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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Returning from Construct Canada

The Toronto Construction Association booth is not surprisingly a centrepiece of Construct Canada (as the event is in Toronto). The TCA holds its annual Christmas Lunch fundraiser at the show's conclusion -- and attracted close to 2,500 people at a cost of more than $100 per plate.

While we are fortunate to be able to trade services with Construct Canada for booth space, the three-day annual trade show is undoubtedly one of our biggest annual marketing expenses. Hotel rooms for four employees, meals, travel costs, and a mass of incidental expenses man this is a major budget item/expense.

Is it worth attending? You can look at the question from different perspectives. Alas, at present we don't have a truly robust lead measuring and valuing system for trade shows. Many businesses do and of course if you can directly quantify your cost per lead and correlate it to the profitability of the resulting sales, you will know if the trade show is truly valuable. (I'm hopefully solving this problem in a non-bureaucratic way by asking the sales reps who attended the show to provide their leads reports and expense information right away. They aren't straight jacketed by some corporate CRM data gathering system, but obviously need to be accountable that they indeed have gathered/developed leads, and know which ones to serve.)

On other levels, however, undoubtedly the show is worth attending:

Competitive assessment and intelligence gathering: We can see our competitors and 'read' their business health (and sometimes snatch a good idea or two from them).

Connecting and renewing acquaintances and relationships: Undoubtedly one of the most important elements of show participation, especially when you've been in business for a while. These brief visits and conversations help future relationships, build respect, and community, and of course are easy to co-ordinate in the show environment.

Internal staff communication: We effectively had an environment for a four day working sales meeting; with informal conversations, some more formal discussions and sessions, and consistent feedback, both in the trade show setting and outside, at the hotels and after-hours. I gathered some insights into potential business challenges which I can address in the next few weeks and months.

Trade shows undoubtedly can be expensive. One building products manufacturer told me his cost per lead is in the range of $75.00 (I'm hoping to get similar quantitative data in time for the 2010 show based on current year data). Obviously, this expense isn't too great if you are getting tens of thousands of dollars in business from each lead. But even after we quantify our numbers for this year (it will take a few months, of course, to see which leads convert to sales), I realize the subjective advantages of show participation make participation at this event worthwhile even if the lead cost is significant.

Notably, the show organizers told me that the show, which they founded in the late 1980s, grew through the early 90s recession. It truly met a need in hard times, and helped businesses find new clients and opportunities when they were scarce, indeed.

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