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Trade Shows: Of What Value Are They?

The esteemed Steve Johnson recently wrote a provocative blog entry on the merits - or lack thereof - of demoing at trade shows. He implies that showing demos is usually not very effective:
Nobody retains information from a trade show--everyone is yelling to be heard. Perhaps you could be a little quieter and much more effective. Let's use the demo where it belongs, much later in the sales cycle.
And he contends that collecting information about prospects' situations and problems is often a better use of trade show time:
At your next event, try just asking people who come by the booth a few simple qualifying questions about their problem and its urgency to them. If they answer in the affirmative, scan their badge or take their card and invite them to enjoy the show. Meanwhile send a set of materials to them through the mail or better yet, have a sales person contact them the week after the show.
In my opinion, Steve's key point is that:
The best demo is customized to the customers, their problems, and within the context of how we can specifically solve their problems.
If you've read SPIN Selling, you know that your best chance of making a high-value sale is to use a facilitative process that starts with asking a lot of questions. Only after you've fully understand the individual prospect's situation and problems do you describe your solution in detail.

Regarding trade shows, however, the more important questions to me are:
  1. Why are you an exhibitor at the trade show at all?
  2. Who is attending the trade show, and why?
What goals are you trying to achieve as an exhibitor at the trade show? If you're trying to sell product, then Steve's advice is important to keep in mind. But maybe you're trying to affect media coverage? Or maybe you're trying to gather intelligence on the attendees and competition? I wonder, though: perhaps you can achieve this latter goal just as effectively without being an exhibitor (and just being an attendee)?

It matters who is attending the trade show. Is media attending the trade show? Are tech geeks with little or no buying authority attending the show? Are actual prospects attending the show? Perhaps you should attempt to segment the population of the trade show into various personas.

The bottom line is that the issue isn't as simple as whether you should demo at trade shows. You need to research the expected trade show population and shape your goals accordingly. In the end, you may decide that being an exhibitor isn't the best way of achieving those goals.

Comments

Paul Young said…
Roger, one thing that everyone who posted on this topic quickly zoomed in on was the higher level question of "do we need to be here at all?" Unfortunately we can't always affect that since checkbox marketing has run amok.

There is also a perception issue if you've attended in the past and then pull out, I've seen attendees who actually badmouth a company for pulling out saying that they're probably about to go out of business or they're offended because they see the lack of attendance as a signal that the company doesn't believe that seeing the attendee is worthwhile.

Once you either choose to be at the show or accept that you must, the to demo or not to demo question should be fairly easy to answer based on your knowledge of the audience, product complexity, and ability of the people in the booth. I shudder at the thought of booth babes trying to demo my product :)

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