Has the eHealth show jumped the Shark?

For those of a certain age, the image of the Fonz jumping a shark tank in a leather jacket is a defining moment in pop culture. The jumping episode highlighted the truism that everything peaks at some point. Happy Days peaked as a show during this episode, and what I’m wondering is has the eHealth show in its current form already jumped the shark?

I’ve been going on an off to this show since about 2000, and every year I hear the same variation from the vendors on the tradeshow floor “I’m not meeting any customers, and all I speak with are vendors”. The comments stay the same from year to year, but what is worrying to me is the ever increasing amount year after year.

Are vendor expectations are out of wack, or does the eHealth show format need a change? I have always seen the show as a great networking opportunity, but if I owned a company I would have a hard time seeing any sales value in having a booth. There may be some value in terms of reinforcing your brand, but unlike the HIMSS show in the US, this is not a direct sales opportunity.

I’ve always felt that more value could be generated for booth buying vendors, if all the attendees had to either pass through the tradeshow floor between sessions. Another somewhat cheesy alternative is to have a big prize give away at the end. To qualify each attendee would have to get a stamp on a card from each vendor booth. I saw this in action at a Medical Office Assistant show in BC, and although some people try and game the system it did lead to a lot of interesting sales conversations.

We have to keep in mind, that the vendors who buys booth space are paying a large portion of the bill for everyone else. If they don’t get some value for their marketing/sales dollars then this event will wither away.

Mark

4 responses to “Has the eHealth show jumped the Shark?

  1. I think that the situation is somewhat more complex and a simple contest or herding of participants by the vendor booths won’t help much. The bigger issue, in my mind, is the “culture” of the conference has slowly but gradually shifted towards a “networking and information exchange event” and away from a place where buyers go to meet prospective suppliers.

    HIMSS is clearly a conference where buyers and seller expect to be able to meet and “kick the tires”. I have chatted with more than one US CIO attending HIMSS who had a “shopping list” of upcoming projects for which they wanted to assess potential suppliers. The Canadian eHealth conference does not have the same culture.

    Mike

  2. Perhaps you are right, but then how do you fund the cost of a “networking and information exchange event” as opposed to a vendor booth supported event?
    Do we charge the participants more?
    Do we allow sponsorship of speaking event?

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how to pay for such an event, because I’m not sure it is fair the current system is going to work long term.

    Mark

  3. Ehealth is not HIMSS. In the US, the customer is a hospital or an HMO. They buy things the old fashioned way. They kick the tires at the exhibit. They already have a short-list of vendors and they’re looking to make a deal at the show. They need technology to improve their productivity or to lower costs.

    In Canada, the customer is a hospital, funded by government. The money they have earmarked for IT could easily be reallocated to something else. It frequently is. There is no need to increase productivity or lower costs –the government pays for all overages. So buyers don’t want to get too close to vendors for fear that expectations will be raised and they will have to disappoint a vendor. They want to be on good terms with vendors because they never know when they’ll be wanting to buy something. So the buyers end up being a bit coy and network amongst themselves. The vendors try to suss out what’s going on by hanging around and networking also.

    They might find out that it’s cheaper to buy their people full passes to the show rather than buying exhibit space. However, there is an expectation from buyers that their vendors will be exhibiting. If they don’t exhibit, buyers may become worried that the vendor is not doing well and is having to cut corners. So vendors come to the show in their full colors because to sit it out may mean that buyers will get worried and drop you.

    The system works fine. It’s just not the same dynamic as it is in the US.

    Karim

  4. Thanks, Karim. Although I might have described the current buying approach somewhat differently, I think that you have captured the essence of the situation quite well.

    While the situation as you describe it has worked fine in the past, I do wonder whether it will continue to do so in the future. To start, I think that some vendors are choosing other means to keep clients on side and foregoing exhibits at eHealth; I know several vendors who opted not to exhibit this year. Further, I think that procurement “scandals” of the past few years have and will change procurement practices. These changes will place more emphasis on merits in the selection process and attendance at conferences will be less of an influence.

    I am concerned that vendors will increasingly question the return on investment from exhibiting at the eHealth conference. Since I am one the attendees who finds the conference extremely informative and useful, I worry about the possible impact of reduced vendor participation in the trade show portion of the conference. Hence, I am raising my questions and concerns about the continued participation of vendors in the trade show. I do hope that I am misinterpreting the data that I am seeing and that Karim is right.

    Mike

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