Trade Shows are fun … but are they good?

With my birth year being the magical 1976, I’m one of the older, euhm, more experienced people in the office. I’m even that old that I have memories of  people saying “let’s not worry about measuring the success of those trade shows – it’s probably no good anyway.” Oh yes, I was one of those young, smartass marketers who thought trade shows were way too expensive for the few new good contacts we would otherwise not have met. I was one of those smartasses who claimed that sales guys can do anything they want with the numbers to make a trade show look a success. But hey, Apple, I didn’t mean it! I was kidding. Trade shows are fun!

No seriously. In this press release, Apple announces that the next MacWorld will be the last one they attend. Given the economic situation, the popularity of the brand Apple and the ever increasing costs related to trade shows, it is no surprise that this decision was made. And I believe a lot of companies will follow this example.

Measuring the success of a trade show is not an easy job. And if done properly, the results will in most cases not be good. It requires a good CRM tool, some wise decisions and a sales team who play it fair: no sandbagging before the show and relate those post show sales to the show only when this is really valid. It is true that sales would need up to two weeks to visit those 10 customers they can talk to one one show day, but a phone call could do and … a lot of those visiting customers see those trade shows as free product training anyway.

So what are the parameters to measure the success of a show? Number of new, qualified leads to start with. You will see that if you take away all the students, job seekers and Ipod candidates away from lead list, and if you take away the ones that do not have buying intentions or money, and the ones who already have a competitor’s product but who want to be assured they made a wise decision, not a lot of leads will be left. Qualified leads are those where you can start a new sales cycle. Next, take al the sales cycle that actually made progress. That does not include those guys who prefer to sign a contract under the spot of a show booth. They would have signed in a restaurant too! And progress doesn’t mean confirming what has already been confirmed “Yes, we are still interested.”

Ok, trade shows are not all about sales: brand recognition is important too … but that doesn’t account for more than 10% of the budget. And the press attention! But mind that the press now even write about Apple because they are not on a show AND you need to buy advertising for press to actually publish your press release. So again, don’t over estimate the value of the show here.

True, a good marketing mix still needs a couple of trade shows and there may be a couple of extra benefits about being on a show (meeting competitors, learning about the ecosystem), but even simple maths will prove that a seminar (organized by one company or by multiple companies) brings a lot more value than trade shows: the cost per lead is a lot lower and the attendees think, smell and eat your company from the morning ’till the evening. Not just during their 15-minute visit. Make the seminar something the attendees can learn from and it will be an even greater success.

So, as I said: I expect a lot of companies to follow Apple’s example and events like CloudCamp will see a growing success. For Q109, there are already more than 20 events confirmed. True, trade shows are fun, but in times of people being sacked by the hundreds or the thousands, some common sense may be required in respect to marketing efficiency.

Enjoy making those 09 marketing plans!


~ by tomleyden on December 17, 2008.

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