Nov 16, 2015

Frustrated with your tradeshow results?

Medica, Arab Health, KIMES, Hospitalar, CMEF, MD&M. These are just a few of the major international trade shows where manufacturers of medical devices can exhibit their products and services. Connecting with quality distributors or leads at these large tradeshows requires much more than an investment in booth fees, display materials, and travel costs. Showing up at these trade shows with a nice booth and fancy brochures doesn’t guarantee you will find the best distributor or attract the quality leads.

The companies with lots of tradeshow traffic don't set up their booth and hope for the best. They planned ahead and made it happen.

Hope is not a strategy. You have to spend time—in most cases, a lot of time—preparing for a successful event. Here are nine things you can do before, during, and after the show to maximize your investment.

#1 Choose the right tradeshows.

Big is not necessarily better. With 4,000+ exhibitors each, show such as Medica and Arab Health are ‘generic’; nearly every kind of medical device can be found. But will your customers/distributors visit these shows? Will they find your booth in the endless maze of exhibitors? Or do they prefer smaller, more specialized events? If you sell knee implants, for example, you may get more and higher quality leads from orthopedics shows such as AAOS.

#2 Define a clear objective for attending.

What is your goal? Is it to generate new leads? Find new distributors? Meet current distributors and clients? Clear objectives drive the design of your booth and the marketing campaigns to promote your attendance. Objectives also provide clear direction for the staff working the booth. Make objectives clear and, most importantly, measureable. A good objective might read something like this: "Generate 20 leads rated 4 or 5 from companies located in Germany or Switzerland." (Read more about rating your leads under point #5 below.) Define what will make the show a success for your company and make sure everyone knows it.

#3 Market your attendance 1-2 months in advance.

This seems obvious but, at the same time, is largely forgotten. Many vendors place their faith in the design of the booth, forgetting that the best quality leads do not find your booth by accident. Again, companies with busy booths are not lucky. They identify potential leads well in advance of the show, market to them, and use the show for the first meeting. With large international shows, planning and marketing your attendance is especially important as considerable time and money are invested in travel. Once you have set appointments, confirm the appointment a few days before the show and remember to include your booth number so they can easily find you.

#4 Make sure your booth quickly conveys your message.

Your booth should attract the attention of people walking by, but it also provides the first impression to the potential partners you invited to meet. The message and graphics for your booth should be in sync with your objective. Focus on the message you want to convey and have that message clearly brought to life in the design and set up of your booth.

Make sure all important text is placed at least one meter above the ground so the message is clearly visible. Place key headlines at eye level. Keep it simple and resist the urge to add lots of bullet points or generic taglines. Think of your booth like a billboard on the highway - you only have a few seconds before people move on.

Companies also make the mistake of designing their booth artwork or furniture setup without thinking about the direction from which people will be viewing their booth. For example, if you have an inline booth instead of a corner, you should use the outermost sections of the side wall (especially the area between 1 and 3 meters high) to grab attention as people walk down the aisles. Don’t simply put all of your attention on the back wall.

#5 Train your staff to 'hook and sell.'

Booth staff are often terrible at "hooking" people walking by the booth because they are not sure how to engage them without being too aggressive. Give your staff tips on how to engage the "curious" bystander. That being said, you also need to train booth staff to listen. Salespeople often launch into their sales pitch immediately, without making small talk or asking the visitor what brought them to the booth. Your staff should have two to three qualifying questions to ask about why the lead stopped by the booth (their pain point), their role in the company (or buying authority), and their stage in the buying process.

Make sure they have a succinct ‘elevator pitch’, not a rambling monologue about product features. Focus on benefits—not features—of the product. Your staff should bring your message across quickly.

Remember you are talking to another person. How would you like to be approached? After what sort of conversation would you walk away from someone else’s booth with the feeling that you would like to do business with them? You may have to adapt the pitch to the person in front of you. If you feel they’re not going to buy, you can end the conversation—but don’t be rude. They might become a decision-maker, or they could recommend you to their manager. If you are selling something on-site, don’t keep talking. Read up on the power of the pause.

If you’re not selling on-site, see point #9.

#6 Make the effort to understand local culture.

What works well in the US or Europe could be insulting in other regions. Research the local protocol while greeting and meeting visitors in your booth, and make sure your booth staff knows the hazards as well. Ignorance is not bliss. Here are two examples:

- When exhibiting at Arab Health in the UAE, for example, avoid using the Israeli flag on posters and other visible marketing materials. Also, men should not expose the bottoms of their shoes when sitting. In Arab countries, the former is insensitive and the latter is offensive.

- When attending shows in Japan, understand that avoiding embarrassment (saving face) is very important to the Japanese and thus you may get mixed messages during conversations. What you may interpret as a ‘yes’ may mean yes, no, or maybe. You need to be cognizant of these subtle cultural differences, even if your potential partner or customer is fluent in your native language. Shaking hands is more acceptable in Japan these days, but wait until your visitor initiates the gesture. Also, business cards are important in Japan. You should present them formally, holding both lower corners, and receive them in the same manner, taking some time to study the name and title. Don’t grab it and tuck it in your pocket – it’s insulting.

Remember the person to whom you are speaking may be worldly, and they may smile politely. But this does not mean they will excuse your lack of respect for, or knowledge of, their culture.

#7 Put away your phone and pay attention!

Nothing screams ‘go away, I’m busy’ more than a booth staffer staring at their mobile phone or laptop. You should ban the use of mobile phones in your booth. If someone needs to check their email or make a call, tell them to step outside the booth. Also, avoid congregating in the booth with your own staff. This can be intimidating to visitors who are unlikely to interrupt a conversation between two people. And, unless you are the only one working your booth, avoid eating in your booth, sitting down, chewing gum, working on your laptop, etc.

#8 Show what is for sale.

If your device is not approved for the local market (for instance, the CE mark for the European Union), you should check if you are allowed to display your product and under what conditions. If you are attending a show in Europe but don’t have CE Marking, you should clearly indicate that the product does not have CE Marking and is not yet authorized to be sold in Europe. Remember, your future competitors will be delighted to report you to regulatory authorities if they see you are marketing a product that does not have approval. Also, check well in advance that you will be able to get your product into the country without approval. Brazil, for example, is quite strict about importing unapproved medical devices. You will need to secure permission from ANVISA months in advance.

If possible, have printed materials available in the local language, but make absolutely sure the translation is perfect. Whatever you do, don't use Google Translate or a non-native speaker to translate your marketing materials. There is no quicker way to discredit your company and products.

#9 Follow up, follow up, follow up!

During a meeting in your booth, make sure to capture the contact information, make good notes and, define clear next steps with your lead. It is tempting to come back from a tradeshow and immediately spend hours catching up on emails. Often, companies return from tradeshows with a stack of business cards and no good way to distinguish which ones were highly qualified. As a result, they don't follow up on any of them.

Categorizing and prioritizing leads during the show is what will determine how much effort you put into follow up after the show. Establish a simple numerical or star-based rating system so you can quickly separate the low-quality leads from the high-quality leads. This rating can easily be written on the back of business cards.

Attendees meet with many, many people during a show, so you should assume they have lost your card, left your brochure in their hotel room, and forgotten what you discussed. Quickly remind them. The faster you contact good leads after the show, the more likely they are to remember you. But do it smartly. Avoid standard “thank you for visiting” emails and tailor these to the discussion you had with them and their interests. This approach takes more time, which is why it is so important to categorize your leads during the show so you know which leads warrant the extra effort.

Contact the highest quality leads first and don't give up if you don't get a response. Keep contacting them. If you don't hear back the first time, send them a relevant white paper a week later. Or maybe a relevant blog post the week after. Be helpful and they will notice your effort. Buying cycles can be long, especially if you have a new technology. Sending one email, or leaving one voicemail, is not enough.


In summary, companies with busy tradeshow booths made it happen due to careful planning. They are able to quickly single out quality leads with in-depth staff training. And, they close deals with quick but customized follow up. Invest the time in tradeshow planning and preparation to secure long-term results from your next international event.


  • Emergo Marketing (not verified)