Trade Shows: You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play
It never fails. It seems at every single trade show I attend here in Vegas, I will inevitably be asked if I gamble. While many understand that it’s not a great idea to do so if you actually live in Vegas – which I do – I often hear the following response after expressing my unwillingness to feed the machines: “You can’t win if you don’t play.”
This Kareem Abdul-Jabbar quote (slightly modified) gets thrown around by gamblers and the lottery folk all the time. Granted, while I find the latest twist on it – “You can’t lose if you don’t play” – a slightly more convincing argument in this circumstance, there are a lot of instances in which the former version holds true … like, say, trade shows. And you can, in fact, lose quite a bit if you don’t play that game.
I’ve heard all the excuses in the world as to why people won’t go to events – especially now that our country has entered its fifth year of recession. I’ve also had people cry on my shoulder (well, telephone or computer screen, anyway) about not being able to attend one show or another – or any, in some circumstances. And sure, while everyone loves to get away for a while and enjoy themselves at some exciting destination (like Vegas), they’re still ultimately doing business on the road too. In this way, among others, the trade show continues to be a great marketing tool.
However, times and rules have changed. There’s just no denying that. One major shift, for example, is that instead of buying right then and there on the floor, “smart attendees today gather information at a show,” said Steve Miller (not the “Really love your peaches / Wanna shake your trees” guy, but the author of the Two Hat Marketing blog). I’ve found, surprisingly enough, that attendees are now even trying to get the scoop from me. Case in point: Someone set an appointment with me with the sole purpose of asking me what MPS was all about and if I thought it was a good investment for a company of his size.
So it turns out potential customers are coming to trade shows, and they’re coming to buy from you. Well, eventually, anyway. This is no reason to get cynical or stop attending, though. This is a call to change your strategy, because people honestly wouldn’t be at any of these events if they had no needs. Buyers may be more selective, more skeptical themselves these days; they may ask their peers for opinions and leverage technology, doing some amount of research on the Internet before buying anything from anyone; but they still know they have pain points, and they know your solutions address them. Question is, Miller pointed out, when they are finally ready to commit to buying, will you end up being the provider they choose? Do they even know you’re among the choices?
He really encapsulates this point well when he reminds us, “The purpose of marketing is to be on the mind of the prospect when the prospect is ready to buy.” Trade shows still put you in that coveted position. They place you in the mind of your prospect, and they do so as more than words of an email or photos on the Web. You are a real live person to your potential customer at an event. And even as machines continue to revamp nearly everything else we do, it’s both refreshing and comforting to know that “trade shows and similar sales and marketing events have withstood the test of every technological revolution because people buy from people” (from Creative Training Solutions , which provides some really great trade show statistics). In speaking with a representative from a company we’d done some coverage on, I found out that after reading one of our articles about it, another company he’d been struggling to connect with actually reached out to him! Better still, the two are now partners! We ourselves had never even heard of his company, let alone covered it, until we’d run into him at – you guessed it – a trade show.
You never know which people you’re ultimately going to meet at trade shows, but you have to attend them to have any shot at influencing those who either are decision-makers themselves or are the closest to them. And while you may end up deciding not to go to such events, you can expect your competitors will be happy to … and subsequently, they’ll probably also win the business.
I have to admit, I’ve been quite impressed lately, seeing higher traffic on show floors with each passing month I’m here. It makes me feel confident that more and more people in this industry are recognizing the inestimable value of its events and betting on them to build more business. And for those who are still sitting on the sidelines, I have to wonder: How do you plan to win if you don’t play?
Posted by Raegen Pietrucha on Apr 23, 2012