Ankle Biters: Quarterbacking Tradeshows

We’ve talked about tradeshows on before during one of Pragmatic’s BlogFests. Tradeshows can be nasty ankle biters because of the amount of pre-work required. Depending on the size of your organization, where Product Management falls, and how technical your Marcomm and Product Marketing teams are, you’ll have varying levels of involvement with tradeshows. If you’re lucky, you can show up on the day of, do some competitive analysis, talk to some prospects, listen to the keynote and get out.

On the other end of the spectrum is full prep. If you work for a hardware company, there are lots of parts and pieces to wrangle, and equipment to configure. Maybe you have a booth building company, or a contractor who puts it together for you – but they won’t know enough to put together a working system. Product stocked at the booth also makes a tempting pool for technical support and sales to “temporarily” draw from between shows, so product gets lost. Marketing needs someone technical who can configure and quartermaster the product – and just like that, you’re into full prep.

Prep isn’t necessarily a bad thing; configuring your product for a show can force you to use the product in new ways and might give you insight into how your products are used in the field. We’ve found lots of bugs and feature enhancements during tradeshow prep that I’d put into the low incidence, high severity category.

I don’t know anyone who would describe a tradeshow as “fun,” but you can make lemons into lemonade. Make sure you’re not stuck in the booth for the whole show. Get out and do competitive analysis, see how other companies are positioning their products and if those messages make sense. Talk to people – I’ve found one of the best tactics is to find 1-2 people during lunch who look bored and ask to join them. Build a rapport first, then once you strike up a conversation you can get some good data. Grab their card and ask to follow up after the show. So few people have actually come into contact with a Product Manager so many people are still blown away just to be asked for their opinions.

Just like any other part of the job, tradeshows are what you make of it. Don’t let the ankle biters get you!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Bruce McCarthy January 29, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    “So few people have actually come into contact with a Product Manager so many people are still blown away just to be asked for their opinions.”

    It’s fun when this happens. Many customers are so amazed that someone wants to listen to them rather than sell them something that they will tell you everything you ever wanted to know and thank you for it.

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