Online Site Brings Trade Show to Users

Jean-Luc Alarcon, president and CEO of SPEX Research (Reston, Va.), says many people he encounters have come to view trade shows as a huge investment of time and money that offer only a minimal return on their investment. Seeing this frustration, Alarcon decided there had to be a better way to introduce users to the latest products on the market—so he brought the trade show online.

“I’ve been attending many different trade shows and I’ve noticed a decrease in attendance over the past three years,” Alarcon explains. “On the user side, I’ve seen a lot of frustration—businesses are looking for a lot of information and they’re not finding it. They’d have to go through a lot of different booths and they’d have to go through a lot of hype and couldn’t get a lot out of the trade shows.” (new window), a new portal introduced by SPEX in June, is designed to provide a forum where enterprise software vendors can present their products and users can exchange feedback on the applications they use. Information offered on the site will include current SPEX research and user comments, as well as vendor advertising. Each month the site will host an E-Summit, presenting focused reviews and product demos on a specific topic such as enterprise product management, CRM, finance and network security.

For users, the site is designed to provide an opportunity to review, demo and evaluate several options for filling a particular technology need. Vendors will have the benefit of reaching a target audience of active buyers.

“On the vendor side, there’s also a lot of frustration in having to spend more and more marketing dollars on these trade shows, and they couldn’t even be sure they were reaching the right audience,” Alarcon says. “Here, they have an extremely qualified audience of professionals who are looking to buy enterprise software.”

Alarcon emphasized that SPEX is careful to keep the site’s research separate from vendor advertising. He says it’s important to preserve the integrity of SPEX research on the site, so that users and vendors will see value in purchasing other SPEX research products.

“We base our analysis on our research, and our research cannot be connected with vendor sponsorship,” he adds. “We don’t want to be in the business of selling software, because we want to keep our independence. ... We are achieving a goal, which is to bring enterprise software vendors and end users together, while opening a new path to sell our research. We hope companies will see how critical our research is to their technology decisions.”

Steve Aufderheide, partner and director of industry analysis at D.H. Andrews Group in Boston, says he would be concerned about the validity of the site’s research, not so much because of the potential influence of advertising dollars, but because of the ambitious scope of what aims to cover.

“What I’d want to know is what kind of product review is it? If you’re comparing speed, function head-to-head, that takes a certain kind of expertise; if you’re looking at it in terms of market position, that’s a whole other skill set,” Aufderheide explains. “I would question the value of that because this is an enormously extensive undertaking.

“Those are all extremely complex products. It takes some extraordinary talent to look at all those things and say, ‘You can do this, this and this with this product, but you can’t do these four things.’ ... I would be suspect of how meaningful those reviews would be. You need to have experts who really know what they’re talking about.”

Alarcon believes the lack of resources for providing comprehensive research on E-Shortlist will improve with time, and is confident that the site will fill a need in the user community.

“I think that the feedback we have so far is pretty positive. The most common suggestion we get is people calling and asking us to cover a certain kind of topic,” Alarcon says. “It’s going to be a matter of expanding our content over the next 12 months, but once we do that, this site is going to be very popular.”

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