Are trade shows worth while in 2019? Probably not for me.

I attend a few conferences and trade shows each year. I like ISE because I love Amsterdam and it’s a good excuse to spend time in one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.  However, I’m starting to question the value. And I think I keep going to these events purely due to FOMO.

Here are three reasons I might give trade shows a miss from now on.  

1. While the industry is patting itself on the back- the customers are moving at light speed in another direction.


The week before ISE I had a few sales meetings in London. In most cases, my clients (or potential clients) were women in senior positions at large corporates. Lately, I’ve ditched the slide deck and just start chatting and showing demos based on whatever comes up. These clients understand the value of a platform instantly. They are not asking how does it compare to a particular product- as they are thinking bigger than product. They literary think outside the box (or app) and focus on UX.  I click with them, I like them and a sales meeting feels more like a collaboration. The old school wining-and-dining is not just unnecessary- it would be counter productive with these types of customers.  And as an introvert- I love that.

Fast forward a few days, I’m at ISE in a room (15 halls) full of product. Sometimes you hear the word platform- but as a way to sell more product, which in this industry is usually a box. But an App is now the new box. Instead of 5 boxes per room- this industry wants you to have 5 apps… and 5 boxes.  

This year ISE had a few smart-building talks but it ends up being by more box and app people. It seems that the future of smart workplace includes a lot of room booking panels.  But to be fair, there was at least one good talk I manage to catch on media content within smart buildings.

Later, I’m in a bar and my FOMO really kicks in- I stay out because I think I can find out about the projects everyone is working on. But it’s just a bunch of men- happy to be away from their wives and kids for a few days- letting loose in Amsterdam. It’s harmless fun, but is it worth coming across the globe for? And thinking back to London, I don’t need to do this sort of thing to reach customers anymore.

2. Trade shows are a time suck.

I’m in a unique position, I can make any trip worthwhile by organising sales or partner meetings around it. If the city has a building- I have potential sale. This actually makes it hard for me to switch off when I take a holiday but that could be another post.  

I can take a risk on a trade show on the other side of the world- as I can make up for it with sales meetings. Australia is a long way from anywhere, so I often tour my way over and do a day of meetings in Singapore or Hong Kong.  But I’m now finding this should be the focus- not something I do on the side. Being stuck in a convention centre for 5 days means I am not doing much else that week.

I also have the problem of catching up with all the missed calls, emails and task work that I put off the whole week. So it’s not just a week off- but a few more days to get back on top of everything.

Even these poorly written articles I publish from time to time get over 500 views and leads to one or two potential customers reaching out. So if I spent the time writing- I would have better ROI than a week at a conference centre.

3. The products are online.

I’m sure if you just follow the announcements, watch the online videos and keep an eye on the vendors websites- you would find the product info you need. ISE is actually the hardest trade floor to navigate. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it. It is overwhelmingly large and I always seem to be on the opposite side of where I need to be. Researching products on my laptop- I can do in my underpants.

Are all the exhibitors also here because of FOMO? If they spent their ISE budget on Google Adwords and some nice content- wouldn’t they get better ROI?  How do they even measure the ROI of such an event?

Final thoughts

I think the fundamental problem with these trade shows is I don’t feel like my company falls neatly into any particular industry.  ISE stands for Integrated Systems Europe- and smart buildings and smart workplace has plenty of integrations. But there is so much that is just not relevant. On the flip side, there are workplace conferences that covers some technology- but is mostly driven by architects interested in sustainable furniture manufacturing processes.  

We know who our customers are and we know they are not attending these events. But they are on linkedin, and instagram. And they are obviously using Google, searching for “smart workplace” and “connected experiences”. So my time is better spent targeting these keywords with content and reaching out on Linkedin.

So if you see me at a conference- remind me that I wrote this article and buy me a beer so I can explain why I’m still there.