Meeting Your Market as the Trade Show Industry is Shaken

6 Min Read Written by: emerged

In 2020… yes, we know, the world shut down. But not before the average B2B professional (let’s call her Sue) made it to 10 in-person trade shows around the globe. That doesn’t sound too bad — until you contrast it to the average of 55 in-person trade shows Sue made it to in 2019. 

Since then, trade show attendance has risen from bleak to weak. In 2021, for example, Sue made it to 21 trade shows. However, based on our own experience, we’d bet some of these shows were virtual, and that at in-person shows, attendance was 25-50% lower than pre-Covid. 

A survey on physician sentiment about attending in-person events in fall of 2021 back up reports about declining numbers, with one-third of physicians responding they would not feel comfortable attending in-person events.

Now, for the third year in a row, in-person healthcare trade show attendance is looking bleak again (through Q2, at least). 

To be fair, Covid-19 isn’t the only culprit for low trade show numbers. Trade shows held in tandem with CME conferences were once a big draw for physicians looking to satisfy their CME credit. However, given the healthcare industry’s transition to digital CME — in particular, digital CME that can be accessed via mobile — physicians are now “split” on whether or not they’ll return to in-person medical conferences to satisfy their CME after restrictions are lifted.

Diane Bartoli, VP and GM of Athenahealth, epocrates, agrees. In a comment posted on LinkedIn, Bartoli says their company research found that 54% of physicians plan to continue participating in virtual medical conferences after the pandemic. “It’s part of a larger trend that the pandemic simply accelerated,” she said.

Medtech lead generation

Medtech trade shows were once opportunities to show healthcare providers and other prospects live demos of the latest products, technologies, and exciting advancements in the field of medical devices.

They were also sure-fire places for healthcare product manufacturers to network, learn, and generate leads from thousands of experts in many different fields of medicine.

Walking the shows, meeting clients, demonstrating products, and generating leads… will attendance at in-person trade shows ever return to pre-pandemic numbers? If not, what does that mean for companies depending on trade shows to meet their market going forward?

A shift in mindset to meet sales goals

The cancellation and postponement of trade shows has significantly impacted marketers, exhibitors, and vendors’ abilities to accomplish key business objectives. According to an EXHIBITOR survey, respondents expressed the following impact:

  • 45% lack of leads/sales opportunities
  • 38% difficulty building/maintaining relationships
  • 23% inability to launch new products as planned
  • 34% inability to increase brand awareness

McKinsey & Co. suggests that to solve this dilemma, “the playbook for launching new products and services may need to be thoroughly rethought,” and further advises companies “innovate how they reach their customers.” 

Considering trends toward virtual event attendance, coupled with the ongoing global pandemic, McKinsey’s advice makes sense.

Success of the virtual trade show

Virtual trade shows seem to offer quite a bit of potential as an innovative solution for companies looking to meet their market.

Expanded audiences, increased opportunities for digital engagement, and automated data capture are just a few benefits virtual event hosting sites promise. And what about those animated 3D lobbies and branded virtual event booths? Some platforms even let vendors populate their booths with a variety of diverse avatars

Virtual trade shows are even immune to Covid-19.

But do virtual trade shows help exhibitors meet their market like in-person trade shows used to? 

In a Freeman survey of trade show exhibitors, 85% of respondents said in-person events are “irreplaceable because of their ability to drive commerce and [because of] networking that creates partnerships and innovation.” Other exhibitors cited the lack of ability to feel, taste, touch and smell virtually as a challenge.

Overall, 69% of exhibitors rated their virtual trade show experiences from fair to poor. “On top of that,” Parul Shah, Freeman’s VP of Data Insights told Convene magazine, “63% of exhibitors said virtual events do not meet their goals” and many are choosing not to participate at all. 

With technology advancing at rates previously unheard of, the utility of virtual trade shows as lead generating opportunities may improve in the future. But what are companies looking to generate sales leads in the meantime to do?

A solution to start sales conversations

Many companies today are turning to digital methods, such as using precise data to perform outreach to their key prospects. LinkedIn networking, cold email, and targeted digital media are three ways to reach potential buyers.

Even better, these tactics can be automated at scale, helping companies generate leads with fewer resources — quite a cost savings when compared to the ROI of some in-person events, especially after travel and other expenses associated with trade shows are factored in. For example, companies can easily spend $200K for a hospitality room or $20K on a luncheon that may only generate a handful of leads.

Related Reading from Emerged: How to Evolve Your Strategy & Build Relationships with Health Care Practitioners in a Digital World

Mastering the future of the hybrid model

Don’t get us wrong, we’re excited for trade shows to return in the future, but it’s likely companies will find it advantageous to make some adjustments to their sales models even after the pandemic. Forbes agrees we still need live, in-person events “for human interaction and business development” but suggests a hybrid model will be the best approach in the future.

Hybrid events are widely celebrated as ideal combinations of virtual and face-to-face. In a hybrid model, in-person audiences receive VIP experiences, while virtual audiences can learn and connect conveniently from their office or home.

In a future, post-pandemic world, when restrictions are lifted and prospective healthcare buyers feel comfortable mingling freely once again, it remains to be seen whether the hybrid trade show model (where presumably only half of the pre-pandemic number of attendees show up in person) will turn out enough live attendees to make networking at trade shows lucrative once again.

For companies that decide to take part in hybrid trade shows now or in the future, we recommend making the most of your event by implementing a digital outreach component to your trade show strategy.

Best-in-class outreach means targeting those prospects who sign up to attend the trade show, then sending an email before the event to introduce your company and offer an appointment booking. And of course, don’t forget to follow up with in-person and virtual attendees after the show.

Following these tips will help exhibitors connect with virtual attendees who may otherwise miss your booth. And those who miss the show altogether would likely appreciate post-show follow-up listing exciting insights or top takeaways from the event.

The path forward for prospecting

It seems then that medical companies hoping to meet their market at trade shows may continue to have a tougher time of doing so — both virtually and in-person — for the time being.

Fortunately, there is another option for generating leads that doesn’t rely solely on in-person trade shows or sending cold emails on your own (which can be tricky to navigate). 

Emerged is a sales-focused platform that automates healthcare prospecting and nurturing. Our data tools identify your specific prospects and nurture them with a multichannel campaign, getting your prospects to engage. Your sales team takes it from there! 

Nowadays, it’s more important than ever to stay in front of your prospects 24/7 to build awareness and credibility so your company is top of mind when they’re ready to take action.

To learn more about how Emerged has helped companies like yours overcome the destabilized trade show industry and help sales teams start new conversations, schedule a call today.