By:  Chris Chariton


Every year, the same story is repeated at many manufacturing and industrial companies. I’ve experienced it many times myself. You spend three or four days at a tradeshow, 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?

Change, especially dropping something you’ve always done, is difficult and uncomfortable for organizations. There is always the fear of the unknown — that even though the show wasn’t all that great, maybe sales will get worse if you don’t go. But as Albert Einstein observed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Here are the top excuses I’ve heard (and even used myself) for continuing to exhibit at shows we know in our gut aren’t delivering:

  1. 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, and is a symptom of a larger problem (read further). Following the crowd may lead to mediocre or disastrous results for all — just ask any lemming you find alive.
  2. This show is small and the booth space doesn’t cost much.
    So 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, and imagine what else you could be doing with all your money instead.
  3. 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 definition of insanity?
  4. 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.
  5. The head honcho really likes shows and nobody wants to be the one to suggest you don’t go.
    So, 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. After all, you aren’t advocating just saving the costs — what you want to do is reassign the show dollars to something else that can deliver better results.

It might sound like I’m against exhibiting at tradeshows but I’m not. I am against just doing it because it’s always been done — with no thought to the strategy. 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:

  1. You’ve generated measurable revenue from contacts you’ve made at the show
  2. 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
  3. 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. GlobalSpec’s 2007 survey of suppliers in the industrial sector showed that 68% included tradeshows in their marketing mix. Go and exhibit but evaluate your goals and return.

And 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 I always heard while growing up — “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”

By: Chris Chariton


  1. Trade shows used to be the showcase for new technologies and solutions, the focus of R&D output when folks would be finalizing prototypes burning the midnight oil right up to the night before the opening of the show. This was the reason folks went to the shows and what made the shows interesting. These days it feels like a booth is a temporary construction of a store and the internet provides a more convenient approach to gathering much the same information. Exhibitors should put the effort in and make trade shows the showcase of everything that is new and wonderful.

  2. I evaluate what tradeshows we go to on an annual basis and the responses/results we got, on a year over year, basis and have to admit that although it’s offset by some period of time, I think the year after the tradeshow we still see a measurable difference in new opportunities. Doesn’t mean they’ll be ones we can turn into revenue nor does it mean – the intangible benefit of a show.

    What I don’t see is the mention of branding – identifying what a company does and what kind of products they make. I think this is a variable in the results companies can get from attending shows. If a company is new in a competitive market, it makes sense for a company to participate. If the show is for a target audience, again, makes sense. If the company just wants to exhibit without any plan as to what returns are achievable from the show, they need to spend their marketing and advertising budget on meeting and greeting customers at their locations.

  3. Trade show traitor or trader?

    When it comes to trade shows, after all is said done, more is usually said than done.

    Narrow your focus for realistic returns.

    Use trade shows to let prospects scratch your company’s niche.

    Never over staff your booth. Idled staffers grow eager, frustrated and are ultimately bored. Identify and loose any excess booth personnel by operating in 1-2 hour shifts. This keeps both your people and message fresh.

  4. Plain common sense is the best approach. Choose a well run specialist show. See what your competitors say about the Show. An exhibition should be a grand auditorium where you have 3 or 4 days to put your pitch to a captive audience. Some will be buying, some will not be in the market for buying and some will be “may be” buyers. Your job is to make it interesting for all and put the focus on the benefits to the customer and not how great your company, product or you are. They really don’t care. They, the customer, want what is best for them either now or in the future. Get the focus right and use the grand auditorium wisely as you have the chance of seeing more customers in 3 or 4 days than you could fit in to visit all year. Always use positive thinking staff for any marketing or sales event.

  5. What I have found to work best for me is to attend the shows that my customers maybe at and still set up appointments to meet for breakfast, lunch or diner.

    Another approach is to attend trade shows that my competitors may not show up to and this gives me a step ahead of them and gets my name out

  6. Hello Chris: Good name, by the way (smile). Anyway… I am writing to express my disappointment at not being able to attend yesterday’s webinar. Resultant of inclement weather, I unexpectedly was forced to work from my personal homeoffice and of course all my registration info was in my Inbox here, at work. So….

    I visited the GlobalSpec site somewhat expecting to find some sort of general announcement about the webinar which might point me to logging in… but found nothing that seemed to help.

    So then I logged into my member account, hoping that perhaps my member page would display some sort of notice about me having signed-up for this webinar… but I struck out again.

    Thus I thought you might like to consider my circumstance in light of other/future attendees as I doubt that I am the only one to encounter such circumstances.

    Anyway, I most enjoy your topic-oriented newsletters. They are really great. Keep up the good work and I’ll look forward to the next webinar… Thanks! ~Christine

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