Trade Shows, Part 1: Show me the Value


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published April 17, 2002

Trade Shows, Booth Duty, Event Calendar. Why do we do this? Where is the bang for the buck?

If we are to conduct business seriously, we have to have reasons associated with our actions. We can’t waste our time and money on activities that don’t improve revenues or decrease costs. Yet, we attend trade shows and often walk away feeling that we got little out of them. Well, what did we expect?

Clearly, we don’t go to trade shows just to get out of the office, play golf, or put back a few drinks with our buddies. Neither do we attend trade shows just so our sales force can develop their next job prospect. Both of these activities are pleasurable for the people we send, but neither is related to the direct business function of Trade Shows.

I have heard people describing the purpose of trade shows as a “Show of Force.” Usually, the term “Show of Force” is associated with beautiful booths and a major firm putting 30 people on a rotating booth duty schedule. Most of the time, 75% of them are doing nothing. To an outsider, it must look like a show of force because there is little other explanation for the action. Yet, is a “Show of Force” a valuable business function?

Selling software and IT services requires faith on behalf of the purchaser. At least once in every customer’s life, they have purchased a service or product to only see the firm that sold them the product in bankruptcy. When a firm selling a service or product leaves the industry, its customers are left holding a good that is difficult to service. In IT, this can force the customer to completely abandon the product or the results of a service and invest in the expensive activity of searching and installing a replacement system. Customers would clearly prefer to transact business and develop relationships with firms that have the financial and personnel strength to enable it to compete for business in the future. Perhaps this is a value of a “Show of Force.” It supports a brand image of a successful company.

Branding, however, is an activity that occurs through every interaction between the company and its customers. Whether it is through direct product trial and use, marketing communication, or technical implementation, every interaction between the firm and its customers creates an image within the customers mind of what that company is all about. While a “Show of Force” may support a good brand image, there is a plethora of other means to accomplish this goal. A “Show of Force” alone won’t justify the cost of attending trade shows where basic booth space and exhibitor passes can easily exceed $3000, and then there are indirect costs of travel, lodging, food and pulling the sales force out of the field.

But what will justify the cost of trade shows? In our second article on trade shows, we will explore a model to quantify the value.

The May Report, TECH BUSINESS BRIEFS, April 17, 2002

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About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.