Today my landlord walked into my office and handed me a brochure and asked if I’d ever seen anything like this before? As I looked at the brochure which described a virtual trade show called Expo 3.0 “The Receivables Trade Show,” sponsored by InsideARM.com. I’d heard about virtual trade shows and the general concept, but have never been curious enough to really research it to see what the lure was for such an edgy concept.
After doing a quick Google search, I quickly learned that there were a few big players spending big bucks, such as Ziff Davis Enterprise, who I figured must know something that I didn’t or why would they be so involved. So I continued to search and contemplate what I was seeing.
With the domination of electronics at every level of our society, it comes as no surprise that somebody had to make the effort to see if virtual trade shows would work — at some level! But does it really stand a chance? Well, at least some of the evidence certainly suggests that it might, so consider this:
- As Show Managers are squeezing the exhibitors at one end and the unions are well positioned at the other end, could it be remotely possible that some exhibitors would acquiesce and go for this relatively low cost alternative — line, hook, and sinker?
- With the uncertainty in the economy and the promise of big tax increases looming on the horizon, companies are slashing travel budgets and discretionary spending in anticipation of those uncertain expenses just ahead. Might it just be time to try something new to see if any unexpected rewards might come from sticking your neck out a few feet and looking for potential suppliers online?
The virtual show brochure that my landlord gave me spoke about webinars being the ideal way to woo potential clients to your products and then explained how the interaction would work with the attendees and the exhibitors. They referred to communicating with exhibitors by sending emails and notes which is another way of saying “Chat.” That’s when the red flag went up the flag pole! CHAT? I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever chatted with a potential client online, that’s called taking 30 minutes to consummate 1 minute of conversation in one of the most painful exercises ever invented by man, and not very productive either. To a type A salesperson, it’s like talking in slow motion with all the visual and audio clues being left out. You never have the opportunity to know if there is something being left out of the conversation because the “chatter” can disconnect from the “chattee” anytime he or she wants to. But wait, there’s a bonus; the brochure suggested doing a group chat! That’s nothing but wasting your time and sales in multiples.
Now consider this. The trade show floor is a dynamic, vibrant, and ever changing series of events, products, and especially relationships. Quite often it’s not what you see that is affecting change or creating a future sale, but it’s the dynamics that you don’t see that’s making the biggest difference. Here are a few examples:
- Over a year ago I wrote a blog article about The Invisible Audience at a Trade Show. This was a first hand account of how other suppliers at trade shows, who service you and your direct competitors, are able to quietly and effectively over a period of time, drive great numbers of new customers to your door; and it doesn’t cost you a penny.
- Industries evolve and mature over time, and the same thing is true of exhibitors and relationships with customers. Sometimes it just takes time — pure and simple. My landlord told me about one of his companies that went to shows for 5-6 years before the big payday hit. It was a matter of creating relationships and trust which after a few years matured into good solid business relationships.
- If the main attraction for exhibitors to the virtual trade shows is being a speaker and getting potential sales by virtue of the seminars, I think there might be a problem. How many executives do you think could sit in their office and listen to a whole day worth of speakers without getting interrupted or distracted by something! My attention span would be broken by the first box of Krispy Kremes that came in my front door, and it may take me quite sometime to return to the office after a few unscheduled bathroom breaks.
I presently run two online web sites that sell trade show exhibits so I feel I have some experience in selling in this environment, never having had the luxury of meeting my clients face to face. Everything we communicate is by email and on the phone. When you’re competing against perhaps a half dozen other companies all selling the same thing, it becomes very difficult to differentiate yourself. For me, basic sales skills and product knowledge, and an enthusiasm for what I do has served me well. Selling face-to-face is light years easier in every respect, which is why I would say that with some products, perhaps a virtual trade show might be feasible, but for right now, I don’t think trade show marketing is going to be threatened anytime in the near future.