The product roadmap for the next three to five years.
A Note About Knowing Who You’re Talking with at a Vendor Exhibit
Vendor exhibits at healthcare conferences may be staffed by a diverse range of people. At any one exhibit, you’ll likely find company founders, executives, product managers, sales, and marketing staff, consultants, and even barkers – all whose sole objective is to make you their next customer. You may also encounter current vendor customers who often share insight into their experience with the vendor’s solutions.
The thought to consider here is to understand who you’re talking to and to ask questions appropriate to the vendor staff member you’re interacting with. Senior level executives have different perspectives than product managers, marketing, and other vendor staff. And sometimes less senior vendor staff may provide insight a more senior staff member would otherwise not share. Vendor customers also offer a unique opportunity.
Collecting the Most Important Vendor-Supplied Information at Healthcare Conferences
There’s a reason why most conference organizers provide attendees with a large bag or backpack; it’s because there are literally tons of information shared by conference exhibitors. Since most vendor information should be available via vendor’s website, be judicious with physical information you collect. Here are a few ideas and techniques for recognizing and capturing important vendor-supplied information.
Take the ‘Conference-Only’ Handouts
Some vendors will share product information, case studies and other potentially valuable information otherwise not readily available on their website. Ask vendor staff which of their handouts are available online and which handouts are not otherwise publicly available. Be sure to take those materials.
Let Them Know You’re Coming
Consider reaching out to select vendors in advance of the conference and let them know you'll be visiting their exhibit. Share key goals of your initiative, type of information needed, and confirm whether they'll respond to your request upon meeting.
Drive-By and Loop Back – As Often as You Need
It can be challenging to collect all your information needs in one meeting. Or you’ll think of another need right after you leave the vendor’s exhibit. One way to work around these situations is to revisit the vendor exhibit multiple times. Sometimes it can be helpful to ask a different staff member the same question asked earlier. And record any difference in response for future follow-up.
Bring Someone with You
Sometimes have a supportive 3rd party with you helps to ameliorate the awkwardness of a one on one conversation. Bringing someone along to help elicit information and share their opinion afterwards can be an effective means of collecting information.
Don’t Let Them Know You’re Coming
For certain types of information, you may not want to share too much information in advance. It may be better to just drop in and fire off your questions and requests for information real time; see how the vendor responds. This may be a particularly effective approach with senior vendor staff. Indeed, surprise can be an effective approach to elicit information from other people – healthcare vendors not excluded.
Speed-Dating Vendors at Healthcare Conferences Can Help You Say 'I do!'
You MUST have a plan of attack for deriving maximum value prior to the event. But don’t just wing it. Leave some free time for serendipitous meetings. And do the advance preparation and creative interaction ‘approaches’ to help you select the best solutions for your healthcare organization. A couple thoughtfully executed conference days can provide more value than weeks of research, dozens of emails, calls, and webinars. The solutions your organization needs to remain competitive during these uncertain times in healthcare may be one healthcare conference away.
Healthcare Data, Technology & Services Group