A virtual waste?

Trade show browsers
There is more to a show than 'look-e-loos'

I read a lot of marketing blogs every day (and I really need to contribute to the blogosphere more myself). One post I saw recently attempted to justify ‘virtual’ trade shows as an acceptable alternative to the real thing, given the much lower cost. The ROI is higher, apparently.

I was suspicious … virtual trade shows are right up there with webinars in my do-not-like. Are they worthwhile? Are they a worthy substitute?

After being at a major trade show all last week, I feel justified in my reaction: Virtual/online events may be good to get some fresh sales leads … but that’s about it.

There is no engagement. There is no socialization. There is no serendipity. There is no communal experience.

Take the number of leads (so easy to count online) and divide by the cost (one fixed number to a vendor) and the CPA (cost per acquisition) does look good, I’ll agree.  However …

The real thing is better …

At the show I was at (as a first-time exhibitor in a growing industry), I really felt like we solidified our position in the market, and opened opportunities for the future.

Sure, I can count up the leads on the thumb-drive from the badge reader (that alone cost me $299). But how do you count these activities and results:

  • We partnered with one of our top customers to promote both of our businesses (and now they are more than just a customer).
  • Our independent sales rep found some potential clients for another line he reps. (Line synergy, isn’t that why we have these guys, instead of direct sales staff?)
  • We had a huge belly-laugh with a customer meeting her salesperson IRL for the first time.
  • Another customer slapped our salesperson’s shoulder in front of others from his company and said “Yoshi is awesome!”
  • I talked to a complementary vendor about a potential joint product. And maybe a targeted marketing event, too.
  • Walked into several booths and found people very interested in the products we sell, and also found a major decision maker on a larger project.

I could go on, but you get the point. The salespeople and I were able to take our business somewhere it couldn’t go without being at this event. Forget ROI … it’s value is priceless.

Not all trade shows are like this, but this is the way they are supposed to be. If all you get out of a trade show is leads, you’ve missed the point of being there. And that would be more than a virtual waste.

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