The Competitive Edge

Whether you are a power buyer, tire kicker, reinforcement shopper or industry insider, Medtrade offers the largest one-stop trade show event in the health care industry. The Georgia World Congress Center will be host to more than 1,000 exhibitors, 21,000 attendees and hundreds of new products in the new product pavilion. What a great opportunity to meet with your key vendors in one place, at one time, in the world's largest HME shopping mall.

Where else will you have the opportunity to see the latest HME products and services, buy at show special prices and have industry experts on hand to answer your questions? It doesn't matter if your objective is to discuss new product technologies, attend educational conferences, comparison shop or just catch up with old friends, it pays to have a strategy. When you add up the number of attendees, exhibitors, industry representatives and guests, Medtrade 2002 will have the population of a small city. You wouldn't walk a city of more than 25,000 for three or four days without a map just as you shouldn't walk the show floor at Medtrade without a plan. The first step in formulating your plan is to analyze your objectives and those of the exhibitors.

  1. Know the buyer and seller relationship.
    Exhibitors attend Medtrade to market their products and services. Attendees go to Medtrade to gather industry information, plan for the upcoming year and buy new products. For the manufacturer or vendor, Medtrade may be the single largest marketing expenditure for the year. Medtrade is the most important vehicle for a new product launch. With HMEs allocating a significant amount of staff time and budget to attend, it is important to know the buyer and seller relationship as it applies to what happens on the trade show floor, because it is different from what you might experience in the office. Time for you and the exhibitor is more limited than back home. There are far more distractions and many more people competing for your time and the time of sales people. You might think of the buyer and seller relationship on the show floor as a short-term partnership, one that may not be replicated for a full year. Given the importance of Medtrade and the limited time you have to meet your objectives, it pays to plan ahead.
  2. Plan ahead and focus.
    Planning ahead will let you take best advantage of what exhibitors offer, it will help you accomplish your own business objectives, and it will make your entire trade show experience more enjoyable. By planning ahead, you can make your investment worthwhile. Here are the basics:

  3. Review the show schedule.
    Review the show schedule so you know the exhibit hours in advance. Rank order your top 10 exhibitors and plan your visit when the booth is less crowded, usually early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This is also a good time to meet with senior managers, engineers and customer service staff that you otherwise may not see during the regular business year.

  4. Develop a list of your business needs.
    The list might include expected new clinical opportunities, new technologies, common service complaints about a specific product or product in-services you require.

  5. Determine your schedule ahead of time.
    Review the list of seminars, workshops and manufacturer-sponsored product in-service programs, and mark the times for the ones you don't want to miss on your calendar. Since these times are fixed, you will want to plan the rest of your schedule around them. Schedule advance appointments with key manufacturers, sales representatives and industry contacts; if you wait until you get to the show, they may not have a time in their schedule that fits your needs. Review the list of exhibitors and map out a plan to visit the booths that interest you, whether it is to see new products, discuss needs that are not being met, or seek resolution to problems. Finally, make your schedule reasonable to allow some free time to view the exhibits, and always keep your appointments; a trade show is a partnership between attendees and exhibitors where both sides make a big investment, so take full advantage by showing up.

  6. Prepare what you need to bring to the show.
    Bring the following items to the show: your appointment calendar with your agenda mapped out, the show schedule and guide, exhibitor booth numbers and a floor map highlighting "must see" and "would like to see" booths so you can find your way around quickly.

  7. Establish what contacts you want to make.
    Before you visit an exhibit booth, know what you want to accomplish and prepare your questions in advance. Then, when you visit the booth, make your purpose clear to the booth staff. That way, they can quickly give you the time, focus, and information you need. This direct approach will accomplish your objectives more efficiently while being respectful of the exhibitor's time and the attendees at the booth. Remember that trade show floor time is limited, it is a busy time for everyone, and booth activity can be distracting-if you need time for in-depth discussion, schedule a meeting outside of the booth.

  8. Form a Posse
    Any trade show can be overwhelming, and Medtrade is the industry's largest. There is an opportunity to accomplish many diverse objectives. To do that, you will need to divide and conquer. If you have several people from your business attending, you can accomplish more if you split up by area of responsibility. By assigning each person to participate in different seminars, in-booth product demos, industry lead events and social gatherings, you can cover more ground. Meet for coffee before each day to plan your attack and for a cocktail afterward to compare notes on key new products, clinical applications and business opportunities. Make your presence known to any industry leaders, politicians, regulatory agencies and associations that can lobby for your needs-they are at the show to hear from you, so let them know your concerns. Finally, be sure to mingle and don't be afraid to ask questions. A trade show is about sharing information within your industry, so network with all show participants and attendees to get the most out of it.

  9. Don't be a pack mule.
    Those of us who plan and execute the trade show selling experience call it "schwag." You might call them booth giveaways, prizes or gifts. Exhibitors use these giveaways as an incentive to get you to visit their booth or to call attention to a new product. Regardless of what you call them, those little things you get when you stop by a booth-pens, hats, bags, coffee mugs, buttons, posters-will get heavy if you take an armload. So, be reasonable as a courtesy to the exhibitor and to limit the amount that you carry. There are a few other tricks you can use to save your back. Instead of taking copies of product literature, manuals and clinical papers ask the booth representative to send a copy to your office using the scanner or card imprinter to record your name and address. Be sure to give your business address to avoid receiving mail at home, in case you are put on a mailing list. The same applies to product samples. You might walk three to four miles each day you are on the show floor, so let the exhibitor carry the load for you.

  10. Don't stop when the show is over.
    After a couple of days walking the show floor, listening to multiple sales presentations, shaking hundreds of hands, attending numerous educational seminars, social events, keynote addresses and after-hours socializing, Medtrade can become a blur. To maximize your experience, take time during the show to make some notes. If you make any purchases, be sure to record all of the details such as price, quantity, delivery date and special incentives. If you slipped an important business card into a suit pocket that you won't be wearing until next year's Medtrade, be sure to record the information into your PDA or business card file. That 6-inch stack of product literature that seemed so important during the show, may not be so inviting when you return home. Take some time to sort through and prioritize what you need and what can be recycled. When you return to the office, have a debriefing session with your colleagues to exchange ideas and contacts. If you requested a product in-service, trial or sample product, be sure that your receiving department knows that the product is coming and that your clinical staff is prepared for the in-service. Review your to-do list, and make any additions for Medtrade spring 2003 in Las Vegas. As an exhibitor at 15 consecutive Medtrade shows and as the recipient of the Best of Show award in 1997, no matter how much you prepare, you must also be flexible and responsive to immediate opportunities. A colleague of mine finally bumped in to an important customer on the plane flying home from the show. He closed his largest Medtrade order at 30,000 feet.

  11. Exhibitor Tips: Ten Things you Don't Want to do at Medtrade

    1. Chew gum
    2. Lean on booth furniture or any of the booth property
    3. Arrive late for your shift
    4. Leave the booth without informing the booth captain
    5. Make negative statements about the competition
    6. Stand with your back to the aisle
    7. Start your sale presentation with, "Can I help you?"
    8. Wear new shoes
    9. Leave the booth unattended
    10. Read the newspaper

This article originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Patrick T. Gates is the vice president of T. M. Gates Inc. He received his BS from Michigan State University. He can be reached at (513) 248-1025.

Paul W. Schmitt is a senior design engineer for Mine Safety Appliances Co. He can be contacted at (412) 736-5941.

Mimi San Pedro is president of ContourMed in Little Rock, Ark. She can be contacted at (501) 907-0530 or by visiting www.contourmed.com.

Lieber is an HME industry consultant and trainer in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Miriam Lieber Consulting, 15030 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1038, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403; (818) 789-0670.

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