At least they can be!
The trick is to find the right ones and learn how to attend – it’s not just renting an 8×10 foot booth in the exhibit hall!
Great B2B Trade Show/Conference Example
A great example of what I’m talking about in the B2B world is Pittcon, an annual trade show/conference that bills itself as follows:
“This dynamic global expo offers a unique opportunity to get a hands-on look at the latest innovations and to find solutions to all your laboratory challenges. The robust technical program offers the latest research in more than 2,000 technical presentations covering a diverse selection of methodologies and applications. Pittcon also offers more than 80 skill-building short courses in a wide range of topics. Pittcon helps you connect with colleagues to establish new relationships and expand your network of scientific resources.”
And here’s who Pittcon says should attend Pittcon:
“Anyone who develops, buys, or sells laboratory equipment, performs physical or chemical analyses, develops analysis methods, or manages scientists.”
The WRONG Way to Attend
The absolute wrong way to attend was mentioned at the beginning of this post – rent an 8×10 foot booth in the exhibit hall and show up the day before trade show opens!
If that’s all you’ve got, don’t bother renting that 8×10 booth and incurring all of the other expenses that go with attending Pittcon (booth graphics, flights, hotel rooms, meals out, etc.).
The RIGHT (“Inbound”) Way to Attend
So what’s the RIGHT way to attend trade show/conference like Pittcon? Participate, don’t just attend!
The FIRST year your company plans to exhibit/attend a trade show/conference event like Pittcon, don’t!
That first year, you (the Marketing “guy”) and your inhouse technical expert (you better have one!) sign-up as full conference attendees, go to ALL of the relevant technical sessions and short courses, and visit all of your competitors’ exhibits. This will not be cheap, but it will be a lot less expensive than attending the “wrong way” described above!
After the event, go thru a thorough debriefing on what you both saw, who you spoke to and discuss your findings with upper management. If you can not figure out how to do more than exhibit in the trade show portion, don’t attend!
The “secret sauce” at a trade show/conference, (what can make it an “inbound” event) is the conference portion. If you don’t have something new or interesting to say about a new or existing product that warrants inclusion in one of the Technical Sessions the next year, you do not have an inbound marketing opportunity.
Why is participating in the “technical” portion of a trade show/conference so important? Because, the case of Pittcon, your “real” prospects will be attending the technical sessions most relevant to their research and/or development projects. And they are the ones most likely to show up at your 8×10 booth after your technical session with purchasing your product on their minds and money in their pockets.
Much more valuable marketing can come out of this type of trade show/conference attendance, but the KEY decision you and your company will need make about attending or not will be your ability to meaningfully participate in the “technical” conference portion.