For software companies like ours, trades shows are a fact of life. Some are better than others, but its clear that some attendees just aren’t sure how to extract value from the gathering of an industry’s vendors in one room. I just got back from MSP World/IT Expo this week and realized that there are many people out there who just wander around a expo floor looking for free stuff and will probably walk away saying, “That show wasn’t worth it.”
While I don’t claim to have anything close to the record for most trade shows attended, I can say that a little planning goes a long way in terms of making a trip to a trade show valuable.
First, take some time to get to know the vendors that are going to be there. Mark the ones that you need to learn more about, and then mark the ones that you already use in your business. This should become your attack plan and is especially important if you are going to a large show with many vendors.
With your hit list, head out to the first group; vendors you need to learn more about. Go prepared to learn. Don’t get distracted by all the free stuff everyone is giving away. If you’re just there for the giveaways, you can stop reading now. If you want to learn be prepared to talk the folks in the booth. Ask questions about their product. Focus on learning what THEY do. Understand their value proposition. Take notes, or literature, or whatever will help you to digest the information later. You can’t make a good business decision based entirely on your booth conversation with a brand new vendor. However, you can get really close, but you shouldn’t decide without soaking in the details. Keep in mind that most of the time you will be talking to a sales and/or marketing person in the booth. They may not be technical enough to answer all your questions, but get as many answers as you can. If some questions are left open, ask them for a contact who can answer those tough tech questions.
So now that you’ve learned about the new companies, head over to the vendors you already use. This is your time to touch base with your trusted partners. Ask about product updates, new features/modules/upgrades/upcoming releases. The people in the booth aren’t the support department typically, so don’t expect them to solve a problem right then and there, especially if the booth is busy. You can expect them to follow up on an open support issue after the show, if you feel the need to mention it to them. You can also use this time to compare what you learned from the first group of vendors to ensure that you are still engaged with a partner who is competitive and meeting your business needs.
Do you have any tips or tricks to making trade shows worthwhile?