Let’s Talk About IT Trade Shows

Plan Ahead To Maximize Trade Show Value
Plan Ahead To Maximize Trade Show Value

I’m motivated to talk about trade shows this time around because I currently find myself out in Las Vegas attending the EMC World 2008 trade show. When it comes to IT trade shows, this is it — it’s by, about, and for IT professionals who live, eat, and breath storage for a living.

I’ve worked a countless number of trade shows during my career, and unfortunately I’d have to say that most of them were a waste of time (& money!). I first came to realize this when I was working for Siemens and in preparing for THE major industry trade show. During the planning for the show the CEO said it right out loud: “This is a waste of our time, I wish that we didn’t have to go. However, since we’ve gone once, we have to keep going or otherwise everyone will think that we’ve gone out of business.” Ouch! He was right — we went, we stood around and greeted folks as they walked by our booth for three days and then we went home and the world was not changed.

So if we can all agree that it’s easy to do a trade show incorrectly, then how should an IT trade show be handled? As always, these reasons seem to travel in groups of three and so here are my top three suggestions for how to get the most out of an IT trade show:

  1. Have a reason for going: going to just “show the flag” is never a good idea. Instead, make sure that you have something that you are excited about that you’d like to tell the world. This might take 6 months of pre-planning in order to have a product release cycle crank out a product just before a trade show. Make sure that this “big thing” is discussed in a press release, etc. Generate your own excitement!
  2. Schedule Customer Drop Bys: A trade show can provide a unique opportunity for your customers (or potential customers) to meet and talk with your IT product experts such as developers or product managers. This can be an invaluable opportunity to boost a customer’s sense of comfort in regards to your product. Just hoping that a potential customer will drop by your booth is a gamble that not even Las Vegas would take.
  3. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked for a company that collected customer info during the trade show and then ended up sitting on it for months after the show until it no longer had any real value. Collecting customer info these days is all done electronically and so there is no excuse for any delay in contacting the customer after the show. In fact you should plan on how you are going to contact them BEFORE you go to the show. This way you’ll just have to drop the names into your system and the follow up packages will be all ready to go after you get back home.

Even in the 21st Century, trade shows play an important role in connecting industry players, customers, and partners. Plus they always generate really good stories that start “… I was at this trade show once and…” IT products are often complicated and can be hard to show off at a trade show so following these three suggestions can help make your participation in the next trade show an activity that really does change the world.