Making an exhibition of myself
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Visitors to the CRM 2002 show at Earls Court next week will have the usual chance to explore what's hot in the world of customer relationship management. That much is common to most trade shows and conferences. But it's worth considering that the CRM market outside the show this year is very different to that of a year ago.

The overall slump in the economy that we've happily talked ourselves into over the past couple of years has finally hit home with licence revenues on the decline among most companies. It doesn't seem likely that the red ink is going to be staunched just yet either, so there are tough times yet to come.

Then of course we have the changing competitive landscape, with the emergence of the SME landscape as the chosen front for the next major conflict. The imminent arrival of Microsoft on the scene is both thrilling and chilling for all concerned. Whatever the merits or demerits of their products and strategies, Microsoft will almost certainly kick start interest in the CRM sector.

Personally I always have very mixed feelings about exhibitions, but then they're not aimed at me. I'm really not interested in buying a CRM system from anyone, so all the gimmicks in the world will not get me on an exhibition stand for a quick demo of all the features and functionality.

That said, there is a game which journalists play as they sink into the slough of despond which is to split up and see who can get the most novelty give-aways from the stands. In a further twist, there are oh, minutes of entertainment to be had from trying to work out what relevance said novelty give-away has to the company in question.

Hats you're pretty safe with, ditto pens and stress balls. I was slightly freaked out at one exhibition to be given a Slinky which was clearly market 'toxic - do not put in mouth' and the company that gave away pogo sticks was perhaps taking things a little too far. Mine made it as far as Earls Court tube before it joined the surreal sight of an ever increasing pile of tragically abandoned sticks.

Mind you, I still can't get my head around the company which gave away chocolate penises at the Oracle Apps World conference in Amsterdam earlier this year. Someone told me afterwards that they were supposed to be street bollards of the kind you find in Amsterdam, but if that's the case, the designer had some clear phallic issues to address...

So while I can appreciate that exhibitions do serve a sales and marketing purpose for getting to the punters, next week you're more likely to find me in the conference stream. This is where there's some real value to be had for everyone and CRM 2002 looks to be no exception. From real life war stories through theoretical issues to analyst overviews and insights, there is much that is worth tapping into here.

For all those of you attending the show, I hope you have a useful and informative time; for those of you who are not attending, well jolly well why not? If you are there, don't forget to come past the CRM Forum stand - although I can offer no clues as to whether any novelty items await you there...

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