August is a tricky time for bloggers since, at least in Europe, everything closes down for most of August: no marketing manager in their right mind would do a product release; nor are there any trade shows, hence very little news to write about. There is at least another enjoyable blog from the Cranky PM about trade shows which is good summer reading though. It raises a valid point about whether exhibits at trade shows are really worth it, at least from the point of view of lead generation. There is no doubt that trade show exhibits are expensive, and take days out of the time of pre-sales and sales staff who might be better employed elsewhere. The quandary vendors find themselves in is that if they do not exhibit then they risk appearing side-lined. Certainly shows vary, but the quality of leads from trade shows is usually pretty poor. As the Cranky PM points out, there are a depressing number of people who seem there only to collect free T shirts and pens and enter prize draws, yet clearly have no budget whatever and often scarcely even a polite interest in the product (”do you have a few more of those pens?”). I assume that such people are only there because (a) the trade show is in Florida/San Diego/Cannes (b) their company has to spend its training budget somehow.
My observation has been that the broader the scope of the show, the less useful it usually turns out to be. Vertical industry conferences may not be large in terms of numbers, but often have real customers with a project and a problem to solve. Generic IT trade shows have lots of people but finding a real qualified prospect at one of these is like finding a beer in Salt Lake City. We can fall back on the excuse that it is all really just advertising and “mindshare” and never mind the leads, but then is that the very best way of spending your marketing dollars? The other argument is that your competitors are there, and while this has a point it is the “10,000 lemmings can’t be wrong” argument (as a side note, it seems lemmings don’t really leap off cliffs, at least not without a well-timed shove). I suspect the Cranky PM is right and that a lot of it is tradition and inertia.
I had positive experiences of webcasts at my previous company, since unlike trade shows people who attend these are doing so willingly rather than because they are wandering past a booth and you catch their eye, and you get to spend 30-60 minutes with people rather than the cursory conversation that is usually possible at a trade show. Of course webcasts are not free; you have to promote them, which involves buying rights to distribution lists, but even so the costs are certainly lower than renting an exhibit booth and tramping several staff around the country for a few days. A famous quote from John Wanamaker is: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” In the case of most trade shows I suspect half is optimistic.