The Great Attendee-Exhibitor Divide

Next time you’re at a tradeshow and someone mentions the industry’s impending decline or the fading away of face-to-face, tell them to look around the room.

Half of the attendees they see on the showfloor have the “final say” in their company’s purchasing decisions.

That’s the word according to the Center for Exhibition Research (CEIR), which recently released the latest chapter in an on-going series titled The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction. CEIR surveyed more than 1,000 industry professionals for this portion of the study last year.

With 49 percent of attendees wielding that all-important “final say,” the tradeshow floor is swarmed with execs in the market for products and services.

But how does the other half live—that remaining 51 percent? What’s their role in the buying process? Ninety-four percent of all attendees have some buying influence, after all, CEIR says.

Excluding executives, upper management and sales staff, attendees are a motley group of specialists that have, in place of “final say,” a wealth of technical knowledge. They’re often the ones who will be dealing directly with the product or service being sold. They may not make the decisions, but they have the ears of those who do.

While exhibitors prepare for the 49 percent by stocking their booths with sales teams (38 percent), upper management (30 percent) and exhibit management (18 percent), not enough, if any, provide access to the creators and developers working with the product or service on a daily basis.

Almost two-thirds of vendors are small businesses though, according to the study, so limitations are necessary. And, of course, the people manning the booth get paid to know what they’re selling.

However, the stark disparity between attendee and exhibitor profiles, between the users and makers of a product, is notable. Their profiles don’t always match up seamlessly, although there’s usually a significant amount of overlap. Each of the other three areas of the study (types of events, industry sectors and company size) showed marked similarities between attendee and exhibitor groups.

The “final say-ers” are great. They’re the big fish. They’re what ultimately drive the tradeshow industry.

But don’t forget to tell your friend about the other half when they’re canvassing the showfloor.

Michael Rondon is an associate editor for EXPO Magazine. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @Mike_Rondon.

Posted by Michael Rondon

Michael Rondon is a senior editor for Expo. Reach him @Mike_Rondon or View all articles by Michael Rondon →