I understand the value of networking to the people. And with sales and marketing positions these shows add value. However unless you are in marketing I fail to see any value gained by the business in having other workers attend the trade shows.

With the internet most technologies are demonstrated better and earlier online before they ever get to the shows. I am looking to justify sending workers to trade shows using our training budget, but it seems this value is not really gained by the business and that the money would be better spent sending a few people to focus training every year rather than sending several people to the different trade shows. I understand the value of providing support if you have a booth or someone in your organization is presenting. But I am specifically talking about shows where the company has no real stake like this in the show. The employees would have the sole role of attendee.

Is there any thing gained by the business when sending its workers to a (comparatively) less expensive trade shows rather than focusing on practical training classes?

  • 2
    If a business has some smart innovative employees, then perhaps they just want to give them some ideas or inspirations. That seems to be part of the reason my company sends some people to those things.
    – Rachel
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 20:02
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    Are you referring to any specific industry. I agree that the IT industry, this may be true. but for industry such as construction, or manufacturing, trade shows are a good source of keeping up to date and to expand the professional network.
    – tehnyit
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 9:00
  • @tehnyit I agree there is value in the networking to marketing types as noted in the question. But how does the business get value in engineers, and other office types? The internet makes most of the basic information that used to come from trade shows easier to get than ever before. So why would they need to go to a trade show to get that information when they should have already found out most of it online? Commented May 5, 2012 at 22:06
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    @Chad, its not all about information. There is something to be gained by face-to-face contact, chance encounters, and sharing experiences with others. Admittedly, this can't be quantified, but technical conferences would cease to exist if it were not important.
    – Angelo
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 14:06
  • @Angelo - There is great value in the networking. I am just not convinced that the value is to the business unless it is marketing. I am not questioning the value of the show. Just that it there is value to the business in sending engineers, IT, office types, etc to trade shows. Your answer came closest so far to showing value. Commented May 7, 2012 at 14:12

10 Answers 10


I do this on a regular basis. A trade show is a good place to gain key business insight, however I want my sales and marketing team focussed on - well selling and marketing.

So - when I usually send technical staff along with key, specific briefs that match with their skills and insight. These might be to review the technology of specific key competitors, or what aligned businesses are doing, or look for things that might be a threat to our business model.

They might not attend the whole show, just a single day, as this helps to maintain focus.

If you combine this with meeting clients and providing technical support if needed to the selling process, its worth doing.

It can also help them gain appreciation of what the sales and marketing team actually have to do, which can help to break down internal communication barriers in the company.

EDIT To fully answer, some of this is funded from my training budget, especially for less senior staff where I need to grow their wider understanding of the industry. This is usually - but not always - where we have identified a specific career development need. We also send staff to attend technical conferences on a training budget, and I trust them to report back whether it was high value or not.


Of course there is business value to sending employees to conferences!

This is especially true if someone in your org presents a talk, but even if they go to schmooze with counterparts from other companies and bond with coworkers, it is still worth it and not just for marketing types. Java one isn't only marketing, nor is Velocity, nor is EclipseCon. These are opportunities for folks to see the state-of-the-art, interact with the top practitioners in their field and become excited about what they're doing by sharing ideas with others.

I can understand why a beancounter (not saying Chad is one) might disagree. It is fashionable in the current economic environment to attempt to calculate an explicit ROI for every expenditure. The problem is that you just can't compute the business value of an intellectually engaged happy employee who mingles somewhat regularly with a wide range of professionals. Some people will simply add up the hotel, plane, per-diem, and missing days of work and see a cost-sink. That's not right.

  • Chad was trying to compare the value of formal training and the value of attending a conference, given a finite training budget. I do use my training budget in part in this way, on a case-by-case basis, but its a tough call.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 3:50
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    @GuyM, I understand, but training and conferences/trade-shows are usually very different things. For example, which would be more beneficial: to send top-notch team leads to a "learning tree" seminar where they already know the subject-matter or to send them to present/attend at a conference where they can meet with the top people in their industry?
    – Angelo
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 14:08
  • You are seldom in a position where you have the budget to be able to do both for all staff; my industry has a lot of workshops/courses based around conferences which helps, but on the downside most of the conferences are long-haul destinations.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:19

One previous employer would routinely send QA and developers to tradeshows where the company had a booth. One of the difficulties with "shrinkwrap" business software is that the folks writing the software don't always know their customers (in this case, accountants and actuaries). So for this company, it was helpful to get the techies out to learn how the users actually used the product.


One advantage of sending a representative from your technical team to "buying" conferences (where you're looking at products others are trying to sell rather than hawking your own wares) that hasn't been mentioned is that they have the opportunity to intercept snap decisions that are occasionally made by executives who attend these shows and fall for the glitz and glamor that typically surround the presentations.

Having someone close at hand to whisper in their ears can prevent costly mistakes and lost time investigating solutions that would never have been considered if the right questions had been asked at the conference.

I imagine other sections of the business would have similar advantages in their own areas of expertise.


I am sure there are more but these are two that I can think of without too much effort:

If you are in industries where the technology changes a lot (e.g. software), you get more value from a good trade show talking to the technicians than attending training classes.

This is mainly because training courses by nature only focus on non cutting edge stuff and you get more done by talking to the developers instead. Shows give you the chance to get in depth information from the horses mouth, which can be invaluable.


If you are in product development of any sort, you generally get more from trade shows as well. In this day and age, technology know-how is often secondary to having great ideas that can act as differentiators for your company's products.

Let's say you already know how to design cars relatively well. Your time is better served by seeing what the other people are doing at trade shows instead of learning another design skill in a classroom where exposure is limited.

You may not learn how to design faster, or quicker, or in the latest fashionable way at trade shows but what you get is the chance to pick up on new ideas and a head start on designing the RIGHT product in the first place.

That in itself is infinitely more valuable.


However unless you are in marketing I fail to see any value gained by the business in having other workers attend the trade shows.

Generally speaking, small companies and startups, fighting for their existence, may need to send non-marketing people to trade shows. Here's why:

  1. A small company should send a smokeshow to a trade show to stand at the company's booth and attract foot traffic. [In a small company, this person may or may not work in marketing.]
  2. A small company needs somebody with "tech credibility" to attend trade shows to converse with prospective customers, listen to their business problems, and establish the company's product as a solution to their problems. Sometimes a founder, a marketing person, or a salesperson has enough tech credibility to fill these needs, but not always. [This is also why larger companies sometimes hire pre-sales engineers.]
  3. While I agree that product managers and lead programmers are generally more useful at the workplace, building the product, they too can capture some value at trade shows. When a product manager or lead programmer understands what the marketplace demands, at a deep level, they can exercise superb judgement on requirements decisions. They can gain insight that will help them steer the product in a direction that more closely aligns with what the marketplace demands.

I think it is a question of the complexity of your product. If you have a technically very complex product, non-marketing personell should be usefull as a backup in discussions where the marketing people are out of their depth.

  • I updated the question to focus the scope to shows where the company is not invested (no booth/no presenter). Sorry for what that did your answer. Commented May 3, 2012 at 20:39
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    I'm not shure that in the tighted scope my answer loses anything, in fact, it might make for a stronger case: If I don't have a presentation - no talk, no booth - how will you convincigly describe the offered solution if you "only" have a marketer at the show, who will probably will be out of his depth as soon as the questions get technical?
    – Owe Jessen
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 21:24

Is there any thing gained by the business when sending its workers to a (comparatively) less expensive trade shows rather than focusing on practical training classes?

It depends on the position of your workers, and the kind of the trade show.

If they can get something valuable for the business (like learn about new tools, if they are SW developers, or see something new in electronics if they are HW engineers), then it is worth it. If they can get some new ideas, seeing products of the competitors on the show, then it is also worth it.

If they are going, just to waste time, then it is not worth the money.

Practical trainings can be done any time. Good trade shows are only few times a year.


The obvious value of sending employees to trade shows is extracting them from the dreary sweatshop routine of daily work, & letting them relax a bit at company's expense, see new people, places, get new impressions and ideas. It is a perk that should always be distributed around as fairly as the managers can afford.

(To naysayers: this does help in building morale for the company in general).

  • Do you use your training budget to fund this, or do you have a seperate conference budget you draw from? And if you have to make budget cuts, would you cut back on conference attendence or on sending staff to formal professinal development training? I agree its great for morale, but usually there's a finite amount of money in the pot...
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 23:22
  • Budget is usually somewhat pliable; since this is soft employee compensation, cuts may be workable without much impact on morale only if they are implemented fairly across the board. Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 6:52
  • Agreed - but the question from the OP is whether you would use the training budget to send the team members to a conference...
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 18:59
  • @GuyM, no, I wouldn't. However, there are training classes out there that are actually worse than trade shows :( Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 19:04
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    There are often courses/workshops associated with our conferences (and these are often better quality) which helps with my budget flexibility, and splits the costs a little.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 19:19

I've found great value in sending employees whose work with customers is primarily over the phone or via email. Our credit department, in particular, has had great success. Instead of being thought of as a faceless collection agency, our credit reps can show them selves to be problem solvers.

Another benefit is that employees who feel chained to their desks really appreciate the chance to spend a day (on the clock) away from the office doing something new and interacting with customers and coworkers in a different light.

I pick and choose quite carefully. Not every show is appropriate for exrta staff.

  • +1 for the "adding a human face" touch; we've also had a very good response from clients from doing this with our support/training team.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 23:13

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