Trade Shows, are they No-Gos?

by Paul Krueger, Staff Writer

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Trade shows. Trade Events. Trade Exhibitions.  By any name, are they still relevant in the digital age? The answer is still a resounding “Yes”.

In the days before the “World Wild Web”, Trade Shows were the mechanism where big deals were made and relationships forged, strengthened, and in many cases-initiated.

As attendance fees have outpaced inflation by a factor of 10x over the past few decades, this has made measurable ROI even more nebulous. Trade shows still have immeasurable value in human interaction, something not achieved in a world where communications are mediated via a network of social media and garden-variety communication tools.

Top 10 Reasons to Attend (or Exhibit)

While a field trip away from overbearing management or board members may be just as good as any, below we list some compelling reasons to pack your bags:

  1. Solidifying Connections: While LinkedIn is fantastic, there is nothing that replaces the face to face meeting with a prospect. Non-verbal communication is powerful.
  2. Name Recognition: Especially for start-ups, this is essential to break ground in a competitive industry. Exhibiting is even more powerful to make a statement.
  3. Competitor Recon: Nothing works better than mystery shopping your competitor. Careful observation of your nemesis strategy and presentation is invaluable.
  4. Closing the Deal: Many deals are finalized at trade shows over a beer. It’s a fact. You may have taken it 90% of the way with Powerpoint presentations, webinars, phone calls, emails…but that last inch is the meeting in person.
  5. Visualization: Face to name, name to face. While it’s a gamble, the personal handshake trumps the emoji hands down.
  6. Lead Generation: A pile of cards and a zillion handshakes is worth its weight in gold
  7. Live Product Demo: Live presentations have a statistically higher rate of retention for prospects than webinars.
  8. Vendor Relations: Reaffirming those long-standing relationships at a show are incredibly important in hotly contested business verticals.
  9. Social Networking: Most major trade shows sponsor kick-off openers that allow you to connect with people not on your list that can yield surprising returns and connections.
  10. Education: Seminars and sessions at Trade shows can help you and your teams acquire more industry knowledge and actionable tips, tricks, and methods to grow.

Trade Show ROI-5 key factors

Many sites and bloggers have claimed to create an ROI calculator for a trade show to determine the “how, when, where, if, and maybes” about attending, exhibiting or simply taking a pass.  It’s just not that simple, and way more complicated. Many ROI metrics can be boiled down to this:  the opportunity to effectively recoup the total show cost within 6 months, or 3x within 1 year, on a client/vendor contractual or “committed client” future revenue basis.

Without the advanced calculus, here is a quick guide and questions to ask:

  1. Attendance Cost: How many people are going from your company? A management decision should be simple: ONLY send those that matter.
  2. Exhibiting Cost: If the decision is to exhibit, choose the floor location carefully and don’t overdo the square footage. Smaller exhibits with adequate quick meeting enclaves are just fine to get it done. Money is better spent on the signage and a smaller footprint.
  3. Competitive Landscape: How many of your competitors are exhibiting or attending? If you stack up as a disruptor, head to the fight and exhibit. If your product offering is in the mix but not differentiated, choose shows more on the periphery or highly targeted with less attendance and lower cost to exhibit.
  4. Overall Attendance: High attendance is the number one reason, in my book, to at least-attend. Based on #4 above, choose to attend some, exhibit at others.
  5. Target Opportunities: If the show has a high concentration of your target audience, be it vendors or prospects, always attend if possible. Pre-planning is essential and meeting should be nailed down weeks before the event to ensure success.

Trade shows are not going away, and they should not go away, and they will never go away. While emerging technologies and “virtual” events are making headway, the physical show is still very much in vogue.