Goin’ to the trade show, and I’m gonna get us some bu-i-i-is-ness

Deals being done at a recent trade show

If Sigmund Freud was alive today, you might just find him at a sourcing trade show avidly observing some unique quirks of human nature.

And when considering his conclusions, you’d likely find him deep in discussion with HfS contributor and part-time behavioral psychologist from SourcingChange, Deb Kops.

Over to you Debs, for your evaluation…

Goin’ to the trade show, and I’m gonna get bu-i-i-is-ness

All weekend a parody of the 60’s song, “Going to the Chapel and I’m going to get married,”  was tripping through my head as a result of spending a few days at an industry meeting complete with the proverbial “exhibit hall.”  With so much time and resource spent in order to get the seller’s name out. I can tell you what I took away—dishwater coffee and a few logo’d pens, rubber ducks and thumb drives. What did they get?

Think of a trade show in any industry and the same elements come to mind—booths  chock a block with graphically glowing descriptors, a great array of giveaways, a tray of chocolate, the proverbial “drop in your business card and win a Kindle,” bowl, and even in this day and age of online collateral, a few brochures declaiming leadership.

As it’s high season for expos, weeks, summits and what have you, it’s clear that the outsourcing and shared services industry hasn’t veered away from this recipe. With exhibitors keen to get prime booth real estate while sponsors happily take their money, it’s a good time to ponder whether spending all that dosh really moves the dial on brand.

Some of us trip through the hall only to register, while others religiously show up during breaks for muffins and popcorn. Some use the hall as a meeting point, while others traipse around each booth for the giveaways which go down so well with the kids we left at home. And perhaps even a few of us are sincerely interested in finding out more about Outsourcing-R-Us, or the advantages of locating a center in Trans-Mesopotamia or even the latest and greatest software that depreciates widgets automatically.  But do exhibitors gain brand by setting up? And do we give them the attention they expect to get?

Walk into any exhibit hall and you’ll see a similar cast of characters:

Software vendors. These folks, generally mature guys, selling both platforms and apps to the sourcing industry, are always in their booths and seem to run in packs. Savvy enough to secure the 100 percent corners in the layout—or the spot directly across from the bar, they conscientiously man their booths both during exhibit hours and sessions. You’ll always see two or more together, proudly wearing their logo golf shirts or button-downs.  A crowd is always around—is it the sexy set up, the great giveaways or are the folks in attendance already clients who are stopping by?

Niche  providers whose delight at having the marketing money to show up for the first time at a conference is palpably written in their smiles. The shiny new booth is equipped with a backdrop that lists about every service they deliver from any location that any end-user could conceivably want to buy—if they had the inclination to stand there and read the fine print on the list. For the young men who represent these firms, getting a pile of business cards and being able to talk about ‘why they are different’ seems to be the name of the game.

Eco-developers The lady from Latvia or the man from Mauritius, sitting in a small booth, often seems uncomfortable when you stop by to mention that your grandmother grew up on a farm outside Riga, or that you once enjoyed a great holiday on the beach. Unsure of his or her English, and not wanting to let on that s/he did not fully understand, s/he thrusts a brochure extolling the virtues of locating a delivery center in said region/city.

Deborah Kops, HfS Contributing Analyst

Deborah Kops, Contributing Analyst, HfS Research (Click for Bio)

Consultants Exhibit booths can perform like Venus fly catchers for consultants. Every once in a while some guy who is looking for a sourcing advisor just happens to stroll by, making the effort to set up a booth totally worthwhile. And when there are no buyers in site, the booth will serve as a meeting place for team mates who rarely have the opportunity to see each other.

Established providers put up a booth for brand enforcement, generally manning it with the marketing “gal” or guy whose main job seems to be playing go-fer for the brass who show up on Day Two to deliver the plenary speech. Often the booth is unmanned, perhaps under the assumption that the name in lights speaks enough about brand.

Now I’m the last person to say that building brand is not important. Indicating that an organization is part of the sourcing industry by showing up is a good thing. Walking through an exhibit hall is a quick way to see the latest and greatest in apps, new providers, which countries want your business, and, as importantly, meet old friends. And even the coffee is drinkable when it’s free. But do exhibitors get real business? You tell me.

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8 Comments

  1. Paul Diegelman
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Deborah – great post…having been in the position to “man the booth” quite a few times in the past (and also at the show you are referring to), two things about shows always stand out to me.

    (1) far too many organizations buy a booth but don’t pre-plan (what’s the message, who will deliver it, why it should resonate, etc), nor do they execute on any sort of plan during the show (manning the booth is not just a day “out of the office”). Staff (sometimes) show up, and then hope someone wanders by who looks like they might want to buy something.

    (2) speaking of wandering by, lots of attendees in the exhibit hall want to read what’s on the wall of the provider’s booths, but don’t want to be seen reading it. So they read from a far, or with their peripheral vision, eyes darting from side to side, as they stridently move down the aisleway…many people want to buy, and don’t want to be sold to, so they look for info but only want to engage in dialogue on their terms….

    But back to your question – “do exhibitors get real business ?”. Proper planning and day-to-day execution at the show does bring suspects who may turn to prospects, and also helps move existing decision cycles forward. But renting a booth and manning it with reps who shift their weight from foot to foot while checking their blackberries is not the way forward to deal closings…

  2. Posted March 10, 2011 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Deborah – speaking as a niche provider with a big smile on my face I am happy to report that your commentary is as annoyingly correct as ever :>). In the past I have found these type of events to be frustrating beyond belief. Now I have a new approach
    1. Don’t even try to sell. Whatever about no one selling anything at a conference – nobody ever bought anything at one either. In fact most people are there precisely because you don’t have to buy anything…..
    2. Relax and try to learn something. Most people in the room are your potential customers. Listen to what they are saying. Receive, not transmit – if you know what i mean….

  3. Posted March 10, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks Paul and Traoloch for comments. I guess I should be glad to still be ‘annoying correct.’ Truth be told, and I agree with Paul, that it IS possible to develop business at exhibits. But that takes precision work which is not for the faint of heart. Traoloch’s look and listen approach is also good-do you need to fork down $$$$ for that?

  4. Lewis
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Very good article, Deborah. Made me chuckle :)

    Everyone here raises a good point as to why we persist with these trade shows and how to make better use of the experience. However, the elephant in the room is really about what senior leadership would say if they if they conducted a true ROI on their $30K investment:

    1) How many *actual* potential customers were at the event (people with actual budget and a need for our product, as opposed to someone vaguely representing a “prospect”)

    2) How many of these *actual* prospects did we talk to?

    3) How many *actual* follow-on meetings were set-up as a direct result of this investment?

    4) Were the advisors we met *actually* engaged with our prospects, or were they the non-client facing types who have the time to attend these industry events?

    Marketing people are finding it harder and harder these days to justify expensive investments, such as costly booth-space at events.

    While the quality marketing people are still finding intelligent ways to get value from the investment (as Paul nicely points out), you have to take into account whether $30K can be invested in other activities that can develop more leads and meetings. That amount of money gives you a lot of marketing-mileage these days!

    I find most smart vendors these days only pick a select few events they have to be “seen” at and simply swallow the $1000 entry fee to the ones where there are limited *actual* business opportunities to be generated. Why not just show up and work the room, because chances are no-one really cares whether you have a booth there or not – and you can hang out at everyone else’s little “brand homes” :)

    Lewis

  5. Posted March 10, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with Deborah on this one. I personally think that conference sponsors get more from being on the thousands of invitations to the event than they get from being at the event itself…

  6. Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Deborah,

    We have had several people advise us that participating in a trade show is a magic potion for attracting new customers. We have not been able to take that advice because of the high costs involved (including airfares from India!), and have decided to channel available resources to online marketing (basically SEO and media buys).

    Would you say that online advertising and promotion delivers more bang for the buck than trade show participation?

    Lucky Balaraman
    CEO
    TMG, India
    Providers of engineering, architectural and publishing services
    http://TheMagnumGroup.net

    /////////////////

  7. Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Lucky, there is no one size fits all. Decisions must be driven by a range of questions: how do your customers buy? Where will you get the highest marketing ROI? What kind of brand recognition do you have/do you have to build? Are you committed to make the right efforts to get return from showing up?

  8. Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Deborah:

    Thanks for your sage insight —

    Lucky Balaraman
    CEO
    TMG, India
    Providers of engineering, architectural and publishing services
    http://TheMagnumGroup.net

    /////////////////

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