Would you go to this trade show?

I’ve gotten a few emails from this show promoter this year. Well written, honest, persuasive copy. But would I book this show? No. There is some magic missing, marketing magic, I think. If the booking promotion is missing that magic, the attendee promotion will also be missing that magic.

Here it is with the show name and city redacted:

The First Industry Wide All Inclusive Affordable Event in *Bigtown*!

Hello Exhibitors,

Many Exhibitors told us they schedule their tradeshow participation in late November and December. We were asked to send an industry reminder in late November. If you have not reserved your booth as yet please do so now!

The *Bigtime* Expos is the industry leader that delivers a paramount event that is the most affordable. We keep our word and our 2014 event is just $16 per foot. Our price is about ½ the cost of the other shows and we expect to deliver more qualified attendees. We believe you come to a tradeshow to make money, increase your brand awareness and protect your market share. We are dedicated to helping you achieve your goals and our prices is just part of how we will help you.

Our mission is to enable your success. We devote ourselves completely to this mission and we will leave no stone unturned. When you succeed we succeed. We listen to your concerns and interests and in return, we hope they will make a mutual commitment to us. We work hard to gain your trust.
Ask yourselves:

  1. Do you mind paying $30.00 or more per square foot for Association tradeshows?
  2. Would you rather pay less (about ½) and get similar or better results?
  3. Are you tired of the other high costs besides the floor space associated with exhibiting?
  4. Why are Association shows charging you so much?
  5. Have the association shows forgotten their function is to help the industry and members?
  6. Do you want a better deal?
  7. Want to meet new qualified buying attendees?

The *Bigtime* Expos was started as the first all inclusive affordable meeting event for the entire industry in *Bigtown*. We want to make the *Bigtime* Expos the main event for the industry and we hope our super saver low prices will be the deciding factor to have you participate. We have done our part to make our expo the must attend, all inclusive, industry wide event and we hope you will do your part and join us in 2014 and the future.

A win, win for the industry. Exhibiting in the *Bigtime* Expos is in your best interest. By exhibiting you send a clear message to the other shows. When they see most are exhibiting we suspect they will decide they must also lower their rates to be competitive with our event. They do not want to lose participation and since they already appear to follow what we do they most likely will lower their price saving the industry big money.

If you want these super low prices it is imperative you exhibit or it will be business as usual. We are confident without our super low prices the only way they would change their prices would be to increase them. As I hope you agree it is the smart decision to exhibit at *Bigtime* Expos!

Note: No Union problems in *Bigtown* with our event. As long as you use your employees you may assemble and remove your own booth.

We expect 20,000+ Attendees! *Bigtime* Expos is the Media Event and Industry Meeting Expo not to be missed. If you will trust us we believe your results will more than meet your expectations and you’ll be looking forward to participating for years to come. We hope you will select the 2014 *Bigtime* Expos

There, it’s missing magic, I can’t tell you what, but it is so obvious. If I showed you the show logo, it would confirm that feeling, but even without it the text just lingers … and not in a good way. Could this event be saved with some big-time magical marketing? How does one build from nothing to something effectively?

What is your reaction?

What is the online trade show metaphor?

I know its 2013, but I’m giving a go at an online trade show. The targeting looks good enough, but in the past I’ve stayed away. This is what my “booth” is going to look like. Doesn’t exactly give me confidence that this type of thing is anything more than a gimmick.

Who are these people in my booth?
Who are these people in my booth?

Meeting the prospect at THEIR interest level

I’m just back from one of the trade shows we do every year. It’s a great opportunity for our salespeople to see their existing contacts and customers, but as marketing manager, I don’t have ‘existing contacts’. What I enjoy most is talking to people new to our company, or even our type of product.

You know the type … they blindly grab a piece of literature, usually a specialized piece that only the rarest of booth visitors may need. They stare for a full minute at your company’s logo on the booth. Some will look your demo unit up and down, others will be oblivious to its presence. They don’t make eye contact at all, and may even look right thru you.

What’s happening is the non-verbal part of their brain is working, trying to fit together a small puzzle:

  • Brand
  • Product
  • Purpose
  • Need
  • Importance

When they appear ready, I’ll ask something as basic as ‘any questions?’ Then they can start to verbalize about the part of the puzzle they need help with.

For the extrovert (i.e. salesperson), this can be an awkward point. They want to start asking the ‘mark’ questions about his company, his need, if he knows so-and-so, etc. Or they’ll try to impress the visitor by answering his inquiry with a story or a spiel.

Our guys are pretty-well disciplined, and don’t do this right away, but they may be itching to flip the control of the conversation … to move the visitor from a ‘mark’ to a ‘lead’ quickly. I’ll attribute their behavior to the fact that they are in unfamiliar territory. Their usual leads the rest of the year are already qualified, and are a bit rusty in engaging a complete n00b.

It seems a bit odd at first, but the puzzling booth visitor fully wants to talk about you, your company, and your products. But he also fully wants you to listen to his questions and body language. They are in control, even if they are meekly asking questions. The best thing you can do is ask clarifying questions, so they know you are listening, and that you’ll cooperate with them. They still haven’t decided if you are the right person or company to talk to and need some time and info to do so.

One of the even odder moments at a trade show booth is when a conversation gets passed from one booth-person to the other. But that is a good sign that the discussion is probably shifting from ‘puzzling’ to ‘familiar’.

It all starts when you meet the prospect at their level and pace. Websites are awesome for this because a visitor can linger until they decide to engage us. And it shields us from these awkward moments. But, done right, these awkward moments can be awesome opportunities to make new relationships, and hopefully, customers.


A competitor across the aisle

We just did our last show for the year. This one is always a great show because our customers are there, and nearly everyone else is a prospect (or knows the person at their company who should be). And all our competitors are there, too.

This year, our main competitor was kitty-corner across the aisle from us. Intimidating to be sure. We’ve got to do better then them somehow, right? We’ve got to bring our A-game. Well, duh, we need to bring our A-game to a show regardless.

And what happened after a little while, is that we worked the show like we normally would, and so did they. Its hard to put on pretenses when you have visitors to interact with…they suddenly are our number-one focus.

So what did I get out of the experience?

  • Our salespeople working the booth are now a little more aware of the dynamics between our companies.
  • An opportunity to see how prospects behave differently when talking to us versus them.
  • We learned a bit more about our competitor’s sales-style based on their behavior in the show booth (showing vs. listening).
  • A chance to see what they know about our company, products, and people.

We had a couple mid-aisle conversations about the show, players in the industry, and other small talk. We see each other once a year, and I did learn I am pretty invisible to them (“are you from the home-office?”).

It was interesting when Peter, a former sales rep of ours, walked one of the competitors over to our booth and proceeded to point out the differences in our products. Then they walked back across the aisle. I kept silent.

Interesting, but who cares? He’s not going to copy what we do. If he didn’t know the details of our product by now, obviously he doesn’t care about it too much. Or, more likely, he doesn’t realize his own weaknesses.

Okay, I will admit wanting to do a close walk-around his product. But I had no reason to, either. We compete so directly, the biggest differences are not the products. Its the branding … and the people who represent the brand. And I think those differences came in to clearer focus for me after this show.

Are B2B marketers so stupid they fall for this?

This is not the first time I’ve received a warning email from a trade show organizer warning exhibitors about “Expo-Guide” scamming for directory listings. But this email seemed rather complete, including possible grounds for canceling the contract, so it is shown below.

First my rant:

I know there is a fool born every minute, but how do these companies survive? Are B2B marketers that stupid? Or are we so egotistical and inbound-link hungry that we’ll pay to have our name plastered anywhere?

I can claim being duped by Yahoo Search PPC was a scam because Yahoo was hiding what they were doing … but the email I got from Expo-Guide was as obvious as it was deceptive. In that sense, I’d call it spam rather than a scam.

Regardless, I appreciate when the show organizers treat this as an encroachment on their customers, and warn us.

Email from the show organizers:

Dear exhibitors,

It has come to our attention that the company “Expo-Guide” is currently contacting Intersolar exhibitors. In its correspondence, “Expo-Guide” requests that you check your company details against those shown in an attached order form, and that you provide further information where your company details are incomplete. The company claims that this is necessary in order to update the existing details in the exhibitor catalog, so that potential customers can easily establish contact with your company.

Please note:
If you comply with this request, you will be concluding a three-year contract with “Expo-Guide” for the publication of your company details. This contract entails annual costs of Euro 1,181.00.

The Intersolar North America organizers, Solar Promotion International and Freiburg Management and Marketing GmbH hereby explicitly state that they have no commercial or contractual relationship with “Expo-Guide”. The company “Expo-Guide” was neither authorized nor in any other way prompted to contact our exhibitors for the purpose of updating information for an exhibitor catalog. If, in individual cases, any information does need to be updated, we would request that you contact Freiburg Management and Marketing GmbH or the responsible project manager directly.

If you have already signed the Expo-Guide order form and have thus concluded a contract with the company, please consider whether you wish to immediately contest the validity of your declaration on grounds of fraudulent misrepresentation. You can also terminate the contract in order to ensure that you will not be subject to a purchasing obligation in the future. In this context, we refer to the decision of the District Court of Cologne of July 4, 2007 (Ref. 9 S 44/07), pursuant to which the acceptance of an offer of entry into an online catalog can be contestable on grounds of fraudulent misrepresentation, even where the monthly costs for this service have been stated, if the presentation and wording of the offer are deceptive. We recommend that you seek legal advice.

Do not hesitate to contact us for further questions.

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.