Sales squirrels ignoring you? Here’s a fun way to get their attention: tell them you’re cancelling all the trade shows next year. Now count backwards from ten after you click send and stand by for the howling, the outrage, the pleading. It will sound something like this:

“How will we ever make quota?”

“The quarter is doomed!”

“How can I meet my clients?

“Where else could we demo the product?

“How am I going to close my deals?”

“Where will the leads come from?”

“I need quality face time.”

“Everybody will be there”

Select all that apply.

Yes, these are the same people who refuse to take a shift at the booth, sit around eating, reading and talking on the phone when they are at the booth and who take a perverse pride in wearing a suit instead of the swell golf shirts you ordered for the show.

Let’s assume you are the number one or two player in your market and you are attending a mid-level event with a good-sized booth, say 20×20. Let’s assume there are 2,500 people at this event and it’s two days long.

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Cost of the booth space, shipping, equipment, toys, furniture, internet connection that never quite works, carpet and trinkets: $50,000. So about $20 per person just to be seen. Say you have about 25% share of market in this crowd. You have 1875 people who could be described as opportunities. Now what percentage of those are decision makers? Be honest: for B2B sales, you need at least a director or better to get anywhere close to a deal. Senior people don’t go to tradeshows. They send junior people to go to tradeshows, look at stuff, pick up bits of paper, sit through demos and come back with a report and a new cloth bag.

Let’s pretend that some decision makers do come. Say 10% of the non-clients are actual people who buy stuff. That’s 188 people. Uh oh. That’s $266 a piece just to have them walk by. If you were bright enough to hit them with a mailer first, that cost might pop up to $270. And this generously assumes that each of these paper-picker-uppers represents a separate company, which practically never happens.

Oh, and let’s back out the other vendors, students, speakers, organizers and those Shriners who showed up a week early for their own event. They aren’t your customers.

$270 to stand in a loud, crowded hall with a couple of thousand other people trying to move the sale along? That’s a terrible deal, people.

Let’s have a look at the clients, shall we? Squirrels insist trade shows are great places to hang out with clients. Maybe compared to the deck of an aircraft carrier they are, but it’s hardly intimate, quality time.

Clients are there to attend sessions and scoop up trinkets, not meet with you on crowded noisy show floor. If you were organized enough to set up a quiet lunch or dinner, good for you. That is a way tradeshows can be useful.

In our scenario here, we have 625 people who already give you money. They represent some much smaller number of companies; say 1.5 people per company that’s actually only 417 customers. How many of them are going to come to your booth to say hi? About two, and they probably have their resumes in their hands.

How many are going to come by to complain? I’m going with a generous ten percent porcupine factor in your base, so about 42. That’s fun. Forty-two unpleasant conversations in public. Who doesn’t want to pay $50,000 for that? In my experience, when the porcupines show up, the Squirrels have an urgent need to count their nuts someplace else.

Now we’re down to 300 and change actual customers, and at most, about 30 decision makers. While there is always merit in handing out a keychain and showing off a new product, you can’t really justify 50 big ones for that, can you?

So trade shows are not the best ways to move prospects through the Funnel of Love. But they are great for filling up the top of the funnel with fresh leads, right? Wrong. That fishbowl full of business cards you’re going make Skippy type into your CRM system might as well be full of Lego guy heads for all the good it’s going to do you.

The Squirrels long since picked out the very small number of those cards that held any promise, leaving you and Skippy with a bunch of sales-rejectable leads. If you collect 500 cards, you will have paid $100 for each of them.

But you know that business card.