Using audits as sales tools

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A year after its commitment to audit attendance for its portfolio of invitation-only IT conferences, Needham, Mass.-based TechTarget says the third-party stamp of approval continues to be a strong selling tool.

The company's trade shows, all of which were audited this year, are: Smart CRM East 2004, Storage Decisions Spring 2004, Enterprise Messaging Decisions 2004 and Data Center Decisions 2004.

The audits, conducted by independent auditor Exhibit Surveys, revealed detailed information about attendees. For instance, for the Data Center Decisions show, 36.2% of attendees had budgets of more than $25 million, and 29.5% had budgets between $6 million and $25 million. At the CRM show, 40.9% of attendees had budgets of more than $25 million.

The audits also revealed that 100% of attendees at TechTarget's 2004 conferences had purchasing power, a fact that TechTarget Public Relations Director Catherine Engelke attributes to the company's careful attendee screening process.

TechTarget qualifies attendees only when they meet several criteria, including having a technology-specific budget of at least $1 million or at least $250,000 for the quarter. TechTarget calls applicants personally to screen them and validates that information by checking references.

Some exhibitors that have recently signed on said they did so because of the strong audit information TechTarget provides. Network Intelligence, a network security management company, said audits definitely figured into its decision to exhibit this spring for the first time. "It's a strong factor. ... It allows us to verify decision-makers who care about our technology will attend and not waste our marketing budget," said Eric Morin, channel marketing manager at Network Intelligence. "The audit raises their shows in priority when we sit down twice a year to evaluate what shows we are going to do."

He said the spring show was enough of a success that the company signed on to do another. "That went so well for us, we did Chicago in the fall," Morin said.

Other new clients that signed on at least in part because of the audits, according to TechTarget, include data storage provider Quantum Corp. and security technology companies Lucid Security and Endforce.

Even repeat clients have indicated that audits matter. Louis Gray, corporate communications manager at BlueArc, a data storage provider, said the audits are a factor in its continued presence at TechTarget shows.

The fact that the average attendee at the Storage Decisions conference had an estimated annual budget of $6.5 million sealed the deal for Gray, he said. "Each attendee is a legitimate opportunity, and that gives us the confidence that we're targeting the right people in the right place. We don't have tens of millions of dollars to go out and experiment, so everything we do has to work."

Skip Cox, president of Exhibit Surveys, said that while most of the major technology events are audited, only a minority of trade shows in other industries are audited. "Groups of exhibitors in the tech industry have rallied around causes like that and in essence demand it," he said. "Other industries are more fragmented."

Still, a strong audit doesn't guarantee a show's success. Technology shows such as CeBIT America and Comdex, which conducted audits, have either folded or been placed "on hold" while they reorganize, Cox said.

"In my opinion, perception more than anything did in these shows," he said. "When you look at the audits on these shows, they were really pretty good shows. Many of these shows still drew good audiences." M

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