I was at a Trade Show yesterday, and it was exactly like the roughly 200 other ones I’ve been at during my lifetime. Sure, there was a lot of stuff being shown, but there was very little trade going on. Here’s what Messrs. Merriam and Webster have to say about the practice:
Main Entry: trade showFunction: nounDate: 1895
: a large exposition to promote awareness and sales of especially new products within an industry <a computer trade show>
Note that they’ve seen fit to include “sales” in the definition. In my experience, very little sales or sales-related activities actually happen at trade shows. The reasons for this are manifold, and one of the main ones is, on the surface, nonsensical: the people usually sent to man the booths at trades shows are salespeople.
Salespeople tend to be hunters, while marketers should be gatherers (or even better, nurturers/farmers). So a sales person would rather track a mammoth 10 km over the tundra for the 5% chance that s/he might stick a spear in some lethal manner into the beast. Marketers should prefer to stay at home and sow the field, pick the fruit, milk the goats, set the snares, collect the eggs, etc. Both are viable survival strategies: if the marketer gathers enough protein every day to feed the family, or the salesperson kills a mammoth that feeds the family for 20 days, it’s a wash.
But what if you’re at a trade show, and there’s a HERD of mammoths walking straight up the valley? In my experience, the salespeople are either, a) not “there” because they’re chasing some mammoth 10 km away (whether on their cell phone, or in some out-of-the-way place like the back of the booth), or b) not engaging the herd because their skills are focused on killing single mammoths; not confining, evaluating, flagging, or tracking entire herds of them. Marketers (at least good ones) see the herd and think, “How can I pick the best ones to send my hunters after?”
The techniques that can be used to overcome these innate behavioural patterns, and actually make going to a trade show WORTH IT, are discussed in the following recorded seminar.
If you would like to hear me talk for 17 minutes about Effective Trade Show Attendance along with some pretty useless PowerPoint slides (hey – I was working for IBM – they DEMAND useless PowerPoint slides), you can watch this presentation. You’ll have to enter your name and email, but it loads pretty quickly.