OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

April 11, 2002

The Lucrative World
Of Trade Shows

burton02.jpg (7770 bytes)

by Lee Fulton Burton

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, American Industry invests more than $60 billion a year in tradeshows. (need reference from Sept. 7 How to get the Most Out of Tradeshows). More money is spent on tradeshows than on magazine, radio, and outdoor advertising. So why have tradeshows become so popular? Because-they make money, lots of money. Tradeshows make money for the business where I work, namely, ESRI, Environmental Systems Research Institute. ESRI exhibits at nearly 500 shows a year! Can you imagine?! That's nearly one and one half shows per day! In what kinds of tradeshows do we exhibit? ALL kinds that will make us money: shows that are industry-specific, such as ones I do to attract banks and insurance companies   Basically, business people want to network with other professionals from their respective industry, who deal with the same kinds of problems and business issues. Tradeshows put them all in the same room. And better still-exhibitors pay money to showcase their specific products and services. Thus, costs of holding the tradeshow is covered. But don't forget, not only are the costs covered, there often are colossal profits made by the tradeshow organizations, the convention centers, and the hotels who host these events.

 In the department I work in at ESRI, I carry on my management responsibilities by helping to choose the best shows at which ESRI will be represented. Sometimes the best shows for ESRI are the small ones. Other times ESRI will benefit most from one of the large shows. However, size certainly isn't everything.  More important than size, is the type of audience will be attending the show. What's their level of importance in their particular organization? For example, will they be decision makers? Will they be technology oriented?. Will they be teachers, bankers, insurance executives?

There are so many factors to consider when making a choice, and certainly not budget alone!  I've learned the most from actually attending shows. Each year it gets easier to decide what show might be best for us to plan for in the following year. Seeing the show 'in action', from the audience's perspective, is truly the only way to know if the show is worth the cost of exhibiting. The shows where I exhibit range from small groups of people to over 30,000 attendees. The crowd varies widely at each show, venues vary too. Typically larger shows are held in convention centers. Smaller, less prominent shows may be held in hotels or rented auditoriums.

I've exhibited at trade shows where the actual 'floor' was a converted garage. Sure, they covered the pavement with beautiful carpet, brought in fresh plants, covered the walls with fabric---the tradeshow people are real experts at this. The entire garage ends up looking like a showplace and most people didn't even know the difference. And yes, we got more than our money back at that show too. Why? We had a senior management audience, and they were in a spending mood.


ESRI's Events Department has a team of employees dedicated to supporting staff at any tradeshow where ESRI exhibits. This department is tasked with organizing, planning, and assisting with any responsibilities associated with exhibiting at tradeshows all over the country. This staff will help ensure that all equipment and materials arrive at the show. Due to the sheer number of shows  ESRI chooses to exhibit in, a team of employees is needed to manage just the logistics of equipment moving from one show to another.

Occasional mishaps, such as lost or undelivered equipment can occur. I recall receiving marketing materials for a law enforcement show, when I was exhibiting at an insurance show.  To make things flow as smoothly as possible, the ESRI Events Department  uses a flow chart (See fig **) which details all the internal steps which must be taken. With their experience and organization, mishaps are minimized, making it possible to have a successful  tradeshow..  If the tradeshow is to be a success,  it is important to  begin planning with the events staff early.

After I have scheduled a tradeshow one of the first steps I take is to  meet with Angela Huffman from ESRI events. Angela and I then work together to design ESRI's booth for the tradeshow. Using her Computer Aided Design ("CAD") software Angela can design the booth to maximize the space we will be occupying on the show floor. Some of the factors she will need to consider are: traffic patterns of attendees, size of booth, number of demonstration stations, location on floor and proximity to other vendors.

Angela will also work with me to  select appropriate marketing materials for the show. For example, we will need to make decisions  about which product brochures we will take, which ESRI Press books, CD's, and most importantly---- which"freebies", will I have at my disposal to generate traffic to our booth and help seal the deal with that  special client. .These "freebies" are similar to the ones I gave to the Fortnightly members when they toured ESRI last year. Examples include: baseball caps, coffee mugs, colorful T-shirts, and mouse pads. But it isn't easy to get these treasures.  Competition is involved, as  other managers are also looking for good materials to make making their tradeshow booth popular too.

After meeting with Angela, my next step is to  communicate with Cindy Oltman, from ESRI's Database Marketing. We will need to design a pre-show mailer to go to all registered attendees. Using the list of attendees that is provided, Cindy will mail each person a letter, inviting them to visit the ESRI booth at the show. For further enticement they can  bring the invitation to the booth for a software drawing..

The purpose of every pre-show mailer is to get attendees to your booth! And as Cindy says, the letter should always include a Post Script (“P.S.”). Cindy tells me “They may not read your letter, but they’ll always read your P.S. That’s where you put the most important information!” Cindy said. So, for my mailers, we always have a P.S. in the letter, and we always have a busy booth!

 Arriving at the show

When I first arrive at the show, I go to the exhibitor check in to register and pick up my badge. Every person in the tradeshow must be identified by a badge to enter the exhibit area. After I receive my badge, I locate our booth spot on the empty showroom floor. ESRI usually gets a prominent spot on the show floor, but this is where maintaining a good, close relationship with hosting tradeshow organizations is critical. Unless you are Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, or a major sponsor for the show- you cannot assume you will get a good spot. To get a good spot for your booth requires developing strong relationships with the key representative for each tradeshow organization. This representative will take the major role in deciding on your priority for the show by using a point system to determine your spot on the tradeshow floor.

The importance of  these strong professional relationship cannot be overlooked, For example, I have worked with Pat McKay at the Banking Administration Institute for nearly five years. Because of my strong relationship with her I have been able to get key exhibit spots for ESRI on tradeshow floors, opportunities to present at large conferences, advertising promotions, and articles in the Bank Administration Institute's magazine, Banking Strategies.  These supportive relationships also can result in important sales leads and large contracts for ESRI.

Setting up

After finding our location on the massive convention center floor, the booth must be built. In order for the booth to be constructed the crates containing all the booth construction materials must arrive. The wait for crates and booth materials is the low point of any tradeshow- especially the larger shows where there are hundreds of exhibitors, each waiting for their own crates to arrive. The ESRI booth cannot be set up until all of the crates arrive, which contain the erector set to build the booth.

The process of waiting for booth crates can take up to 5 or 6 hours at a large show. It’s sort of like waiting for your baggage to come on the belt at the airport. Not really knowing if your luggage will be the first off--- or the last. Better yet, will all of your luggage make it at all !  I remember the first time- waiting on the convention center floor, watching the union laborers come and go- using forklifts to personally carry out each individual crate to every attendee. I thought I could pass some time by initiating a conversation with one of the laborers guarding the door. “Is there anyway to speed up the waiting process for our crates?” The guard asked me to lean in closely as he lowered his voice, “There will be a $20 ‘processing fee’ for anyone wishing to identify their crates to the forklift operator. Soon after, our crates arrived anyway and I didn’t even have to pay the $20 fee.

Once the crates arrive, the building of the booth begins. The actual process of building the booth goes pretty quickly, with everyone contributing. After the booth is assembled, it’s usually a good time to check out who’s where on the show floor. Where are the large booths and big show sponsors like Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Are there any ESRI business partners near within close proximity? What about competitors? Where are the major entrances and exits? Where will the food be served? Are there any other  congregation areas on the show floor? This look around helps to gage the flow of traffic, which is essential to consider before the opening of the show.

Before the show opens a brief meeting will be held for all booth staff.  The general idea is to make sure all staff is on the same page. Who will be where? What demos will each employee feature at their demonstration station? What is our overall message for this show? What is our method for pre-qualifying leads at this show? The booth staff are your most precious asset at a tradeshow. These individuals can either make or break your reputation in the eyes of some very important people who have never heard of ESRI. Does the staff really know how to engage a person? Are they able to identify how each contact can use ESRI software in their position? Does each representative have the ability to negotiate pricing and close a sale if necessary?

Show 0pens

Regardless of size, tradeshow floors tend to be busy with activity and movement right after the doors are opened and the crowd rushes in. Each exhibitor moves into action. Each exhibiting company has it's own devices for attracting the maximum amount of show attendees to their booth, hoping to capture one or more of the early birds. The basic message, of course, is "We've got the best products and services, and you would be very wise to come to our booth and see for yourself.

Booths range in size from nondescript 10'x10's to large 200'x200' booths with  multiple floors and eye catching displays. Some booths have beautiful women  in slinky gowns, standing near the front to greet you, commonly known as "booth babes" in the tradeshow circuit. While exhibiting at COMDEX, the largest computer tradeshow in the country, I saw Dennis Miller performing stand up comedy in the Compaq booth. At another tradeshow bicyclist Lance Armstrong signed autographs and took photos with attendees in the VISA booth. One exhibitor and show sponsor was giving away a new convertible BMW to one of the show's attendees. At larger shows, stretch limos wait outside, hosted by large companies like IBM and Hewlett Packard to wisk show attendees away to private, hospitality suites with liquor and snacks to put  them in a real buying mood.

At important technology shows, ESRI may elect to set up our own in-booth "theatre". Of course, the objective is to attract as many passers by as possible and the theatre is usually good for captivating show attendees. Our theatre will showcase what we call "Geography Jeopardy". Geography Jeopardy looks very similar to the Jeopardy game played on television, but instead of Alex Tribec, the game is hosted by an ESRI Regional Office sales employees. Questions directly relate to geography, digital mapping and ESRI software  applications. "Which city has the highest per capita income in the US?" After the attendee sheepishly responds, the answer is displayed and the city is located on the large US Map, displayed on the screen, and some other interesting facts about that city are displayed including crime statistics and demographic data. As silly as it may sound, Geography Jeopardy works to attract attention to the booth and leads to numerous product   demonstrations-and that's the key.

As soon as anyone enters the booth, it's critical for booth staff to provide a friendly greeting to attendees and to be available for any questions. One has to learn quickly how to gage the level of interaction to hold with each attendee, while qualifying the attendee- based on the limited information revealed on their badge. If there's any level of interest in our software, how may they, specifically, use ESRI software in their position? A senior vice president of marketing for a bank will be most impressed with the ability of ESRI software to display a branch trade area and show where profitable customer areas lie. A CEO of a bank would like to see how ESRI software is used to pinpoint the best location for their next bank branch based- based upon market demographics and population counts. A fleet manager for the ATM group will be impressed to see how ESRI software will easily route daily drivers in the most efficient manner. Each demonstration station will have a demo featuring a case study of one of these areas and it's important to direct attendees to the correct station.

Larger implementation opportunities will require perhaps communications with a representative of IBM or Oracle. These are sales opportunities commonly known as "enterprise" opportunities where an organization will have numerous departments, literally hundreds of software users, across the enterprise, therefore the name 'enterprise installation'. At a larger show networking with key exhibitors can also create joint sales and larger, enterprise opportunities. On several occasions it has been worthwhile to invite a representative from the partnering company to meet to discuss a specific opportunity with a client. At the Risk and Insurance Management Society meeting last Fall I was faced with a similar opportunity. A client requested an enterprise demo on how IBM software cooperates with ESRI technology in an enterprise environment. This was truly a dream sale for both ESRI and IBM. This would be a large implementation with potentially hundreds of users. Furthermore, there was huge potential for IBM to sell hundreds of seats of IBM hardware for every user. I invited an IBM representative to a joint presentation to three senior managers for USAA insurance. The joint presentation was a success, the IBM representative bought us all dinner at Emril's restaurant, and USAA bought the entire system! Why they practically signed the check over dinner! Both ESRI and IBM earned a very lucrative sale. After the sale, the IBM representative and I sold similar systems to Allstate Insurance, AAA Insurance and a couple of other similar insurance companies. Each sale could be attributed to a tradeshow where both the initial meetings and the closing of the sale took place.

At the Bank Administration Institute’s Annual Convention in Anaheim California last December. I presented in one of BAI's "Case History Clinic". A "session" or "Case History Clinic" entitles organizations, usually software, to showcase a user example. This time I presented with the Chief Executive Officer of Arrowhead Credit Union, Mr. Larry Sharp, and a Senior Vice President of their Marketing department, Manju Book. The key in this kind of technology session is for the ESRI software user to praise about how specifically their organization benefits by the use of ESRI software. Before the presentation, Mr. Sharp, Monju, and I discuss specific benefits about how Arrowhead had saved thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns and other specific benefits of using ESRI software. There are numerous examples, but the key is letting a representative of the organization explain these areas. Basically my job is to "plug-in" Mr. Sharp and Manju and they become live testimonies about ESRI software. Following our co presentation, the audience is invited back to the ESRI booth on the show floor for product demonstrations. These product demonstrations will be a continuation of the presentation, allowing the most interested audience members to see the software in action and ask specific questions informally. Numerous sales opportunities are quickly received and I send specific sales opportunities to the appropriate regional office for follow up. Other leads may be farmed out to ESRI business partners with an expertise in customized development solutions.

At another banking show in Puerto Rico, almost at the same time, Jerry Thompson, the Chief Information Officer for the Credit Union of Texas, Dallas, TX will be giving a key note presentation on how his organization has used ESRI software for statistical predictive modeling on customer spending behavior. Of course, this presentation leads to numerous sales inquiries for banks and credit unions all over the country. There's nothing better than a testimony! There's really no better sales power.

Tear down

Following the show, ESRI booth staff is required to tear down the booth, pack all materials into the appropriate crate and send individual components to the right location for the next show. This can be tricky considering the sheer number of tradeshows ESRI works. At the BAI show, I had five different outbound locations for specific crates. Each crate not only has to go to the right place, but also must have the correct number of parts inside the crate, packed correctly, for the receiving employee at the other show can build his booth correctly. I’ve been on the receiving end when an employee did not correctly re-pack crates and it makes for a very embarrassing situation. There I am, trying to meet show attendees and look professional, with no booth, no graphics, or marketing materials. When this happens it tends to cause a domino effect on logistics process for the following shows. Fortunately our crates arrive within a short amount of time and we’re packed up fairly quickly.  

Returning to Redlands

After returning to Redlands, I will meet with Cindy Oltman again to discuss lead fulfillment. Cindy and I will go through all the leads and business cards collected at the show to determine a priority ranking. Leads are classified as “hot”, “warm” or “cold”. The hot leads are contacts who are ready to buy, or at least very close. Warm leads are interested but require more communication, perhaps an on-site demo, or another meeting to work with a specific user group, before the sale is completed. The cold leads are interested in software, but probably will not be making a purchase within the next 6 months to a year. Cindy makes detailed notes on each contact in the ESRI database, and will craft our approach for each group. The ‘cold’ leads  will get a general thank you letter, the warm leads will get a more detailed letter, requesting further communications. The hot leads will get personalized communications, usually a phone call to follow up. Cindy and I will make “next step” determinations for how to handle each of the hot leads. For example, which inquiries should be referred to a regional office sales person and which will require the expertise of an ESRI business partner.


Are tradeshows worth it? Definitely yes. Although it’s difficult to place a dollar amount on which sales are earned from tradeshows and which are earned from other marketing activities. Usually, a sale is made because of a combination of processes and tradeshows are the most important ingredient. Exhibiting companies need to remember it’s not just showing up at the show. There are lots of small steps which must be taken to make your participation in the show effective AND profitable. As for me, I have to say that I enjoy working at the tradeshows. The opportunity to interact with new people, along with demonstrating the value of ESRI software continually proves to be interesting, profitable and just plain fun!

 Brief Biography

Lee Burton is employed by ESRI’s corporate offices in Redlands, where he has worked for nearly five years in ESRI’s marketing department. Lee is one of 30 Industry Managers, within the marketing group, where their specialty is marketing and sales specifically targeted toward particular industry segments. Examples of these industries segments include law enforcement, public safety, local government, telecommunications, healthcare, environmental, banking, and insurance. Each industry is represented by a respective industry manager who brings industry expertise to assist ESRI sales staff in selling software solutions into specific industries. Lee is the youngest industry manager in the department.

Prior to working for ESRI, Lee worked in the banking and consumer finance industries for over 10 years. Lee’s quick learning and dedication to hard work led him to becoming the youngest branch manager in Wells Fargo’s entire history. Lee also held management positions for Norwest Financial and Fidelity Financial.

Lee earned his Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration and marketing from the University of Redlands, after transferring from Marymount Palos Verdes College in Rancho Palos Verdes California.

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