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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gala
How to survive the vendor events of last resort—no matter what resorts they're held at.
For the rest of the February 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Synchronicity rules my life and my work, it seems. No, I’m not talking about the classic album by The Police, though that also rules; I’m referring to how, despite the time lapse that’s part of the production cycle for a print magazine, what I’m experiencing when I write a column often happens to apply to events that’ll be occurring when you read it. At the moment (my moment, that is), we’re at the start of convention season—that information-dense travel circuit we media-and-analyst types brave each spring and autumn. We subject ourselves to this insanity because we have to. You, on the other hand, might actually be choosing to make the rounds—as a customer, partner, or vendor. It may even be your first time. Ever your servant, I’ve ginned up a survival guide to the experience.

Booth Staffers and Your Badge. The wise conference-goer will work hard to ensure these two rarely meet. Booth workers are looking for easy marks, and your badge helps them identify what particular kind of mark you are. A high-level badge is like a bullhorn screaming, “Yes, please do stop me when it looks like I’m on my way to an appointment or the bathroom; there’s nothing I want more than to hear about your company.” Once you show your badge to security, “accidentally” obscure it behind your suit-jacket lapel so it can’t be seen. Engage only the exhibitors you choose, and your badge will be a boon; leave it on display and you will be driven to violence.

Hotel-Room Mirrors. Between the poor lighting in your average room, the number of unflattering angles available, and the level of dietary and sleep abuse you’re likely to be subjected to at a trade show, you will see things about yourself that your ego was never meant to endure. I’m convinced that these soulless looking-glasses are strategically placed to drive business to the hotel’s gym and spa, or to increase the length of your stay by making you too depressed to leave your room.

Hotel Bath-and-Body Products. Every hotel has lotions and potions aplenty, and they have several effects beyond the obvious. They intensify the evil you’ll see in the mirror [q.v., Hotel-Room Mirrors, above]. They advertise (mostly unsuccessfully) the supplier’s full product line, at least when it’s a national brand. And, most notably, they make you smell like the stick of gum in a pack of Fleer baseball cards. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; my friendship with CRM demigod and lifelong Yankees fan Paul Greenberg is partly based on my olfactory resemblance to a Thurman Munson rookie card.

Food and Drink. There will be plenty of both, but aim for moderation. Failure to do so will lead to unpleasant confrontations with certain reflective surfaces [q.v., Hotel-Room Mirrors, above]. If you’re in a decent venue, the eats will likely be pretty tasty, but not prepared with your long-term survival in mind. Yummy fats and sodium are the order of the day, often in a high-carb form factor. Even the salads will kill you if you eat enough of ’em. Drinks, on the other hand, are highly variable—the wine or beer or liquor may be good or lousy, but, as with the free booze in a Vegas casino, the goal is to lower your resistance to manipulation. My resistance to snacks is never great, so by the end of convention season I tend to look rather spherical.

Events and Experiences. The key to making the most of a trade show is remembering how much of it is for your benefit. But you have to really own it: Act like you run the place, be the VIP you want to be, and doors will open for you. Failure to do so means you’ll be herded like cattle, reduced to being just one of the hundreds (or thousands or tens of thousands) of attendees. Embracing the proper perspective works on the show floor, but it’s absolutely magic at an Appreciation Event. These soirees are hosted for customers, press, analysts, partners, and pretty much anybody else who shows up, and the food and entertainment are top-notch. Why not bring this approach to—and expect this level of attention in—the regular business interactions in your daily life? The intent should be to create a great experience, and isn’t that what this whole CRM thing is about? 


Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting (www.3rd-idea.com), and has possibly been to more trade shows and events than you’ve had hot meals. Contact him, even on the road, at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or follow his live-twittering at www.twitter.com/Lager.

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