Photo credit: David B. Thomas

Almost every part of the #MarTech conference was impressive this year, a tribute to Scott Brinker’s leadership in the MarTech space. The show floor was packed with attendees. The presentations were lively and insightful. The WiFi more or less worked. There was only one broken part: the vendors.

Specifically, the vendors who brought non-technical booth staff to a conference about Marketing Technology. Consider the description from the conference website:

“MarTech is the international conference series for senior-level, hybrid professionals who are both marketing- and tech-savvy: marketing technologists, creative technologists, growth hackers, data scientists, and digital strategists.”

Based on this description, the logical choice for a vendor would be to bring at least one hardcore technologist or data scientist to their booth. Instead, who did they bring? Your average, non-technical salesperson.

I had this conversation at a booth about emotion-based content marketing:

Vendor: “We employ the latest artificial intelligence tools to make your content marketing resonate emotionally with your audience.”
Me: “Really? That’s fascinating. What kind of AI? An LSTM-based RNN? Torch? SystemML? TensorFlow?”
Vendor: “Uh, I’m not really sure. It’s uh… it’s a kind of artificial intelligence. It’s really smart.”
Me: “Yes, but what algorithm does it use? What platform?”
Vendor: “Uh… I’m going to have to get someone else to answer that. Can I scan your badge for a demo?”
Me: “No thank you, but I hope you have a good show.”

I had similar conversations with vendors about predictive analytics, machine learning, and every marketing technology offered. Almost no one could answer my questions about any of their tools and technologies.

At a marketing-focused trade show like, for example, MarketingProfs, where the audience isn’t necessarily super highly-technical, I can easily forgive a vendor for bringing ordinary sales staff who don’t know what they’re selling. But at a marketing technology show, it’s an unforgivable lapse.

A few vendors did it right. Dave Thomas at Leadspace had his product guy on site who could answer solid questions. Sean Zinsmeister from Infer capably explained his team’s algorithms well. IBM Marketing Cloud brought the nerds.

For the most part, however, vendors didn’t bring their A-Game. They may have brought their best sales people, but I walked away with very few companies I could confidently recommend to clients, colleagues, and connected friends.

Know your audience, and bring the best people who can speak to that audience.

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