Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

You spend three or four days at a trade show, complaining about light traffic, standing around with nothing to do, and having very few conversations that seem as though they might really go somewhere. You swear, and so does other key management, that you should really re-evaluate whether or not to attend next year. But six to eight months later you find yourself sending in a booth deposit, starting the same cycle all over again.


Why does this happen? Perhaps it is the universal fear of the unknown -- that even though the show wasn't all that great, maybe sales will get worse if you don't go. As Albert Einstein observed, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Here are the top reasons I've heard (and even used myself) for continuing to exhibit at trade shows we know in our gut are not delivering:

We will be conspicuous in our absence.
What will our customers and competitors say if we don't show up? Most likely they'll say nothing, or "Oh, you aren't going to the show this year?" Unless you really are close to going out of business, not attending a tradeshow won't cause your customer base to think you are. This is the typical keeping up with the Joneses mentality.



This show is small and the booth space doesn't cost much.
It's cheap - is that a reason to go? That same argument worked well for the Yugo, didn't it? Don't forget to add in your time - pre, during, and post show - the cost of taking sales people out of the field or office, and freight, hotels, food, and graphics. It is probably not as "cheap" as you think.

It will be different this year.
Will it? If the show is doing the same thing it always does (same place, same location, and same focus) and you plan on doing the same thing, then need I remind you of Einstein's insanity definition.

We go because it's really about meeting and greeting our current customers, not new business.
This can be a truly valid reason to attend a tradeshow. Just make sure that is really happening and you are using the event to its fullest to build relationships.

The head honcho really likes shows and nobody wants to be the one to suggest you don't go.
This could be a tough one. Don't just suggest, recommend a new course. Approach the situation with facts -- summarize the previous results, capture comments from sales and other key show attendees, and most of all, offer an alternative. All honchos love ROI -- so explain it in those terms.

Shows can make a lot of sense, and not all are created equal. Nor does every show perform the same for every exhibitor. So what shows should you attend? Ones that you've actually thought about and can see tangible results from; for example:

  • You've generated measurable revenue from contacts you've made at the show
  • Many of your customers attend the event and it's a great opportunity to wine and dine and get your executives in front of your existing customers
  • You're breaking into a new market and want to make a quick impression while scoping the competition

Shows are a part of business, but they don't have to be automatic decisions. When you find yourself about to sign up for a show you remember complaining about the last time you went, first think of Einstein, and then heed the words -- "Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right."

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