Who Am I Talking To?

Conferences and events always have trade shows. I speak at a great deal of them and attend many others just as a delegate. So I get the opportunity to visit all the trade shows or exhibit booths. Often, the booth exhibitors are not potential clients for us, nor are they aligned with our client needs, but I visit them anyway. I go from booth to booth (I am sure none of you reading this do what I do) and pick up the promotional branded items and pocket them to take home as gifts for my nine-year-old daughter.

Many of the items resonate with me, or stay around our house or my office, and when I need that service, they come top of mind. That is one of the many values of branded promotional items. At the Western Sponsorship Congress™ (WSC), we use Promotion Resource Group(PRG) to help us come up with the right products to impact and resonate with conference delegates so that they remember us when they need a sponsorship marketing agency.

I notice that many of the people in the booths don’t know who they are “selling” to or engaging with. They come to the event with the plan to close a bunch of business and develop new leads with key decision makers. That may happen at some conferences, but not all. If you have a booth at a conference of engineers and are showcasing courier overnight delivery services… or even perhaps industry software for planning, the partners of the firm who are at the conference don’t make those decisions. Procurement, the receptionist (courier), or IT person (software) does! But that partner/engineer can leverage or direct you to the right person or influence your access (positive or negative). But you need to know that they are not buying today and they are not the “buyers”!

Last year, I had the privilege of being engaged to present to the exhibitors of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference. This is a perfect example. At this conference are the elected officials (mayors and councillors). They are there to learn to understand new opportunities and network best practices, as well as to hear from provincial and federal government leaders. The trade show at this conference is huge, and rightfully so! Everyone wants a municipal contract! But these exhibitors know that the thousands of delegates walking up and down the aisles are elected officials. They are not decision makers. They don’t do the due diligence and price comparisons. They have administrative staff to do that. So those exhibitors that think if they convince this Councillor that their product is the “be all and end all” for their community’s woes (be it paving, playgrounds, flooring, or whatever), the best that councillors can suggest is that they will ask their CAO (Chief Administration Officer) or some other key administration person to follow up. For those exhibitors at this event (and most events) who think the sales cycle ends today, it is eye-opening. If you are selling “Veg-o-matic” or the Bamboo Steamer” at the exhibition, yes, the sale closes today. But for most B2B trade shows, this is the start or cultivation of a relationship, not the opportunity to connect for the first time and close.

 When we are sponsors or even just exhibitors at a conference trade show, we need to know who we are talking to and their role in the sales cycle. Are they an influencer (which is most likely) or the right decision maker?

I welcome your thoughts on trade shows and exhibitor booths, and the outcomes of your experiences.

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts or comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback.


  1. Hi Brent,
    I was glad to hear that you take home gifts from exhibitors for your daughter. It that is anything like the things our kids get, they disappear pretty quickly into the junk draw or a toy box. Hence, if we do exhibit, we don’t provide gifts for exhibitors kids.

    You run a conference. Are you discouraging exhibitors?


    • Sharron,

      Thanks so much for your feedback and comment.Yes we do run a conference and no I don’t think bringing home branded items to my daughter from such trade shows discourages exhibitors from using branded merchandise.

      My daughter wears the pins I give her, asks where they come from and what they mean. She is an “artist” and “writer” and takes the branded notebooks everywhere. She plays with the branded soft rubber puck on the community rink or for street hockey. This is the same girl who when playing Timbits soccer when she was 4 years old said “if it wasn’t for Tim Horton’s I wouldn’t get to play soccer”. The same 9 year old who when asked where she would like to go for breakfast after a very early morning hockey game would normally reply “Smitty’s”; but this hockey season spoke up and said “we need to go to McDonald’s because they supplied our McAtom hockey jerseys this year!”

      I don’t think the branded products that I “gift” to my daughter go to waste, I think they get the exposure the exhibitors are seeking. But if your kids have them end up in a junk drawer or toy box, I would agree 100% that bring such products hoe to them is of no benefit to the exhibitor.

      I guess it depends on the person who receives the product and what they do with it. Sometimes the worst place the products can end up is in the hands of a business owner who snags them and then puts them into a desk drawer never to see the light of day again… not much different than the toybox!

  2. Hi Brent,
    I attended the CSTA Congress last week and enjoyed your Sponsorship sessions immensely. I then ran into you at two different exhibitor booths over the next day and a half.
    I visit all the booths as well because you never know what you will learn.
    Even if it’s not in your industry, there are new ideas that might be adaptable to my business or a glimmer of a lead that might turn into new business down the road. And it has! I am there to learn and connect, and speaking with exhibitors serves that goal as well!

    • Rick,
      Thanks so much for the kind words and the post. I am with you 100%. It is at the booths that we learn, interact and build relationships and that is what each of our roles are. It is being able to transfer ideas learned to our own organizations and take away what knowledge we can. All the best in your ongoing success!


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