On Expos (revisited)

Whew. What a Monday- last week we were in sunny Dubai exhibiting at #ArabHealth2024 – one of the largest and craziest expos I’ve ever been to as a person, let alone as a vendor. We were very privileged to be invited out by the UK Dept of Business and Trade to present, but we decided to double down and set up a stand as a full vendor. Last year I wrote my thoughts on the first expo TORTUS “tried”, and here we are at the “repeat” stage.

Previously we attended NHS Confed. With a little more time interval I can quite clearly see the ROI of that particular event, and one of our strongest partners came from that single meeting.

Arab Health is a bit of different beast. It’s much much larger, much more expensive to get to, but much greater potential ROI, although it’s a little outside our core market focus as well (or so I thought!).

So let’s take a look at how we approached ArabHealth this year vs NHS Confed last year. Are we learning?

1) Have a plan.

Did we have a plan? Yes, sort of. We were a little late to having this conference on our radar, so we did have to catch up from the offset. We also took a while to decide to commit, so it wasn’t ideal. We didn’t realise that deals in the GCC region are typically done six months ahead of time – we should’ve used the show as a catalyst to conversations closing and contracts signing, not the beginning. For next time, we need to start the leads, research and first meetings BEFORE the contact to maximise. Having said that we did have a plan, we took a team, maximised capture and brought home some really credible leads.

The other thing I learnt here was the biggest events are not two-way exchanges – eg go to Arab Health to sell to local GCC customers. These events are nexuses for customers, partners and competitors globally- the ROI can be much more multidimensional. The strongest leads we in fact brought home were UK based. So next time we need to factor that in as well.

2) Did we calculate ROI?

Yes. It was pretty straightforward once we committed, but actually there was a non-linear relationship we realised. Spend too little, and you miss a lot of opportunity – for example we could both man our stand and make external meetings by having more of the team on the ground. You can spend more, but tbh I think the greater risk is underspending once you’ve committed than over. It’s like an F1 car, you have to take the corners above a minimum speed or you don’t generate enough torque to keep the car on the road, and just spin off anyway. I think given the leads we brought back we are proving out that done right these events are a very good use of funds in this sector.

3) Go big or stay home

So I actually think we may still have underspent here. We didn’t go big enough I would say. We booked a stand under another banner company, so we didn’t have our own named presence. When we switched location mid-conference by commandeering the British Pavillion demo area instead, we saw a much bigger uptick in solid interest converting into leads. For TORTUS we are a very “big idea” value proposition. It’s much harder to believe you are witnessing the future of healthcare if you are in the headspace to buy bedpans than if you’ve just come from watching robot arms hand out seed bags, even if I show you the exact same product in each scenario. Humans are deeply irrational decision makers. Once we moved to a bigger stand in the main hall area (opposite a giant hologram of a solar system) we noticed people were much more engaged.

We also noticed that partnerships are worth building – the UK govt was a particularly strong one as a boost for our credibility. Next time we will a) be much more conscious of the size, position, and branding of our presence. Less is definitely not more I’d say. If we want to do deals and sign contracts, we need an area for that. If we want to create buzz and eyeballs, we need big screens and visibility etc. We have some conferences upcoming where lead generation is the priority, and others where investors are the priority. Both require a different approach.

4) Concentrate

I think we are getting much better at this, but this is still really hard. Speaking at major events is a big tick for credibility, even if the sales pipeline there isn’t as strong. I’ve very artificially defined where we go for investors versus customers and then markets and we’ve gone with that for now. But time will tell!

5) Time expenditure

We definitely spent way more time at this expo than previously. Bringing a team actually compounded our time and meant we did a lot of business as usual work away together as well, which was actually really helpful. So worth thinking about that in tandem – we can “Work From Conference” with a big enough team as well.

6) Context is king.

This is very much still the case. We had a bit of an A/B test of this – when we were at our small booth in an aisle of other unrelated things, we didn’t stand out or create buzz. When we moved across to the UK Gov Pavillion demo area we immediately saw a big uptick in the types of people that came to try it and the leads we could convert.

7) Create some theatre

We definitely managed this by the end of the conference –

Here was the final setup:

Doing a live demo with a real doctor created some real theatre- engaging potential customers as patients is a great hook. Seeing the output on a big screen got some very excited and sometime sweary reactions. This immediately converted into strong leads. Point being – if you want people to really see the future you need to tell them a story first, and then immediately show them some of that story as reality.

8) Networking happens outside of hours

I still don’t know about this. I didn’t have either the time or energy to really engage with the peripheral party scene, and found some conversations useful but not nearly as focussed. Having not really tested this properly I think this is still an unknown for me.

9) Don’t HIDE

We could’ve done more here and plan to be much more visible again at future conferences. We’ve definitely found the more people that experience O.S.L.E.R the stronger the hook. Seeing is believing. Will have a think about maximising this for the future.

Other thoughts:

  • Expos can be lonely – don’t do it alone. It’s already physically demanding, don’t add mentally demanding to it. Also getting lunch!
  • If you are real about converting credible customers, being the lone CEO on the stand can actually reduce credibility with big customers. Having the team and setting up meetings creates a sense of the size and professionalism of the company they are dealing with that’s useful for converting leads.
  • Partnerships – strike them up ad hoc, dont underestimate how receptive people can be in that environment. At least one exciting opportunity came from a random meeting at a shop counter. Another came from just barging in to a conversation at another stand.
  • Maximise the pre strategy, but expect chaos. It’s more analogous to whack-a-mole than it is to a duck hunt. At one point I was sprinting to make a meeting with the Jordanian govt I’d only just heard about 8 minutes before (I didn’t make it). That’s just the game.
  • Just get to the next meeting – capture every lead, set up the next small step and sort them out afterwards.
  • Business cards – surprisingly I reviewed every card and followed up all the leads. Having something physical was very useful. Make them memorable. Here is v1:
  • Vet them – are they a clinician? You have limited opportunity costs – we managed 103 demoes across the conference, while decent, that’s only so many shots on goal. Need to make sure the goal is lined up before committing to take the shot.
  • Our new lapel mics can cope with pretty much any level of noise in combination with the AI models we use. This is extremely useful as a technical test.
  • Don’t give the mics to people – they will wander off with them (sometimes a few hundred miles).

Overall we are definitely learning. The last point I’d make as we scale is data. Tracking what we are doing, our user metrics, our sales ROIs, offers us invaluable insights, but it’s also very time consuming to maintain as a function. Investing early in systems to track metrics we think matter has paid off really well across the rest of the company, so it might be worth investing some time into our infrastructure and processes so we can do the same commercially.

So thats everything I’m now thinking about expos. If you’d like to see the next iteration of TORTUS on tour our next three conferences are as follows:

IGPP Third Annual Innovation Conference – RSM – 27th February 2024

Best Practice London – Olympia -28th/29th Feb 2024

HIMMS 2024 – Orlando – 11-15th Mar 2024

Come and tell us what we’re doing wrong.

Dr Dom Pimenta