With a smaller budget and smaller teams, a lot of startups selling to the enterprise market face a difficult decision this year when it comes to attending the right tradeshows. Some startups may only have the budget for 2-3 shows per year, which makes it even more difficult to choose. As a side note, the tradeshow budget includes much more than the tradeshow fee; it includes the booth and everything that comes with it (electricity, carpet, etc.), shipping, travel, giveaways, and while the days of fancy vendor parties are almost gone, for a small company, a tradeshow can be a significant expense (that’s why virtual tradeshows are not cheap, but cheaper than the real ones, although they don’t give you the face-to-face time).
I have attended my share of tradeshows and conferences, and, while I can say that what works for one company may not work for another one, all vendors are pretty much looking for what social media, which we all love and experiment these days, can’t bring: face-to-face time with end-users, press, and analysts (and yes, I include bloggers in the “press” category).
This year, some shows are more popular than others, because they offer exhibitors access to a qualified audience, reducing the sales cycles and maximizing their return on investment. Three of our customers, Pivot3, StorMagic and VirtenSys, will be attending VMworld. VirtenSys will also be speaking at the show if you want to learn about I/O virtualization. Pivot3 will have demos of its Serverless Computing solution, available now for VMware environments (and I didn’t want to use the marketing cliché “award-winning” here, but it really won numerous awards and received industry recognition at other shows, because of its original approach to storage and server virtualization). StorMagic will offer demonstrations and free copies of SvSAN, the StorMagic virtual appliance for ESX environments that allows you to build a high-availability SAN for less than $2,000. The free versions that they are giving away at the show are not trials, but regular licenses, which support up to 2 TB of capacity.
For those trying to save some money and virtualize what is already or what should be in their IT environment, this show certainly brings together small and large vendors, and the focus on virtualization is quite helpful for both vendors and customers. Vendors know that their target customers will be here, while users have the opportunity to attend any virtualization session they can think of, and then see the demos of the vendor solutions that will help them solve real-world problems.
Anyway, there are plenty of other shows this fall (some downsized, but still there), and, from what I hear, a lot of start-ups choose to attend VMworld and maybe another show in the fall. The good news is that these startups still do and believe in PR, they still do some advertising (mostly the online programs that can give them leads right away, such as webinars, white paper promos, etc.), and they still chase their customers for application stories to share with the world.
Our advice to startups looking to maximize their marketing investments: know your target audience, which ranges from potential partners, customers, and investors, to media and analysts, and know where to go in order to reach it. Go back and forth between the real world and the virtual world as long as you attend targeted tradeshows and build targeted Twitter follower lists. You can’t afford to be everywhere and do everything. Also, when ousourcing your marketing functions, such as PR, it will save you time and money if you work with people and agencies who know your market.
It is a tough year for startups, but those knowing where to spend their marketing money in order to reach a qualified audience will get the best ROI. The others will probably end up paying silly money for highway billboards, with no specific targets, but with the pride of having their name up there with the bigger players’. The difference is that those players already have a strong brand name. The billboard only reminds people of it. Building a brand name requires so much more than a billboard, and it can be done in a cost-effective way.