v28 #2 Both Sides Now: Vendors and Librarians — When Is A Trade Show Not A Trade Show?

by | Jun 28, 2016 | 0 comments

Column Editor:  Michael Gruenberg  (President, Gruenberg Consulting, LLC)  www.gruenbergconsulting.com


Virtually every industry is aligned with one or more associations that organize and sponsor an annual trade show.  Moreover, many of those associations will sponsor even more localized shows throughout the year so as to interest their members to attend the local meetings since they may not have the wherewithal to travel and/or have the necessary funding to attend the larger and more expensive annual meeting.

All vendors like well attended trade shows and conversely intensely dislike poorly attended ones.  It’s all about the company’s ROI since the more people that visit the vendors’ booth, the better the odds are of making more sales and even more importantly, interacting directly with more customers and prospects.  A customer/prospect who is absent from a Trade Show is an opportunity missed, for both parties.

Associations encourage their members to attend local and/or national trade shows because where else can these people interact with all the important vendors within their industry vertical?  It seems quite simple that the ability to compare prices, products, salespeople, etc. of various companies in one day is preferable to having the sales reps from a variety of companies travel to the library over a period of many days.  Furthermore, senior executive staff will inevitably be at the trade show booth to meet and greet.  Sure would make sense to speak to the CEO, President and/or VP of Sales individually and collectively from the company to discuss whatever topics are on the customers’ minds at the show.

Yet, many trade shows in the information industry are struggling with attendance which is not beneficial for vendor or attendee alike.  When these struggles continue, a trade show booth becomes a seemingly deserted island in a lonely exhibit hall and passes from being a productive meeting to a non-existent one.  That’s when the dreaded “Not a Trade Show” rears its ugly head.

The tell-tale signs of a “Not Trade Show” are when aisles at the exhibit hall are devoid of attendees.  It’s the old bowling ball routine which says that if you rolled a bowling ball down an aisle of a trade show and avoid hitting anyone with it, then that show is useless.  Or if you see groups of salespeople aimlessly talking to one another at their booth, then that qualifies as “Not a Trade Show” as well.  And when a Trade Show Is Really Not a Trade Show, that morphs into a waste of time and money for exhibitors and attendees.

What causes this phenomenon to happen?  Who bears the burden of blame?  Actually the association, the vendors and the attendees have to take some degree of responsibility when the trade show ceases to be productive for one or two or all three parties.

In my 30+ years of being an active participant at trade shows both as a vendor and an attendee, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.  On the vendor side, I have seen sales reps literally snoozing at their booth.  I have seen them eating and drinking an assortment of food items, even spilling some of the remnants of that food on their clothing.  I have seen reps too engaged in conversation with one another while failing to connect with customers as qualified prospects walk on by.  The attendees may have been prompted to ask a question or two, but they choose to be polite not wanting to disturb the internal salesperson’s incredibly important conversation.  I have seen reps with their backs to the audience.  I have seen reps making personal phone calls, and the list goes on and on and on.

On the attendee side, I have had visitors to the booth just wanting to stock their bag with the company’s give-aways.  “Ooh, you guys have the BEST sticky pads.  Can I have a bunch for the people back at the library?”  “Sure” says the rep.  “I’d like to share with you information about our latest database offering.”  “Hmm, not right now;  I’ll be back later” is sometimes the response.  Unless the sale rep makes a concerted effort to schedule a time and date later in the conference, “later” usually never happens.  I have seen attendees wander aimlessly through the exhibit hall without having a prior plan as to which vendors are needed to be seen.  And I have seen associations make it as difficult as possible for their members to visit the exhibit hall.

Much like the buying and selling process, in order for all parties to achieve, even a modicum of success trade show participation has to be a joint effort.  What this means is that just showing up at the exhibit hall by both the vendor and the attendee is simply not enough.  So, what do the vendor, attendee and association have to do to make the trade show a success?


First and foremost, the question of “why are we going?” needs to be answered.  And once the company has made the decision to attend, then that rationale must be passed on to the sales staff.  Secondly, besides the sales staff, who from the company is attending to support the sales effort and what is each person’s role at the show?  Furthermore, how many on-site appointments are the salespeople expected to have?  And finally, what are the goals and objectives for the staff attending so as to understand the metrics of expectations as results are analyzed after the show?

For example, the company might say, “We are attending the annual association conference in Denver from July 6-8 this year.  Our main goal is to introduce our newest database product.  Only the salespeople from the Western District will be there.  That would be Chris, Marian and Kevin.  Supporting their efforts will be Marge from marketing, Tom the VP of Sales.  Murray, the President of our company is expected to be there on July 7th.  A pre-show mailer will be sent 90 days in advance of the show to every registered attendee.  That will be followed up with another email blast 30 days prior to the show offering each attendee to be entered in a drawing for a $50 gift certificate for listening to the details of our new database product at the booth.  Each salesperson will be expected to make a minimum of three appointments at the booth with customers and/or prospects and should include the Marketing Director and /or VP of sales as often as possible at those meetings.  Murray has expressed an interest to see some key clients, as well.  Finally, our main goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible to show our new product to the industry.

In one brief paragraph, the company has set the guidelines.  WHY are we going;  WHO will be there;  WHAT will we be doing there;  and most importantly, THESE are the expected goals and objectives.  The bottom line is that somewhere in the deep recesses of the company’s accounting department, someone has prepared a report for Murray outlining all the costs associated with attending the meeting in Denver.  It had better be a profitable show or else Murray will have to explain why not to some unsympathetic investors or members of the board of directors.


Whatever industry specialization your library may be, the organization for which you work  expects that attending a trade show is not only an extension of your work day, but also a vehicle by which new products, technologies and ideas are brought back to the library.  Of course, your management knows that there will be a bit of sightseeing, vendor dinners and receptions, and a fair amount of lounging, but the intent of paying travel expenses to attend the show should result in a positive outcome for the organization.  Therefore, what can be done to ensure that the attendee not only sees and interacts with a specified amount of vendors, but also makes time to see some sights in the host city, attend some vendor receptions, speak to authors of books relevant to the profession and gain new understanding of relevant products and technologies?

All associations inevitably send out a pre-conference mailer detailing the sessions, keynote speaker and of course, the vendors attending.  Not only are the vendors listed, but their booths and locations are clearly spelled out.  At this point, it’s essential that an individual roadmap for the attendee be created.  I want to see vendors A, B and C.  A is on aisle 309, B is on 112, and C is the first booth as I enter the exhibit hall.  OK, now I know where my main vendors are located.  Creating this roadmap will ensure that all three are visited.  Add to the map any other vendor locations and that completes the first step.

Making specified appointments with key vendors supplying the library is also an essential of successful trade show attendance.  If the sales rep has not reached out to you, then it is incumbent upon you to reach out to them and schedule a specific time and date to meet with the company.  Moreover, you can request that a person from marketing, product management, training, executive staff, etc be present at the meeting.  Whether it is to compliment your sales rep, inquire about a new product or voice concern over an issue, making the appointment will go a long way for the company to attentively answer your questions.

Upon returning back from those three days in Denver, the attendee must take the time to write a report to management as to what was learned at the show.  Why was it important for me to attend?  What benefit for our organization was derived by being there?  How can that new knowledge be applied to our library?  In other words, management must be made aware of why it is important to attend.  Too many times, information professionals tell me that they cannot attend an upcoming show because their management has reduced the funding needed to attend.  To counter this, management has to be made aware of how attending will benefit the organization.  However, if you don’t tell them, they won’t know.


The third leg of this three legged stool is the organization, itself.  What is the organization doing to make it as easy as possible to exhibit for vendors and make it as easy as possible for the association members to attend?

To keep the vendors satisfied and returning year after year is quite simply to provide a well lit, well ventilated exhibit hall held in a city that the membership can easily travel to and stay at hotels with somewhat reasonable room rates.  Moreover, the association needs to assist the vendors in reaching a wide audience of membership through mailings and email blasts expounding on the benefits of why the show is the “latest and greatest.”  Booth space rental rates, Internet connections, and freight charges should be held to a reasonable $ rate so as to interest as many vendors as possible to attend.  Providing statistics, offering a multi-year commitment at a discounted rate, creating an “exhibits only” time for attendees each day of the show will go a long way to bringing vendor and information professionals closer together.

Recently, while attending an information industry trade show, I spoke to an exhibitor who was bemoaning the lack of qualified prospects passing by his booth.  He told me that this was his last year attending and went on to say that the all trade shows in all industries are suffering declining attendance.

There is an organization called the Center for Exhibition Industry Research www.ceir.org.  The CEIR Mission:  CEIR provides industry-leading research on the North American exhibitions and events industry globally which optimizes performance, increases engagement, and addresses emerging customer needs.  In looking at some of their statistics, many association trade shows are showing significant growth and popularity.  One only has to look at the Charleston Conference that has enjoyed significant growth and contains the blueprint of how a trade show can be successful.  CEIR provides statistics that point out that trade show attendance in certain industries is increasing.

In thinking about what song title best exemplifies what a successful trade show experience should be for both the vendor and attendee, the answer was quite clear.  “It Takes Two to Tango” written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning was recorded both by musical greats, Pearl Bailey and Louis Armstrong in 1952.  It was a bestselling song that was not about trade shows, but it sure was about two parties getting together and after all, isn’t that what trade shows are all about?


Mike is currently the President of Gruenberg Consulting, LLC, a firm he founded in January 2012 after a successful career as a senior sales executive in the information industry.  His firm is devoted to provide clients with sales staff analysis, market research, executive coaching, trade show preparedness, product placement and best practices advice for improving negotiation skills for librarians and salespeople.  His book, “Buying and Selling Information: A Guide for Information Professionals and Salespeople to Build Mutual Success” is available on Amazon, Information Today in print and eBook, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, OverDrive, 3M Cloud Library, Gale (GVRL), MyiLibrary, ebrary, EBSCO, Blio, and Chegg.  www.gruenbergconsulting.com



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