There was a point where Comdex, the computer dealer show, reigned supreme. So did the dinosaurs. Both got larger and larger. Both collapsed.

There is a lesson there, which is that there's a point at which shows and animals can't get any larger. Comdex, for a long time, benefited by getting larger. The fall version of the show was the large one as it passed 100,000, then 200,000 visitors. It went from occupying all the halls in the Las Vegas convention center to occupying several sites. It wasn't physically possible for one person to walk by and look fleetingly at every exhibit in the convention center, much less visit all sites. The show collapsed after Sept. 11, 2001.

But given the economy at the time, that was merely a push that sent the show down at time it was ready to go.

The big reseller shows may be heading the same way. There is Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, most recently held in July in Minneapolis, and the Sage Software Insights conference held in May in San Diego.

They were attended by many thousands of people--the exact numbers are not important. Microsoft says 10,000 attended the WPC. Sage was in the range of under half that. The question, of course, is how much value did these attendees get from these events?

With WPC, it's been questionable since Microsoft combined Fusion, the show for its Classic VARs, with Stampede, the Great Plains reseller conference. These two groups don't fit together. They don't have the same interests. They don't do business the same way. The accounting software VARs are far more sophisticated business people. Plus, with name tags that don't distinguish an infrastructure reseller from a Solomon dealer, it is difficult to have the kind of informal networking that represents the true value of most shows.

The Sage show is more homogenous. All attendees are in the channel, whether as resellers or consultants. But it's tough not to get the idea that products such as Timberline, the construction software, and MIP, the not-for-profit accounting softwaret, get lost in the crush. When these products were marketed by companies with their own shows, they were more visible. I believe it was easier for the channel members to connect and get value.

Maybe the companies think that the bigger shows work. But me, I'm just a small town, small show kind of guy, who feels lost in Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and, to a certain extent, at the large conferences.

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