By Jeffrey I. Shavitz
When I receive my issue of The Green Sheet, I always take a quick peek at the Calendar of Events in the back that lists upcoming industry tradeshows, conferences, leadership forums or summit meetings. Just when it seemed the tradeshow calendar was full enough, along came newcomers like Money 20/20 and LendIt, which have become increasingly popular among payments industry professionals.
In a 1748 essay titled "Advice to a Young Tradesman," Benjamin Franklin stated, "Time is money." These powerful three words are especially true for merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and other payment professionals when deciding whether to spend a few days away from the office and use money and other resources to attend one of these events.
Soon, it will be time to plan for the 2016 tradeshow season. With that in mind, I asked members of GS Online's MLS Forum the following:
Forum member TheCreditCardMan began the discussion, stating, "As young buck to the industry, I attended as many tradeshows as I could, at least one to two a year. The tradeoff between the knowledge of the industry's 'whos and whats' against the costs in hard money and time was very well spent.
"As my middle age in the industry evolved … I would go to investigate (what I thought were) the whales in the room. Asking them, in the most professional and subtle ways, what made them profitable/grow. The lunch and cocktail hours were my hunting ground. Once, over a couple of drinks, the son of a mega whale began telling me all the secrets his company used. The old man caught the end of the conversation and took the kid to the woodshed. I still use some of those tips to this day.
"Today, I only attend if I have a prescheduled meeting with a specific person or company. Of course, there is still value in attending, and the industry is ever evolving, but over time, it was the same vendors, the same people, the same pitches. I would go again if it fit into my vacation plans, like Vegas or New Orleans, or if it was an hour from home and it could be done in one long day.
"The ISO I wrote for the first 15 years always had an over-the-top (almost) yearly agent conference. In addition to the mini vendor exhibits and the classroom presentations, just getting face time and chatting with the people in underwriting/management/CS/tech was invaluable."
TheCreditCardMan noted that going on a golf, fishing or wine tasting excursion in conjunction with a conference might not seem like it's about the 'whos and whats' in the industry. Then he added, "So many times after those conferences, I could call in and say, 'Hi, Jim, remember me from the fishing trip? Could you do me a favor and look at this account a little closer? I need a little extra help' Putting a face to a name never gets old."
CardConnect believes that if used properly, the tradeshow circuit can be very fruitful. "The key is to understand your goals before ever attending a tradeshow," CardConnect posted. "Are you attending to solidify relationships, make new relationships, see friends, learn about new products or even close a deal? Understanding your reason for attending will help you be more successful, and there is no right answer. Just as it is important to plan your work and work your plan, it is important to understand the potential value of any tradeshow.
"I came to realize early on that building strong and viable relationships is a core feature of success at many different levels. I believe that the regional shows are a good starting point in that the tradeshow floor can be navigated quickly, and the size of the shows allows for tremendous networking. These shows are very important for those starting out in the industry, especially if they are close enough where the cost to attend the show is not too prohibitive."
CardConnect also offered advice to industry newbies, stating, "No matter what show you decide to attend, determine your purpose, put together a plan and work that plan. Use these shows as another way to grow your business."
Forum member Clearent agrees that setting goals before attending tradeshows is essential.
"I know others may have said this, but it truly depends on what your goal is by attending or exhibiting," he wrote. "Often, the goal of exhibiting may be as simple as garnering name recognition. In others, it may be a belief that the cost will be offset by new business.
"The challenge with the former is there is true ability to weigh the value of the investment. Whereas, the latter may be easy to manage, but the true results are usually disappointing relative to the money spent.
"So the answer is it depends. Bottom line: if a realistic expectation is set and the investment justifies that expectation, then there is value. But don't decide to attend/exhibit because 'I haven't gone before' as the sole reason."
TheCreditCardMan respectfully disagreed with Clearent's statement that never having attended before isn't enough reason to attend an event. "Having never gone to a tradeshow is a very valid reason for attending," TheCreditCardMan wrote. "For a first timer, it would be tremendously beneficial in so many ways ‒ even just to open their eyes to so many products, ISOs and people in the same industry. As salespeople we (or I) tend to have tunnel vision. A tradeshow, if nothing else, will make them say, 'Damn! I did not know what I did not know.'"
In terms of the costs, TheCreditCardMan added that new MLSs need not "go cross country for a week." He advised them to attend local tradeshows, where just an overnight stay might be required. "It will be an investment that will pay dividends for years," he added. "In reality we, as an industry, spend so little time and money on education that a tradeshow, done right, has a high ROI."
ClearPayChris added a different vantage point, stating, "From an exhibitor perspective, it's a subjective and relative answer that is quite often changing. The events quite often achieve intangibles such as strengthening brand recognition and existing relationships. Sometimes we can provide a niche or find out that we may be better suited for an ISO or agent's current (and ever-changing) needs.
"More often than not it's really hard to gauge the true 'success' of an event for an exhibitor in a truly tangible way (immediate increase in app count, profitability, etc.) but it is more often just part of the continued process of building and continuing to promote a brand and portfolio and making sure that we 'keep our name out there' alongside our perceived competition."
I want to thank those who contributed their insights to this discussion. I also encourage forum members who haven't been posting comments to add their perspectives to Street SmartsSM threads. And if you're a sales rep in the payments industry who has never participated in the MLS Forum, please visit www.greensheet.com/forums, and register so you can both help and learn from your peers.
Jeffrey I. Shavitz is Chief Executive Officer of TrafficJamming LLC, which is a virtual business group for entrepreneurs and small business owners to help grow a company's sales (traffic = customers in his language). His experience in payments includes co-founding Charge Card Systems Inc., which was sold to Card Connect in 2012; Alternative Merchant Processing, dedicated to high-risk merchant processing; and Charge Card Funding, involved in the cash advance space. Jeff has published four books: Size Doesn't Matter — Why Small Business is Big Business, which became an Amazon No. 1 top release in both the business and entrepreneur categories; Small Business Aha Messages; The Power of Residual Income – You Can Bank on It!, and Networking – Get Connected. He can be contacted at 800-878-4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org; his websites are www.jeffshavitz.com and www.trafficjamming.com.
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