On Trade Show Exhibit Justification

How do you justify exhibiting at a trade show? I suspect this is a thorny issue for a lot of companies. It’s a large expense, it’s not usually measured very well by the exhibitor, and the show company can’t measure the benefit to the exhibitor directly. With no one measuring, it can be hard to justify trade shows in the marketing mix.

People think that trade shows are about getting new leads. This is a little like saying going to the mall is about increasing your self-esteem and life outlook. Yes, the trip may result in that, but what you do at the mall is shop and buy stuff. What you do at a show is meet with people and communicate with them. They may become leads, but really you’ve made a connection that can’t easily be made any other way.

So rather than calculating what a lead is worth, or wether or not a sale would have been made but for the show, let’s consider this on a much more basic level. It’s about visiting with people.

Let’s start with a basic assumption: On average, your company meets with one person per hour per employee while at the show. I’m not considering just planned customer visits, but all the contacts that happen. Industry colleagues you chat with, but otherwise wouldn’t. New people. Competitors. Suppliers. Press. Your network, old and new.

Sure, there are empty hours, but there’s also the 3-hour dinners with customers and others as well. I think one visit per employee hour is probably quite conservative, the real answer is probably closer to 2-3 per hour.

So let’s say you have a small booth at a major show. You’re going to take 5 employees, and the show is 4 days long. That’s about 200 visits that will be made at the show. What would it cost to make those visits? Would you even bother, with most of them? Now many of these visits wouldn’t merit a trip on their own, because it would be far too expensive. But that’s where the value of a show really comes in – bulk buying of visit hours, with very low marginal cost per visit. It’s a unique situation in business, except for similar events like conferences.

Going back to our example, you have 5 employees going to a show, travel’s probably $7000, booth is $3000, another 5k in other stuff. Let’s round it up to $20k and you have $100 per visit. that’s pretty cheap.

But STEVE, c’mon, what about shipping equipment and samples and what not to the booth? What about the booth itself! Do you know what these things cost?!?

Yep, they’re expensive, but they’re not really part of the visit, are they? Companies do these things for branding and image related reasons, not because they couldn’t meet with customers without them. I’m not advocating they just put up card tables and leave all the product at home, I’m simple stating that costs need to be allocated where they belong.

Even so – let’s add them in. Wow, that per visit cost went up, didn’t it. BUT you have to remember that now we’re talking about a visit where your employee toted along some rather expensive equipment just for that visit, including a custom-built meeting room. That doesn’t happen very often, does it?

Now let’s consider another aspect of this: Scheduling.

In our example, there were 200 visits. Do you think you could schedule those 200 visits in four days without the trade show? Do you think you could get them all in even in a year? Probably not – many of those visits were ‘dry holes’ – people you thought could help but couldn’t. Or thought would be interested in having help but weren’t. Or whatever. 1 in 10 perhaps turns out to be valuable, but that one probably wouldn’t have taken your call without the show. Think about it – many of the people your company met with aren’t friends or acquaintances, they’re people who don’t really know you. Are they going to jump at having you come visit them in their office – let alone fly to see you? What would you have to offer (i.e. dinner, lunch, whatever) to help persuade them to give you some time?

Consider the opportunity cost of this.

When I was a product manager in the printing equipment business, I remember one show where a customer had come to talk about a rather involved, space-age kind of project. Very cutting edge, and there were a number of technical issues. Because I was at DRUPA (the largest printing equipment show on the world), in one day I could meet up with the relevant people to determine the feasibility of the project. Outside of that show it would have taken months. The point here is not that new projects are likely to crop up, but that you have access to a huge array of people in a very convenient way.

One last thing

Do you have employee meetings? They’re expensive, right? How about team building sessions, or other events designed to get people out of the office together for a little bonding? Travel to trade show, along with the time spent a trade show provides some of the same benefits.

Curbing competitive intelligence dissapointment

If you see two competitive intelligence folks talking to each other, you can guess the conversation. One is telling the other about how the Big Boss has just paid them a visit. The BB had heard some very juicy, surprising, and disturbing news. The BB had come down to inquire how they’d happened to miss the briefing on this item. The CI guy had to explain he’d heard nothing about it. The BB replied with the obvious: Why do we have you here if you’re not going to find this stuff out for us?

I suspect everyone who’s ever done competitive intelligence work has had this moment, probably many times. CI is often sold as an asset that will prevent surprises, and when surprises still happen it’s no wonder those in charge ask why.

The problem isn’t that CI is ineffective, it’s that it’s not implemented properly.

I think the problem is that while CI can help with surprises, the mechanism is different than people often expect. First, let’s look at the method that doesn’t work. The one that grew out of traditional military thinking.why the traditional thinking doesn’t work so well for business.

CI grew out of military intelligence, and much of traditional CI doctrine comes from that history. After all, business is war, right? Well, not really.

In the military intelligence is gathered at the bottom. The folks in the field, the people observing the enemy, people sifting through data gathered from everywhere. It has to be this way, because the leadership of opposing sides either isn’t talking to each other, or isn’t saying much if they are. After all, if they got along they probably wouldn’t need to spy on each other quite so much, right?

So intelligence is gathered at the bottom, analyzed in the middle, and presented to the top. Obama isn’t on the ground in Afghanistan, so he’s got to rely on the people who are.

Business has a better mechanism.

Opposing leaders not only chat with each other on a regular basis – through trade associations, trade shows, charity work, and other occasions, they probably have a rapport with each other. They probably have much in common. Business is not war – the leader we vanquish tomorrow could show up as the CEO of our best customer tomorrow – and everyone knows this. This is the reason that the traditional bottom-up CI mentality is probably going to fail in being the source of all new juicy stuff. It’s not that it is inherently flawed, it’s that there is a more effective mechanism at work int he business world.

Who has a better chance of hearing of a possible new direction or intention? The guy who’s got a rapport with the target CEO and is having dinner with him tonight, or or someone a few layers down who might hear the same news as a rumor filtered downward through the target chain of command, and back upward through their own COC?

That’s why the BB is hearing about it first. That’s not a bad thing, and once it’s understood a CI effort can be rearranged to provide much better value.

In business CI is better seen as a tool for understanding and validating what is learned, not as the source of learning.

Traditional or not, CI folk do have good means to sift through data, consider many facts from disparate sources and validate what is coming in.

Upon hearing something new, the BB shouldn’t be concerned that she heard it first. Instead she should be happy she’s got a CI team who has the time to investigate it, validate it, and tell her what it really means. Was this real? Was it a trial balloon? Or was it just a little polk to get a rise out us?

Leaders need to realize they not just consumers of intelligence, they’re sources of it.

Until they realize this, and leverage it, they will be disappointed.

Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

Your email address is your identity

It seems like I’ve had the same conversation several times lately. Someone asks me for help with Linkedin, or blogging, or some other aspect of social media. They’ve signed up somewhere and let an account go dormant, and now they’re finally motivated to get it going again. This is pretty common, especially with Linkedin.

Anyway, as they try to get the old account going they realize it’s connected to the email at their last job. After all, Linkedin is a work thing, right? Why not have it connected to work email?

But they’ve forgotten the password, and while Linkedin is happy to send it to them, it’s going to go to an email address that is now dead. They didn’t realize that on the internet, their email address is their identity.

Your email address is your identity

I also come across people who are interested in an opening where I work, or what me to pass something on for them. They forward a resume, or pass on their contact info. And then I notice their email address – bigv8speedr@hotmail.com, or it’s the spouse’s email address, or worse yet it’s the spouse’s work email address. These folks also don’t realize that their email address is not just their identity, but their brand.

Many sites, like Linkedin, use email addresses to identify users – really as the unique identifier. On Twitter you can login using your email address or your screen name, and that’s quite common. The wonderful thing about email addresses is that they are unique, so it’s nice when I go to a site and they’ll take my email address as the username. I know I won’t end up being swduncan51 or some other oddball thing.

So, if your email address is both your identity, and the most basic brand that you will have, shouldn’t people take it more seriously? They should. The problem is that people still think of the Internet and their online presence as new, fangled, and therefore not really permanent. But it is and if you don’t think so now, you will the next time you have to change email addresses because you changed jobs or internet service providers.

Control your identity

Get yourself a permanent email address that has a decent, neutral brand. You won’t have to change it, ever. It will project a simple but clear brand: I am who I am, and I can communicate reliably. It will cost you as little as $10 a year, and you can get it done inside of an hour without hiring anyone. That hour includes the time necessary to find, and read more detailed instructions on exactly how to do it. Here’s the high-level:

  1. Go to a domain registrar, like godaddy.com, and buy a domain. A domain is the part of an email address after the @, and the part of a website address after the www. Your first name followed by your last name is a great choice, but not always available. I use swduncan.com because it was available and short, but .net, .org, .us, .cc, .biz and all the others work perfectly well. You can also use something nonsensical or a unique word – I used to use lornitropia.net – but keep it short and easy to spell phonetically. A domain costs about $10 per year, if you go year to year. Not bad for your own, never-changing identity.
  2. Either use the registrar’s email service, which might cost $5 a year, or go to a more serious provider like Google (free), Yahoo, Fastmail.fm, or one of the many others out there. This could be free, or cost as much as $100 per year. The advantage is that you will get good email support, lots of storage, and great uptime. Note that you are NOT stuck with whatever provider you choose. You can start with the registrar’s email, switch to Google, and maybe switch again later. Your email address will be the same.
  3. You will have to ‘point’ your new domain to your email provider. This is done by editing the DNS settings at the registrar’s site, specifically adding MX records. The details of doing this are fairly easy to find via google, and it’s really just filling out a form. Your email provider (that would be google, fastmail, etc) will tell you the names of servers to enter in MX records. Sounds hard, but you just enter in 3 to 6 server names and you’re done.

That’s it. At this point you have a functioning email address. It’s yours, and you can repoint the DNS records to point to whatever email provider you want just by re-editing the MX records. It takes a while for DNS servers to talk to each other and these settings to get all over the globe, but within 24-48 hours it’s a done deal.

Now the trick is to transition all those people who send you email to the new address.

  • Send an email to your friends with the new email.
  • Forward ALL of your non-work addresses to this new address, and change to your new address on the various sites that need to send you email. Make sure you change to it everywhere. A nice tip is to set your new email reader to show emails that have been forwarded from your old address in bold or a special color so you remember to notify that sender.
  • If you’re provider has the feature, use an auto-responder on messages that arrive using an old address. Sometimes the ‘on vacation’ feature will do this. This will help with those folks who need a lot of reminding.
  • After 6 months or so, and you are getting few if any messages coming to old addresses, you can let them drop.
  • Relax, knowing that you now have your own identity and brand, and that you won’t have to change it ever again.

Here’s a special Linkedin tip – always, always add whatever functional emails you get to Linkedin, including your work address. Linkedin uses those addresses to identify you when someone invites you to connect, and having these addresses in there prevents a new account from being created when someone invites you. However, make sure the primary email address in Linkedin is your new personal address. You want to do this so that if you unexpectedly get laid off you know your still going to get messages from Linkedin, and receive any password resets. If you really want to get the Linkedin emails at work, that’s fine – just set up a rule to forward them there. That way you’ll get them at home as well.

Another bonus tip: When you have your own email domain, you own all the users in that domain – everything before the ‘@’ in an email address is the user. This means that you can make up and use new addresses on the fly. At some store and being asked for an email address? Just give them one. I was at 2nd wind fitness and they asked for an address. I told them 2ndwind@swduncan.com. This is nice because I will know if they sell it, and I can block email coming to that address later if I want to.

Hotels offering luggage service?

With the recent news that Spirit airlines will start charging for carryon bags, it seems clear that the entire charging-for-luggage theme is really just the airline industry trying to make itself profitable again. It was obvious to anyone that charging for carry-ons first would have resulted in no revenue, so they started where the money was – in the bigger bags. Charging for carry-ons is more offensive, but with cheapskates avoiding the checked-bag fees crowding the bins providing a nice scape goat…

The airlines will be happy when the day comes when no one thinks it unusual that you can’t bring your stuff for free. But are airlines really the best custodian’s of our stuff? One has to keep in mind that shipping people and shipping goods are two entirely different businesses.

Suppose that hotels offered a luggage service. It would look like this:

  • You book a room, and the hotel asks where to pick up your bags.
  • They pick up your bags the day before you leave – maybe just the morning of that day. They drop off a complimentary ‘personal items’ bag, with some coupons in it for your destination (ad space the hotel sold, by the way) and room for personal items.
  • You fly to your destination, maybe multiple hops, but “you don’t care because your bags will be there”.
  • You get to your room and your bags are waiting when you get there.
  • You enjoy your stay, having lived in fresh clothes sans washing miracle fabrics in the bathroom sink, or laundry charges that would buy a German luxury car.
  • When your trip is over either the next hotel is coming to get it, or it will be shipped back home.

They have a lot of incentive to get it right because your stay with them depends on your luggage being there. You will pay for this because of this, and because hotels, unlike airlines, have not established themselves as professional losers of luggage.

I don’t think it will happen because hotels have refused any responsibility for their customer’s belongings for too long to be able to see the opportunity. They also make a lot of money on laundry, I’m guessing.

If someone created the business that did the picking up & shipping, and provided the inter-hotel transportation (we do travel on multi-hop trips after all) they could make this happen.

The advantages for the customer:

  • No more hauling heavy bags – no more need to live in a carry-on world either.
  • No airline fees.
  • Less hassle with security.
  • You could have a separate bag for each hop, providing more flexibility and choice.
  • Now when you check out in the morning, you not only don’t have to take your bag with you on your site-seeing, you don’t have to come back for it either.
  • If your travel plans are disrupted, you can change flights without fear of losing your bags.
  • For an extra fee you buy insurance in the form of a pre-paid credit card, which gets dropped off with your bags, to be remotely activated in the event your luggage is lost or delayed.

Yes, it would be a tough business to implement, but far from impossible.

David Pogue and the power of a single tweet

David Pogue, a writer for the New York Times, apparently found my new site NumberQuotes.com, and tweeted about it at about 10:30pm last night. I realized something was up because all of a sudden I got a huge traffic spike. I had gotten one a few weeks ago when Michael Hyatt tweeted NumberQuotes, but this one was a bit steeper. I noticed that the hits all seemed to be direct – as if people were entering the address rather than hitting a link on a site somewhere. I know that this is how hits from a tweet show up, so I went to twitter and did a search.

Sure enough, David Pogue, with 1.3 million followers, had tweeted it. Then a boat load of other folks retweeted it. Mr. Pogue clearly has a lot of quality followers!

The result? Over 2,500 uniques and growing. All from a single tweet. Thank you Mr. Pogue, for giving my fledgling site such a boost!

I think I need to beef up my twittering!

More on SurveyGizmo vs. LimeSurvey

After using SurveyGizmo for quite a long time, I have some more insight to offer on it. Truth be told, I’m getting very tempted to jump to LimeSurvey. Here’s why:

  • Lack of access to the database. This is HUGE. The only way to get data out of SG is to download a csv file. The problem is that they format it in crosstab fashion – that is, with a column for every question. This makes it unusable for any database application. So if you’re planning to pull the results into another database, well, you end up writing some software to do pretty non-trivial conversions.
  • No support for recurring surveys. At least, not without a lot of extra steps. Most of the surveys I do are recurring, and the results are analyzed as time series. Having them in separate surveys is a pain.
  • SG has a strange architecture that leads to some performance problems that confuse users. The surveys are by default save-continue, but if you leave and come back too soon it looks like your results are gone. Only they aren’t.

Out of the box SG has some advantages that are making the choice to jump a little less clear:

  • The reporting, while riddled with oddities, is competent and allows me to do one-off surveys quickly without any database work.
  • Some question types work better, nearly all look better.
  • I don’t have to administer a server that’s ‘off the grid’. Like many companies, ours is Microsoft-only and having a Linux server goes against the grain.