Crossing over from being inside a large company like Pfizer, to being an independent consultant to finally working with Knowledge Plaza and Applied Trends, I’ve often struggled with being seen as a ‘vendor’.
The word vendor often has negative connotations especially when you’re exhibiting at conferences and trade shows. The default people expect is lengthy and bullshitty sales talk, removed from the realities of what people actually want and smooth talking guys just pushing a square peg into a round hole.
As an example a few weeks ago I attended Knowledge and Content UK (KCUK) with Gregory Culpin and manned the Knowledge Plaza stand. We were one of only 4 or 5 ‘vendors’ in attendance who’s sponsorship money helped to make the event a reality. Things started off well, and as usual we stood out with our slightly different stand, stance and general approach. We were there not just to promote the product, but to network, meet people share our experiences (good and bad) as practitioners and to have a good time. To be honest, sales talk comes a definite second to conversations and sharing. If only the other vendors were the same.
We were due to present a case study and general informational presentation on Social Software and Information Professionals in the afternoon. However by the time we got to our designated slot the audience had already endured at least two terrible sales pitches by the other vendors. In fact they were so bad and so blatant that people were seriously avoiding all the vendors. Wild product claims, a lack of useful information and general ignorance of the subject matter pretty much alienated the audience.
Luckily we did manage to pull in half of a large room for our talk and we started as we would normally start by introducing ourselves, covering our personal professional backgrounds in relation to the conference and reassuring the audience this was NOT a sales pitch. Over the next hour we shared our views, experiences and relevant product information with the audience. We initiated dialogue, invited challenges and generally had a good time! The aim was to educate, share and of course raise product awareness but not at the expense of the former. The reaction? Excellent, we immediately had people come up and congratulate us on a ‘superb’ presentation which stood out from the crowd and the other vendors.
So as a summary here are my personal do’s and don’ts for vendor presentations at conferences:
- invent new terms around your product i.e Knowledge Management 3.0 – it’s not credible
- just talk to the audience and not converse – people get bored
- only talk about your product – people are there to learn stuff so offer some insights into the industry at least
- be arrogant – bold arrogant claims are often sneered at whether they are true or not, so if you do make them, back them up with customer references or comments
- teach people stuff – as stated above, people are there to learn
- discuss your wins and failures – transparency is great to get the audience on side
- engage and encourage feedback and discussions
- be flexible with the approach and style – be prepared to adapt
- be seen as individuals and experts in a field – not just sales people from XYZ corp
For our next trade show and conference appearances we’re trying to find a way to present our stand and ourselves as individuals as well as product representatives. We want to engage, educate, discuss and have fun, not just push a message! Maybe we’ll do something like the Geek Squad and present our personalities alongside the product merchandise….I’ll let you know how it goes!
Anyway, here’s our presentation from KCUK.