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The Green Sheet Online Edition

April 27, 2015 • Issue 15:04:02

Street SmartsSM

Tradeshows and conferences: A good use of your time and money?

By Jeffrey I. Shavitz
Charge Card Systems Inc.

Having just returned from the Electronic Transactions Association's Transact 15 conference in San Francisco, I'm feeling tired, yet excited from three productive days of meetings with exhibitors and friends, as well as learning from the many educational seminars. I think it's appropriate for this Street SmartsSM article to focus on the value of attending conferences and tradeshows.

One pressure I feel in authoring Street SmartsSM is producing articles that are relevant to the industry, topical to current trends in payments and push you to think about how you can grow within our ever evolving business. It's not easy to continuously think of new subject matter that hasn't been discussed in depth within The Green Sheet, so I look forward to visiting the MLS Forum (which candidly, I didn't have time to do last week –so I'm writing this article on the flight home from California. I would have preferred to watch the JetBlue TV, but the GS emailed me that I'm already a day late for my deadline!)

As a reminder, I'm writing these articles from the perspective of the salesperson (not the processor, the VAR, etc.) and my philosophy and experience in convention wisdom (or lack thereof) is purely based on my direct involvement as a merchant level salesperson (MLS) and ISO participant.

Quick question: How many payments industry tradeshows and conferences (that is, ETA, regional shows) do you attend each year as an attendee (not an exhibitor where you must be there representing your company)? If your answer is zero, my recommendation is to increase it 100 percent and attend at least one in the next 12 months. Why? Read on and I'll explain.

As a MLS, have you ever invested your own capital and exhibited at a merchant end-user trade conference in order to develop your brand within a specific industry and cultivate relationships with potential merchants? If your answer two or more, congratulations; you understand the value of this type of relationship building. If it's zero or only one, my suggestion is to evaluate your business, your sales pipeline and quantify your return on investment (ROI) on this form of sales and marketing.

Throughout my career in the payments industry, I have regularly attended industry-specific conferences (that is, liquor stores, nonprofits, etc.), either to just "walk the show" or attend as an exhibitor. It's incredible how many people and relationships you can cultivate within a 24- to 48-hour window. These types of events are clearly worth the cash outlay and time investment. It's a no-brainer. I also find as a MLS when you spend your own money and have "skin in the game," you truly make the conference experience much more meaningful by really working the show.

An obvious reason for attending conferences is having senior industry professionals gathered in the same place for two to three days. But attending an out-of-town tradeshow can get expensive, fast. To make it worth your while, you need a plan.

Benefits outweigh excuses

If money is the primary reason you are not attending, let's evaluate this further and ultimately decide the ROI. Or have you not even evaluated the cost and just never thought about attending?

Our industry has the ETA Transact, which, candidly, is expensive in relative terms, as well as four regional shows annually: Northeast Acquires, Southeast Acquirers, Midwest Acquirers and Western States Acquirers. To the credit of the show organizers, the regional shows are economically priced to incent attendance and interaction with industry executives and key players in the industry.

I conducted research on tradeshow benefits, and found that according to a survey conducted by Skyline Exhibits and EXPO Magazine, the following are the primary reasons respondents cited for attending conventions, tradeshows and conferences:

  • See new products and services 92%
  • Keep up to date on industry trends/issues 78%
  • See many companies at one time 75%
  • See existing suppliers 67%
  • See specific companies or products 67%
  • Network with colleagues and/or vendors 65%
  • Create and/or strengthen industry relationships 60%
  • See products "in-person" that were reviewed online 57%
  • Get technical information or specifications 52%
  • Attend seminars/workshops 47%
  • Place orders 25%
  • Source potential new partners 25%
  • Present at educational sessions 16%
  • Stay abreast with competitors that attend 14%
  • Recruit employees 3%

Since I love golf, the only answer that I didn't see mentioned in these responses was "playing in the golf event the day before the actual conference starts." Otherwise, pretty straightforward answers and ones you would expect; however, I did find one response interesting in that nearly 50 percent of attendees want "to learn, attend seminars and workshops."

At ETA's Transact 15, I was fortunate to host a panel discussion called "Partnerships in the ISO Community" featuring four industry professionals with varied backgrounds and experience in our profession, including ISO owner, industry attorney, former ETA president, merchant services provider, analyst and cash advance professional. Where else can you have a discussion with such a diverse group of people and get their candid thoughts of the industry, followed by an engaging Q&A session?

I leave these conferences and tradeshows with a renewed excitement for the industry and my involvement within the business. There are days and weeks when I am just stuck in the same routine, and these shows give me a burst of energy to jumpstart my business. I hear and see new trends, what's working or not working, and I always find it comical that everyone walking these payment shows is, in essence "your competition." I am very fortunate to have very close friends who are my direct competition as we all sell merchant accounts, but how great to have friends you can trust to share stories with and learn from.

Essential basic steps

Following are a few simple comments on getting the most out of your conference experience, and I'm not going to mention the obvious like wearing comfortable shoes (even though, I guess, I just did).

  1. Register in advance. This sounds so simple, but I just made this mistake and missed the early bird special to stay at the main hotel for the Southeast Acquirers Show in New Orleans, and now I'm spending an additional $70 per night for the same hotel. Shows have different policies and pricing structures, and it's wise to find out what they are in advance.
  2. Stay at the hotel associated with the event. It's usually a little more expensive, but many of the industry executives will be staying there because it's convenient. And after the day's events, they'll all be meeting in the lounge for a cocktail. In San Francisco, there were a few primary hotels, and it's amazing how many people you could see in the lobbies introducing themselves and meeting for group drinks.
  3. Make a plan. The worst way to go to a tradeshow is unprepared. You need a goal and objectives. So arrive early and get your hands on a map and a directory. I map out which booths I am going to hit and in what order, because tradeshows are massive, and I can't afford to needlessly tire myself out.
  4. Bring businesses cards. I find it funny when I meet people the first day who say they are already out of business cards. They are not that expensive, so bring more than 10 to the show, and always get business cards from people you speak with. As good as your memory is, or you think it is, you will forget their names when you get back to your hotel room.

    Bottom line: going to a tradeshow, convention or conference is work. Yes, it can be fun and should be to re-engage with old industry friends, but make the most of your valuable time. Take it seriously; rewards will surely come for those who know how to work the show.

end of article

Jeffrey I. Shavitz is the founder of Charge Card Systems Inc., which was sold in 2012 to Card Connect. Prior to CCS, he was an investment banker at Lehman Brother working in the mergers and acquisitions department. In the past, he served on the First Data ISO Advisory Board and currently is active with The Green Sheet Advisory Board. In addition to his involvement in the conventional payments space, he is currently consulting as Managing Director of Affinity Solutions and its Navigator product. For more information, he can be contacted at jshavitz@chargecardsystems.com or 800-878-4100.

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