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Maximizing Value at Training Expo Vendor Booths


Anyone who has ever been to a training and development conference has undoubtedly been overwhelmed by the enormity of the expo hall—both in physical size and plethora of information. Add to that the ubiquitous giveaway t-shirts, flashlights, and other goodies, the raffles for digital cameras and vacation getaways, and the lure of the afternoon snack table, and it makes for one bustling, chaotic experience. Who can concentrate on obtaining meaningful information with all that going on simultaneously?

 

Typically, organizations will send only one person to a particular conference due to cost. This makes it difficult for that person to not only canvas the show’s floor, but also attend equipped with the right questions to obtain the most relevant information to bring back to the organization. 

 

Here are some tips for making the most of your expo experience.

 

Strategy #1: Think quality, not quantity, when it comes to the free handouts.

 

An important rule of thumb is to try to collect the minimal amount of brochures and fancy promotional materials. Remember: Not only will you have to lug the hard copy home, but you will have to sift through it back at the office. Look for single-page product overviews, specifications sheets, CDs with demos, as well as business cards.

 

Strategy #2: Only the facts, please.

 

Facts, not marketing hype, are what will help you make a sound decision. So, along with the items mentioned above, ask suppliers for any reports about their products written by research firms (e.g., Gartner or IDC).

 

Be aware, though, that vendors sometimes pay research companies to develop reports. Ask the vendor whether the documents you’re getting were commissioned. The most meaningful research about the vendor’s market and its product has been carried out independently. 

 

Finally, ask the vendor to give you any articles written about the company (or its product) by bona fide news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal, InformationWeek, or any number of national business or trade magazines. These accounts offer you a news organization’s unbiased take on the vendor or its products.

 

Strategy #3: Have a needs assessment and vendor criteria ready.

 

An essential tool to have on hand in the expo hall is a vendor checklist. With a checklist, all of the most critical and relevant information will be at your fingertips. This reduces the time and effort of sorting through documentation for specific pieces of information. This type of tool will also serve as a helpful reminder to ensure that your questions are addressed. It also promises to help you navigate the expo hall with success and speed.

 

Company and Product Information Checklist

Check

Criteria

Notes

Length of time the company has been in business, and whether they are public or privately held.

 

Are the founders still running (or involved with) the company? This speaks to the firm’s ability to focus on its core principles. 

 

Names of current clients from organizations from the same industry and of relatively similar size and revenue. Try to obtain the names of long-time clients. if possible.

 

Also ask for customer references. If you’re serious about evaluating the product, the vendor ought to be able to share these with you.

 

Geographic coverage in service and tech support.

 

Identification of core product offering, and how many version upgrades that product has been through since its inception.

 

Identification of other product capabilities (e.g., content management, reporting, authoring), and how long they have been available.

 

How are products offered: separately, as a suite solution, etc.?

 

 

What is the pricing model (e.g., open license or per user)? 

 

Analyst reports and top-tier newspaper and magazine articles concerning the vendor, its products and customers.

 

 

Technical and Systems Information Checklist

 

Check

Criteria

Notes

Do the products integrate with organization’s current systems (e.g., ERP, reporting, and desktop apps)?

 

What is the level of support available post-implementation, for end-user training, technical support, upgrades, and maintenance?  What are the costs associated?

 

Does the product have an open architecture, what type of platform does it use?

 

Is the product offered as an install behind a firewall, is it hosted, or is either option available?

 

What industry standards does the product adhere to? When did any standards organizations last certify the product?

 

How scalable is the product?

 

What are the technical (e.g., programming, networking, etc.) requirements for the product in both implementation and maintenance?

 

 

 

Training and development conferences and expos can be overwhelming—whether it’s an attendee’s first show or tenth show. Having a plan for acquiring information relevant to the organization’s objectives is critical for obtaining the maximum value from conference registration costs, and also delivering greater value to the organization’s training budget and human capital.

 

Published: May 2005

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