If there’s one thing that I always loved as a Product Manager, it was a trade show.
No, really. All you other Product Manager can stop scoffing. It was a chance to get out of the office, to take a break from arguing with the development team. I got to meet not just customers, but honest-to-god PROSPECTS, people who might buy my product but haven’t or won’t. I got to check out the competition face-to-face and shoulder-surf a demo of their product. Heck, I even did a bit of networking to line up potential future jobs.
But the trade show has fallen on tough times: Novell Cancels BrainShare Conference After 20 Years. Apple announces its last year at Macworld Expo, no Jobs keynote. Attendance at conferences like SD West and JavaOne is way down from their glory days during the 2000-era bubble. Travel costs remain high, making it hard to get a compelling ROI on trade show lead generation while web- and email-based lead generation tools are better than they’ve ever been before.
So what’s a Product Manager to do? Stick around the office all day and stare sullenly at your half-finished MRD that lacks compelling user stories?
One – start your own conference. Eloqua (where I used to work) started their own user conference, Eloqua Experience. Eloqua isn’t a huge company – their customers number in the hundreds, not the thousands. But the product becomes the primary tool for the marketers that purchase it, so Eloqua has an incentive to get really deep with their users to help them be successful with the product and to try to understand what they need to do to make the product better. And since Eloqua is a Saas product, keeping customers happy and getting them to renew their contracts is incredibly important. Holding your own conference is a huge investment of both money and the time required to organize a big event, but it can pay off, both directly (it’s not hard to run a profitable conference) and through improved engagement with your customers.
Two – find an “adjacent” conference. If you can’t go to Brainshare, maybe a Microsoft conference would be the next best thing. Assuming you have the budget of course.
Three – find a new way to generate leads. If you’re going to a trade show just to scan badges and collect business cards then let me be the first to tell you that you’re behind the times. Web-based lead generation is far less expensive and far more effective than trade shows. And please don’t tell me you’re still running magazine ads too. I mean, how hard is it to start your own magazine these days?
Four – dedicate more time to making old-fashioned phone calls. Call small customers. Call big customers. Call everyone that dropped out of your sales funnel last month. I don’t think telephone calls can ever replace the much higher value of a face-to-face conversation but until it’s back to the good ol’ days of fat travel budgets, do what you can.
And finally, skim a few dollars out of your budget to buy some stupid tradeshow swag to hand out to everyone in the office. Nothing improves morale like a ceramic shot glass with your logo or a squeezable foam kidney.