Are Trade Shows A Waste Of Time For Sales People?

With ASIS around the corner, I thought this would be a timely topic.

The arguments for and against are obvious: Exhibit floor space is expensive, we have to be there or our customers will think we're out of business, the internet offers everything a trade show can offer.

My opinion: For a sales professional, a trade show offers a venue that brings most of your prospects and clients to a common location. If you take advantage of conducting as many productive personal meetings as possible, then it doesn't waste your time. Unfortunately, many sales people are forced to stand in their booth all day and then go out with their co-workers at night.

What is your opinion? If a sales person, are you tired of being required to attend these shows? FOr end-users and integrators, what do you gain from having a sales person at a show?


Good questions, I've heard both sides of this, and it's a commonly debated point.

Btw, as for the cost of trade shows, as a sales person this shouldn't be a factor. Sales people don't pay for shows. It doesn't come out of their compensation, etc.

For a sales person, trade shows should be a gift. It's the manufacturer, who eats it. Our estimate is that it costs $50 to $100 per person who visits your ASIS / ISC West booth. Maybe keeping that in mind will motivate sales people to how valuable / costly such visits are :)

John, to your point I was in shock when I worked for a major manufacturer who paid for the booth staff, all sales people, to attend a seminar on how to properly escort out (push) visitors who are taking too much of your time so you can see someone else.

In all fairness it was uniformly dismissed by the sales team as rediculous and a waste of time. It makes you wonder how the actual management viewed the attendees though. Lots of money was spent for this though.

On the positive side I would suggest when you see me in the booth talking to someone don't be so polite as to walk by and wave. I might be at the show with something just for you. It kills me when customers tell me "I saw you busy so I figured I would come back".

You don't see the value in separating the serious prospects from the lookie-loos?

Ari,

Most guys can figure this out for themselves. They spent over $10,000 for a program to monitor the success of removing lookie-loo's.

Greg

I'm starting a campaign to update the industry term for humans masquerading as potential buyers of products.

Lookie-Loo (whether hyphenated or not) needs to go. I have refused to use the term for years now, and I would ask anyone reading my words to join me in coming up with a less-silly identifier.

Thank you.

Also, don't get me started on the 3.5 inch floppy disc icon Microsoft still uses for 'Save'.

I ran across the term "persistant shopper" Maybe?

Nice Greg! That is easily within the acceptable range on the Silly Sounding Scale... :)

Here you go Marty

Save Icon

Depends on the style of the Sales person. Working the booth is not that fun if you're a territory sales guy. However, the show as a whole (Tradeshow and extracurricular) is well worth it for a few reasons (Former Manufacturer Reps View).

  • Networking
    • Unplanned prospects from territory
    • Planned customers/prospects from territory
    • Integrators from territory
    • Industry People
  • Viewing & Learning about Competition
  • Person/Brand Recognition
    • People (Companies, Distribution, Manufacturers, Integrators, End Users, and etc.) see you and associate you with being on top of the game/learning/and etc.
  • Reinvigoration
    • Seeing the attendee's enthusiasm for the product can pump-you-up better than Hans and Franz can.
    • If the Manufacturer prepares a well thought out sales meeting, during this time, then it can also reinvigorate you. Like a great coach can do for its players with a pregame speech.

Jeremiah,

Good points.

I hear the territory issue often. If you are the NE rep spending 20 minutes with a big California end user, that might be great for your company but fairly useless for you personally.

On the other hand, manufacturers wants their top people skills employees out there, and that usually means sales people working the booth.

Costing $50 to $100 per person who visits your booth (provided you bring in enough lookie-loos to get it down to that cost ratio), you could look at it as costing almost that for driving to a client's place, with the time you spend on the road driving, cost of gas, maybe cost of rental car, maybe buying them lunch (<- hint hint). But instead you’re at a booth with nice hardware displays that you didn't have to haul around for the looky feely lot (most of us), and you usually have other people like sales engineers or maybe more experienced colleagues helping you out.

The obvious drawback being is your competition is also in the next aisle over.

Luis, regarding the cost vs value of booth visits, a key element is qualification, which gets back to Chris' original question.

$100 for someone who is well qualified is worth it for most manufacturers but what portion of those visits are well qualified?

Some top sales guys take the approach of setting up a dozen meetings beforehand and never even touch the show floor because they want high quality, high probability to close meetings.

At the booth, it is a different story.

From an ROI perspective, a tradeshow is well worth the expense, for both the exhibitor and the attendee. Let’s be conservative and say you see 40 quality leads at the show. What would it cost you to visit those folks? Even if you were very efficient and saw 4 during each trip and each trip only cost $2000, you are looking at a price tag of 10 trips x $2000 = $20,000. Now start multiplying that by the number of sales people attending and the number of leads you might meet and you can see how the ROI starts to make sense very quickly.

The trade show is also a neutral ground. A potential customer may be much more willing to speak with you at a trade show, versus having you show up at his office and kill an hour. So many of those leads you get at a show, may be folks that would never have met with you otherwise.

That’s just a few insights, if done executed correctly, both as an exhibitor or as an attendee, it’s hard to argue with the ROI. That being said, I suspect 80% of folks who attend tradeshows leave a much of the value on the table. It’s the classic…“people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Tradeshows, done right, are hard work, but return great rewards.

Eric,

When you say 40 quality leads, do you mean people who stumble into your booth or meetings you sent up ahead of time with people for the show?

Doesn't matter how they get there if they stumble in or are part of a scheduling process (I highly recommend the later!), part of the trade show process is separating the wheat from the chaff. That is a process that needs to happen before, during and after the show. The result is what I call "quality leads." They can be new opportunties, current pursuits, valued partners or existing customers. In all cases, they add to the overall show ROI.

There's value in both but certainly there's more value coming from the show if you are getting hot leads who just stumble into one's booth.

Honestly it depends on your product. If you sell a product that has more of a transactional type sales process, then a stumbling hot lead is a good thing. If you have a product that involves a more consultative sell, then a hot lead is really early in the pipe line and has a lot of uncertainty in the ROI. However, having a person stop by that I've met with over the phone several times is much more valuable. He's farther down the sales funnel and has now provided me an opportunity to take another step. Whether that's answer some questions, buying him a drink or just shaking his hand.

As a consultant, I attend these shows (believe it or not) to learn. Although I do learn some new things from presentations, I learn much from the exhibitors as well-- not so much about their new widgets--but of their experiences and projects and issues that they are/have been involved with. I have been attending the ASIS show for over 30 years now and always learn something new. If you are not learning something that would help you do what you do, then probably, shows are not the best thing for you.

I have heard the naysayers and the Luddites say that ASIS has the same old stuff every year. Those folks are just not looking. I am not one to go out on the town because i am usually dead tired after a day of walking the exhibit floor and listening to the presenters. I have a pretty detailed regimen of things to do, people to see and I note new products during the year so little time is wasted. I use the show apps to help me organize and find things and plan in advance of my trip.

Point is, you get out of it what you put into it. By the time I figure lost billable hours, show costs, hotel etc, any show costs me $$$. Because it costs me so much PERSONALLY, I spend my time learning… not partying.

Did I mention you don’t want to miss the ASIS President's Reception (great food) ?

If you think about it the trade shows are just as much for rep meetings. Where else can every company guarantee having its whole salesforce in the same place at the same time? I think its just as much a time for strategy and company updates as it is for new product releases and meeting up with customers.

Michael, I agree about the value of a centralized periodic meeting place.

The question that it still leaves is the value of getting a booth vs a meeting room or suite. Show floor real estate, per foot, is ~5x the cost of meeting rooms or suites so if you are focused on just meeting people you already know, then the value of the booth is more questionable.

For a sales person, I think setting one's own meetings beforehand is more valuable than standing around the booth hoping for whales to walk in from your territory.

On the flip side, as a sales engineer for a national integrator, I am getting inundated with unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails this week to set up appointments at the show, many times for products and services we do not sell or have interest in selling. While I applaud the persistence, I generally like to roam the show floor to search out new and interesting products on my own.

Show sales guys, please don't treat me like a "lookie-loo" when I walk in your booth and ask a few technical questions about a specific product or want to see a product demo. If you're not a tech person or really busy, introduce me to your sales engineer. If you didn't bring an engineer with you to speak "Geekish" then shame on you.

An even bigger sin is look at my name badge and notice that I am not in your geographic territory or a national account and ignore me or give me the bum's rush. It's rude. I know you sales guys have numbers to hit (the ones I work for do too) and you are looking for those one or two big sales or 10-20 qualified leads from the show. While I may not have an immediate need or a whale who wants to buy 10,000 units this week, I'm the guy who finds the applications for your product and wants to know tech details so I can add your product to my bag of tricks for future projects. I get the calls from my sales team routinely when a customer has an unusual request or application and can be your product evangelist if I know about and understand the applications and tech specs of your products.

FWIW, I like to spend more time off the main aisles at the smaller booths, looking for developing technology or newer startups (although there haven't been many the past few years) and off-beat products. Yes, I'll stop in the big manufacturer's booths just to see what's up. But if I'm already not familiar with their latest products, either I and/or IPVM haven't been doing their job very well.

Final note, I run like hell from any booth that has goofy themes, booth babes, B-List celebs like the cake boss, magicians, a singing Elvis impersonator, or other such buffoonery. Your marketing folks might think it's a cute idea, but it's cheesy. Wow me with your product, don't schmooze me with gimmicks.

Agreed. Every booth should have at least a 3:1 ratio of salespeople to shake hands and close deals and engineers to talk nerd. I've worked booths in both roles, and I firmly believe both roles are important. If you don't have people who know how to schmooze, decision makers are going to avoid your booth, and probably your brand if it's a smaller and lesser known outfit. And if you don't have people who can talk in hard numbers and answer tricky questions, decision influencers are probably going to avoid your brand, and avoid your booth as well unless you have cool swag.

If you have no nerds available, don't get a booth at all, just rent a suite.

Big round of applause!

Great post Chris. You've touched on several interesting topics. One that I also have an opinion on is the idea of "sales people standing in the booth."

In my mind, the sales people have the personnal relationship with the end customer. Their job is to get that customer what they need. It could be one of many products in the booth. The sales person should know the specific customer, have (or build) a relationship and try to fullfil their needs.

The product marketing person is the product expert. They know what the product does in detail, what it will do in the future and how its been used to meet a variety of customer needs. He has a relationship with the product and the general market, but he doesn't have the one-to-one customer relationship.

So what does this mean in terms of trade shows? I feel its the product marketing person's job to man the station and pitch the product. He or she is the product expert. The sales person's job is to bring the customer to the product and act as a lens to make sure what the marketing person is saying stays aligned with the customer's needs. He is also the guy that has to pick the customer's path through the booth. I cringe every time someone gets "handed" off in a booth. Someone should own that customer's experience the entire time they are in the booth.

So in simple terms, the product marketing folks man the displays and the sales folks are the escorts that walk the customers through the solutions that might meet their needs.

In saying this, I am not implying that sales people can't man the product displays, they are most certainly qualified. There are also some products and solutions that don't lend themselves to this approach, but generally its my opnion that its more efficient for product marketing to own the tasks around the product and allow the sales team to be in charge of the customer relationship.

I am a territory salesperson, however I work for a company that sells a Virtual Guard service. We don't sell specific cameras or even get into the parts and pieces with our end users all that much. We attend many trade shows, although ours are more industry specific and focused on our end users industry more than the "Security" industry itself.

None the less, I tend to be the Salesperson that roams the aisles looking for new relationships and interesting network partnerships. Expanding your knowledge of supporting products and services can serve you well when a project will involve multiple disciplines. Being able to give quality referrals for other parts of the project positions you as an expert and a resource. It also positions you to have those supporting companies think of you on the next project that needs your specific expertise. You also get to say hello to people who may never end up passing your booth. People from other booths also get to see you and recognize that you are someone who is active in that industry or vertical.

I appreciate many of the insights gathered from these comments. I find it interesting to know that one of the comments called out marketing departments who hire "entertainment" at a show that should be showcasing your products and services rather than a clown or bikini clad model.

I like the comment that suggested to have at least one technical guy that could go into more detail when necessary.

I like the idea of setting up demonstration models that showcase your products and services and I like the idea of calling up prospects to come to see you at the booth. All good stuff. Personally I agree that having a great ROI from your trade show takes planning and execution.

Get rid of the silly gimmicks and sell value, just like you would at any other Sales Presentation. You want the attention to be on your product or service, not on the guy juggling Bowling Pins!

I think the trade show team needs to be there. I think the biz dev team ("biz dev" is a corporate function, not a different label for "field sales") needs to be there. I think the engineers should be forced to attend to see how non-different their late90's janky Windows PACS is (ooh did I say that out loud?)

I think the sales droids in the region the show is held in should be conscripted into booth duty. But send the Alaska sales rep to the conference at Disneyworld in Florida? Nah.

This is a great discussion!

I view the ROI in terms of the top, middle, and bottom marketing funnel. The top requires that people who came to the show are the people I want to see, whether it is potential customers or competitors.

The middle funnel is the number of valid leads. This objective is typically measured by previous history in that show. Is 200 a good number for valid leads depends on how big is the booth and the number of salespeople.

The bottom part is these leads that turned to sales. Here there are other factors come to play. The question is not only where the introduction started in the show, but could you have reached that sale without being in the show.

I always do this analysis and always end up in the same shows, and I always focus on learning...