I had a chat last night with the CEO of a major parking equipment supplier. He was grousing about trade shows and just what is to be accomplished there. He commented that his technology, its return on investment, and its application was extremely complicated and certainly something that couldn’t be explained to someone walking through an exhibit hall.
He felt that he would be much better off not having a booth, but inviting people to a number of seminars held in a nearby hotel and really giving them an in depth look at his product and how it would affect their business. He felt that the time and money spent on the floor was wasted. He said that he would be better off giving a donation to the organizers of the event and then not worrying about booths, staffing, and the like.
He indicated he would probably spent more money with the "hotel suite" approach, but frankly, his return would be better. I have heard all this before, and on the surface it makes a lot of sense….
However, if everyone did that, there would be no event. No reason for people to flock to the locale for a week and be available for his seminar. The organizers might make the same amount of money, but the "draw" of these events, frankly, is the exhibition itself.
People want to see all the whistles and bells. They want to see, touch, smell, and taste the products and services available. Its a place for networking, meeting and greeting, and gossip. The booths form a backdrop where attendees can chat, renew old friendships and make new ones. (This includes vendor personnel, as well.) Its also an opportunity to put faces with voices and names they have spoken to only on the phone or communicated with over email. I don’t think you can put enough emphasis on this part of the ‘event.’
I grant that my friend would probably do very well with no booth and simply "sponging" off the show.(I’m told this is called ‘suitcasing.’) However my recommendation is that he do both. The cost of the booth is minimal. He would be bringing the same number of people anyway. Why not have the booth and use it to funnel people to his "events." Many exhibitors do that to great benefit. Some have their booths set up so private meetings can be held and organizers are moving more and more toward arranging times for such gatherings.
But this all takes a lot of work prior to the show. Prospects must be contacted and meetings scheduled. The "suspects" must be culled prior to even arriving at the venue. Goals must be set and staff selected to provide the presentations necessary. You need to feel that if you do nothing more than that, you have been a success. Every person that comes into your booth that you don’t already know is gravy.
Of course most vendors don’t work that way. They arrive, put up their sign, pull out their newspaper, and wait for attendees to jam their booth and break their concentration on the sports pages. They then raise bloody hell because the attendance is so bad. Last year at PIE, I watched as 100 people walked past the front of a particular booth, and the fellow in it didn’t notice. He was intently working on his laptop. 20 minutes later he accosted me about the lack of traffic. What do I say to that?
My CEO friend believes strongly in individual discussions to "sell" his product. He is right. However the need for those discussion doesn’t abrogate the need for the "sizzle" of the exhibit hall floor.