Trade shows are a wickedly expensive way to reach a new market

Spending the day at Salesforce World Tour in Melbourne provided ample evidence that events work wonderfully well for the organisers and often poorly for those who sponsor or take booths. For context, this event is largely pitched at existing users, not prospects, so it’s preaching to the choir somewhat.

Let’s start with what was amazing at this event: mostly everything Salesforce did, but scale particularly. In the keynote theatre the speakers were not on stage but wandered through the large crowd set out ‘in the round’ with a couple of static camera guys and a mobile camera man (dressed in the event uniform of black on black), a gazillion AV techs and large screens in every corner. The speakers were pumped up and conversational, and blissfully brief. Opening sessions were structured as door stop interviews with the later speakers, and all keynotes were tied together beautifully and well-rehearsed.

The breakouts were set around the outside of the village green, which in turn was surrounded by the exhibitors. So you had no choice but to notice the exhibits.

All good so far, if a little breathless.

I spent much of my time in presentations, and the balance speaking with exhibitors, not so much about their wares but their stand strategy for the day.

For companies who market only to Salesforce customers, attendance has some obvious appeal. But if I was working with a pre-purchase offering like integration, I’m not sure I’d want to be here. All non-Salesforce.com stand staff I spoke to said they relied on foot traffic, not pre-marketing to get conversations going. In other words, the payoff was the chance to chat for 5-10 minutes with Salesforce customers – some as qualified buyers and many not.

And for this privelege, they get to pay large sums to Salesforce.com, large sums to the event logistics companies, and large sunk costs for staff.

Few of the stand builders offered clear signage to explain what the walkup visitor would get out of subjecting themselves to the sales person conversation, relying on brand (Accenture, Deloitte), geeky cool (Evernote), pretty faces (half the stands) or good luck to create the appetite to talk.

Mostly, this is lazy marketing. Getting a list of Salesforce users is not hard. Finding the names of the person who holds the right role in those companies isn’t either (and they probably were not at this show). Earning the right to a conversation with those people is harder, and requires the sales organisation to stop thinking about why they want the meeting and work out why the prospect should want the meeting. I’ve blogged on this before:

Yulia Edirisinghe from our Melbourne team has shown how to make your event invitations explain the valid business reason for meeting, and Brett Bonser (fellow Director) has blogged on this too with an email example.

So, it’s harder to be smart, targeted, personalised, relevant, but that’s no excuse for us to default to lazy marketing at great expense. That’s my gripe, but what do you think?

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