Show business

Trade shows such as Gitex can be an excellent source of ideas for IT managers. However, to make the most out of trade shows, attendees have to be prepared.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  April 13, 2004

The problem|~|ashman.jpg|~|The key for vendors is having the right people of their stand to talk to customers, says HP’s Charles Ashman. |~|With three halls, 80,000 potential visitors and countless exhibitors, Gitex Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest tradeshows in the region. Amid all the stands, freebies and noise, however, there is a host of products and serious business solutions to be uncovered. However, finding these can be a challenge for a visiting IT manager though, unless they have prepared themselves for their visit. The most important thing for a visitor to do before going to Gitex Saudi Arabia, or any large tradeshow, is to identify what they want to achieve. Otherwise, they will spend days wandering around aimlessly seeing everything but achieving nothing. “When I see people walking around with half a dozen bags full of product information, I question how much they got out of it [their visit to Gitex]. Did they actually have a purpose for the visit, or was it quite general?” says Justin Doo, managing director, Middle East, Africa & Benelux countries, Trend Micro. “Visitors to the show are becoming more focused, but they could still be clearer and know who they want to see before the show and pre-arrange meetings and discussions with those companies. This helps them achieve their own goals, even if it is just getting basic information and an initial contact,” agrees Hannah Naji, director, Impact Porter Novelli. Planning is key to a successful show visit because the sheer size and noise of the event means it is virtually impossible to find the right solution for a company’s needs just by browsing among the booths. Instead, a visitor needs to pick out the areas they want to focus on and then make sure that they visit the key vendors in that field. “Last year, I went to specific areas [of Gitex] that pertained to my interests, either personally or professionally,” recalls Malek Hamdieh, IT director, QASCO. “It’s so big that if you go around the whole thing you will not get any depth into any of the providers or services,” he adds. For those that want to get into depth with the vendors it is best to make an appointment for a full discussion. This can be done before going to the show through the company, its local partner or at the event itself. However, it is advisable to arrange a date early on. The vendors always strive to ensure there are people on the stand capable of answering questions, but meetings outside the main hall, away from the noise and commotion on the show floor, get quickly booked up. Visitors seize the chance to have meetings with vendors at Gitex because they are much quicker to arrange and potentially more useful than visits by salesmen to the IT manager’s own office. ||**||The opportunity|~||~||~|Firstly, the sheer number of exhibitors at Gitex means that within a couple of days it is possible to have meaningful discussions with all the vendors in a particular area. Furthermore, because the vendors are geared up for seeing and talking to IT managers, it is possible to quickly see a demonstration, which can take weeks to arrange otherwise. “It’s a good chance to get a quick demo on products that we have an interest in... as arranging for a demo [normally] takes a long time,” says Hamdieh. Aside from meeting vendors, Gitex also give IT managers the opportunity to meet other users of the same technology as them, either on the stand or at organised events, such as seminars. “One advantage that comes along is connecting with other similar information technology users in the region. This is a good chance to meet people, although it doesn’t happen as often as I would like,” says Hamdieh. “This is probably because nobody is forming user groups,” he explains. To ensure that visiting IT managers have as much opportunity as possible to speak to a knowledgeable salesman, the big vendors and large local players ensure they have a large number of people available on the stand to handle enquires. “If you don’t have the right people on the stand, then you’ve wasted your time completely,” says Charles Ashman, Gulf & Levant enterprise service group business unit manager at HP. “If an IT manager from a major oil company, for example, makes the effort to come to the show he doesn’t want to just shake hands with someone, he wants to have a real conversation,” he continues. With this in mind, Aptec Saudi Arabia is ensuring that as many as 20 staff will be manning its two-storey stand at any one time this year so any show attendees can always find an Aptec employee to help them out. “We will have a few more people on our stand this year than we did last year because we are holding so many more products. We are also going to hold our meetings on our stand becuase we have a space on the top were we can sit with our customers and potential customers, talk and close business,” says Aptec’s general manager in the Kingdom, Thierry Chamayou. This staffing of the stand represents just a part of what can be a huge investment in terms of money and resources. The big players can easily spend in excess of US$500,000 preparing for and exhibiting at Gitex. However, what the exhibitors actually want to achieve from their investment and hard work is hard to quantify. “We have to show some kind of tangible return on investment (ROI) because we are getting people from all over the world coming to Gitex. There is also the cost of attending and exhibiting at Gitex itself,” says Ferhad Patel, strategic relations manager, MENA, Intel. “[However,] it’s difficult to actually measure the ROI.”||**||Who gets what?|~|justintrend.jpg|~|Trend Micro’s Justin Doo asks whether the people that simply wander around Gitex actually get anything out of it.|~|The clearest results would seem to be a large pile of signed deals and big contracts, but this is not necessarily what trade shows are really about. Instead, they are really marketing exercises. For instance, Yousef Khali, regional communications manager at Microsoft, says the vendor has never looked at Gitex as revenue making or a lead generation event. “We’ve looked at it as a medium to connect with our customers and partners, listen to them and have some face-time,” he adds. Canon also sees communication as the key goal at the trade show. “It’s the main objective for everyone at Gitex because you don’t have a cash register at the reception ringing,” says Ammar Alul, director, Canon Middle East. However, Naji warns that “although a lot of people see trade shows as a networking opportunity, they also need to ensure that they achieve tangible business results at the end of it, especially when the investment any company makes in appearing at an exhibition such as Gitex is taken into consideration.” Generally though, the targets exhibitors aim for are somewhat subjective. Collecting business cards is one thing, but how many should one aim for? Also, what matters more, the quantity of cards or the quality of the names on them? Of course, the most important measure for the success of a trade show is the number of deals signed as a result of it. From a global perspective, Gitex is quite unusual in this regard as deals do get done at the show. “There is a particular phenomenon in the Middle East in which trade shows are used as a trading environment. It’s like a super hub of computing, where executives get together, break out percentages and negotiate deals,” says Ashman. The fact that more deals are done at Gitex than at similar events around the world, such as Comdex or CeBit, reflects not just the Middle East mentality but also the higher calibre of visitors attending the event. While there are delegates from all levels of various organisations, Gitex does attract high-level people who are not normally seen at trade shows in other parts of the world. “In Europe, bigger organisations send lower-middle management levels [to trade shows] who are not 100% empowered,” says Alul. “However, people who can make decisions come to Gitex, and many of them do make decisions at the show… whereas in the US or Europe, people come to collect information and are not in a position to close deals,” he adds. However, it would be wrong to assume that these buyers are won over by the stands and free pens. Instead, IT managers who sign deals at Gitex have probably researched the market extensively beforehand or have decided to upgrade an existing system. “The upgrade route is probably the most likely at shows like Gitex, rather than getting cold caller business,” says Naji.||**||The follow up|~||~||~|While sales do happen onsite, the majority of deals resulting from activities at Gitex happen in the weeks and months after the event. As such, the vendors keenly follow up on leads generated at the show. “This part is extremely vital. For every single person that comes, every single lead we get hold of, we have to follow up, because the value of the meeting is nothing if you don’t follow up,” says Ashman. To ensure leads are not dropped, vendors record the details of all visitors to their stand and then enter them into a CRM application. These are then followed up by the various different sales units and partners after the event. “We use the stand as a single point to connect all these leads through our intranet. They then go into the regional database and the partner account managers then work on those leads,” explains Khali. The vendors are, of course, happy to generate a pile of leads to pursue over the coming weeks, but IT managers shouldn’t expect a flood of calls as soon as they return. Hot leads will be quickly pursued, but colder ones will take longer, as vendors wrestle with the sheer number of people they have to contact. “The problem with trade shows is that they create a peak. Once a year, you have this huge workload and you can’t really schedule it or spread it out,” notes Ashman. Eventually, however, vendors will ensure every visitor to their stand is contacted. Over the following months these leads will be turned into sales, and once that is complete, Gitex Saudi Arabia 2005 will be looming on the horizon and it will be time to start the whole cycle once again.||**||

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