Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Work it, or it’s not worth it

June 24th, 2006 · 3 Comments

Here are a few more observations based in part on Digipede’s experience at the Securities Industry Association (SIA) Technology Management Conference in New York this week. I posted about this earlier today; this post is less fact, more perspective.

For a small company like Digipede, a trade show can be a frightening investment. Travel is expensive, and disruptive – taking three or four people away from other activities for three or four days can throw off schedules for weeks. Booth space is pricey, the booth itself is pricey to buy or rent, shipping the booth and any other equipment and collateral is a pain, and renting a big monitor and power and internet connectivity and chairs and tables and trash cans and whatnot is vastly more expensive than it ought to be. (OK, we’re not crazy — we used other vendors’ trash cans.)

And for what? What will we demonstrate? Will anyone care? Who will attend? Will there by any potential customers, or just “vendors talking to vendors?” Will the press be there? If so, will they notice us? Is it really worth it?

Having represented small to medium growth companies at trade shows for 15+ years, John’s One and Only Rule of Trade Shows is as follows:

Work it, or it’s not worth it.

I see firms put up a nice booth, and then wait for a stream of juicy leads to walk up and present themselves. They staff the booth with folks who sit around and say “there’s no traffic” or “there are no buyers at this show” or “we should get a better location next year” or more likely “what time does the bar open?” Losers. I love it when these folks ask me why so many people are talking about us.

Any startup that commits to a trade show had better work hard to make the investment pay off. I’ll give you a few examples of what we did before, during, and after this particular event to make it pay off for us.

We decided on a message right up front, before we even made a final commitment to go. Our message was “extend the cluster.” We wanted to take full advantage of the release of Microsoft’s new Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, which was to be demonstrated to the financial community at this event. We decided to emphasize the compatibility of our own product, the Digipede Network, with CCS, and to show how we add value to this new offering from Microsoft. We knew Microsoft would be spending big bucks to unveil their new product to an important market, and we wanted to leverage our own puny investment with theirs.

As a result of my incessant whining and begging and pleading and favor-cashing, Microsoft provided us with a kiosk in their large booth on the main exhibit floor. (I made the first request for this a full year in advance, and was still begging right up until the last slot was filled.) We got our own little booth, too, where we could do more in-depth demonstrations.

There were 11 Microsoft partners in their booth, none of whom compete with us, so during the introductions before the exhibits opened, I promised the other Microsoft partners that we’d refer relevant leads to them and hoped they’d do the same for us. By the end of the show, that simple step generated several additional visits to our booth, and one qualified sales prospect – someone who would never have found us otherwise.

We wrote special demonstrations that would appeal not only to the potential customers at the event, but to our partners Microsoft and HP. We helped our contact at Microsoft load and test those demos on a new cluster, and debugged interactions among our own product, the just-released Windows Compute Cluster Server, and the not-yet-released Excel 2007. We arranged a pre-event press release with authorized quotes from both Microsoft and HP (try herding cats THAT size some time). We got into the Microsoft show press release. We arranged to be not only present, but featured prominently, in the presentations given by Microsoft’s Financial Services Group in the special Microsoft / HP break room. We chased the press around for a week before the show, and a few ended up at the reception Microsoft threw on Wednesday evening. We ended up with favorable coverage.

We created new collateral, including a new white paper, a new brochure, a new press kit, and a new datasheet describing how you can buy our product bundled with an HP cluster (OK, it’s pretty loosely bundled, but it’s progress!). We burned a zillion mini-CDs with everything an architect or developer needs to get started with our software — a complete installation of the Digipede Network Developer Edition (free!), full documentation, informative videos, white papers, and so on. We brought seven out of a zillion back home with us. (Contact me if you want one!)

Naturally, we gave demonstrations in our own booth — but we also flagged people down in the Microsoft booth, HP booth, and anywhere else we could find them to entice them up to our inconveniently-located booth. We knew we had a crappy location, so before we left Oakland we printed up stickers to put on the literature we handed out from the Microsoft and HP booths — “come see us in Booth 4506 on the third floor.” People did.

We found time to take an important client out to dinner, to meet with a prospective future employee, to pitch to a new prospective investor, to line up a new consulting partner, to identify several likely ISV partners, and to check out our competitors’ offerings. We used the show’s buggy lead retreival system, annotated each lead with specific information on the spot, expanded those annotations on the plane in Excel on the way home, coaxed all of the leads into our CRM system the minute we got back to the office, and started banging away at those leads right away — ninety-nine of them, I believe, excluding the usual recruiters, outsourcers, marketing consultants, foreign-subsidiary-creation facilitators, life coaches, and the like. And it still might not be enough.

So a trade show is like anything else — it’s an opportunity, and you get out of it only what you put in. Many thanks to our friends at Microsoft and HP, who provided generous support and exposure, and gave us every chance to succeed.

Was it worth it? Ask me in six months.

Tags: Compute Cluster Server · Events · Partnering with Microsoft · Presentations · Startup Life

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Powers Unfiltered » Blog Archive » Clubbing with Steve // Jan 19, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    […] I had a chance to talk with Steve for a couple of minutes.   Apparently, the briefing went well, and Digipede was mentioned favorably by speakers from Microsoft and a mutual financial services customer.  (It didn’t hurt that I had spent weeks prior to this event supporting the other speakers with material, customer references, follow-up demonstrations, etc.  See my philosophy of events, summarized in this earlier post.)   […]

  • 2 Powers Unfiltered » Blog Archive » Microsoft vs. Microsoft — here we go again // Jun 24, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    […] As many of you know, I’m a big fan of large conferences, under certain circumstances.  But as I’ve posted before, the investment in money and time and travel-based pain is only worth it for Digipede if we put in some time and effort up front, and commit corresponding time and effort to following up.  (See the now-classic “work it or it’s not worth it,” posted one year ago today.) […]

  • 3 Powers Unfiltered » Blog Archive » Well THAT was fun… // Mar 4, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    […] Powersunfiltered readers know that I’m a believer in the effectiveness of marketing events — but only with sufficient planning and preparation.  (For a refresher course in the Powers School of Events, start here.)  […]

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