As small business owners, we are often tantalized by the promise of the trade show. Our guest blogger Frank McCabe shares his thoughts on the effectiveness of trade shows.
Frank McCabe is Vice President of Marketing & Communications at The Beacon Group – a Massachusetts-based construction, logistics and facility services firm
Trade Shows – a long time sales and marketing tool used in every industry. If you have not had the (insert chuckle) pleasure of attending a trade show, allow me to relay the experience. Basically, industry professionals cluster into a crowded exhibit hall or conference center to display their products and services – typically occupying 10’ x 10’ spaces all in a row. Picture endless aisles of booths and banners filled with overzealous sales people just dying to spray their victims with verbal garbage about whatever it is they are selling.
Years ago, trade shows made a lot of sense for business development. These events provided a venue where buyers could seek out a variety of products and services in one spot versus hours of research and endless sales people at their doors. For sellers, trade shows provided an audience of buyers in one location and the opportunity for lead generation far exceeding any week (if not month) of sales calls. It made sense and has been a part of nearly all businesses for a very long time.
OK, here is the bad news, and a reality – trade shows are reaching extinction. Like dinosaurs and quality sitcoms – they are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Seinfeld before them, trade shows are swiftly vanishing from existence. Sure, trade shows still take place every day in every city in every industry…but I would argue they have become an unnecessary business tool.
In today’s world, why do we need to spend money and time to travel to some random city to find a product or service we are in need of? You have heard of Google, right? In less than 5 seconds I can find 700 places to purchase second hand lawn mower wheels…why in the world would I need to travel to East Bumbleberry, Kansas to attend the International Association of Pre-Owned Lawn Mower Parts Distributors (IAPOMPD for you acronym freaks!) Annual Conference?
B to B (‘Business to Business’) Magazine reports budgets for trade show exhibiting are expected to decline 17% this year, while the number of trade shows that exhibitors are planning to participate in should drop by about the same amount, according to the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA).
According to TSEA’s newly released “2009 Exhibit Marketing Survey,” budgets for exhibiting will decrease to an average of $381,000 per company this year, down from last year’s $459,100. In addition, the average number of trade shows that companies expect to exhibit at this year is 25, down from 30 last year.
Those facts aside, let me make a confession – I have exhibited at many trade shows. I have been that pathetic soul trying to get your attention. If you have not lived a day in the life of a trade show exhibitor, it’s easy to explain. It feels like the you are the third string trombone player in the high school band, its 2 weeks before prom and you don’t have a date yet – your prospects are VERY limited and you will solicit anyone who will listen to you…even if it means begging or bribery.
And that’s why trade shows are becoming a thing of the past – no one needs to be harassed to find something they need. Head for the internet instead of the airport.
Take the time to carefully review your annual marketing spend and determine if your usual trade show schedule really makes sense? Look at the return on investment from the past 3 years’ trade shows? How many leads converted to actual business?
Look into more current (and oftentimes less costly) lead generation techniques such as search engine optimization services, website traffic tracking, and webinars – it may be time to make a change?