Thursday, May 20, 2004

Tradeshows: Are They Worth It?

Question from David by email:
Do you have much experience with tradeshows and events? These events are about $5k each. What are your thoughts of sending a pre and post show mailer to the attendees for these events?

The mailings cost about $3. Would you recommend this for a startup?
My advice: do the tradeshow, skip the mailers.

First, the mailers: Unless your show is incredibly industry and participant specific, 95% of the mailers are going to reach people who aren't interested in your company or are the wrong people (i.e. your customer's director of sales). And the 5% who might be target customers and the right person within the company probably toss out the mailer along with all the other mailers they get before/after the trade show (I know, I have been on the receiving side of many of these).

Unless you are a consumer product company, you probably know who your potential customer base is, and it probably represents less than 100 companies. A more effective way to do mailers is to acquire a specific mailing list of these customers, keeping the number of mailers you send out and your costs to a minimum, instead of blanketing an entire trade-show list. However, my experience with non-consumer mailers is that the response/lead rate doesn't justify their expense.

On trade shows: in general, I find them very worth while, but how you do them depends on what your goals are and how the trade show is organized:

Market/Industry Data Mining - I find trade shows helpful for just seeing what is going on in an industry, so I always get a general pass and "walk the floor", look at demos, and get people in various companies to let me know what they are doing and planning. You'd be surprised on how many potential customers/partners you stumble into this way.

Booth - Getting a booth is sometimes worthwhile, IF you have something to demonstrate and if your target customers are walking the floor. If you don't have a demo, it really isn't worth it to send Biff and Bill to stand around in a booth and hand out brochures.

Private Booth/Hotel Suite - I personally like this approach IF you have a demonstration AND you know who your target customers are. In this case, telling your potential leads that you have a PRIVATE demo piques their curiosity and allows them to set a time, allowing your customer to manage his time at the show more effectively and allowing you to have the right people in the room (nothing is more frustrating than having a "whale" wander by your open booth and not having the right people there to glad hand him). It also keeps your competitor's prying eyes away from what you are doing.

I have seen companies do all three at the larger trade shows like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Comdex, but this obviously depends on what you have ready to show and your budget.

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