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CeBIT competition
By Dennis Batchelder 22 March 1999

22 March 1999

Facts on CeBIT:

CeBIT is the largest computer show in the world. There are 7,500 companies from 63 countries displaying their products and services. And over 650,000 people from 100 countries will attend CeBIT this year. Also, over 10,000 journalists cover this show. Every day a 150 page magazine is published (CeBIT News) actually, two separate magazines: one in German and one in English, covering the vendors' announcments and other news from the show.

The show is in 26 halls - each hall is about the size of a football stadium. The total display size (not counting hallways, walkways, services) is 385,000 square meters (90 acres!). This is absolutely immense - there's no way anybody could visit every booth, even by using the whole seven days.

It seems that in Europe, people go all out for CeBIT. The large vendors have immense displays, with live entertainment, magic shows, and dancing girls. Smaller booths (like where we are) smile at people, give demos, and hand out literature.

We're displaying in Halle 6, which is one of the software/internet halls. Around us are a bunch of small vendors. We're all working hard to attract customers away from the shows and into our booths.


The story:

Right across the aisle from us is a small company: MAS Elektronikhandels GmbH. They are the German branch of a large Russian/Eastern Europe reseller. They are selling web servers, fax clients, and various computer services.

One of the MAS brochures is a web-translation service that they offer. For a fixed price, MAS will add up to 10 languages to your web site. Pretty cool service for European countries, where the language changes as you cross borders.

MAS must have printed thousands of these little brochures. Their goal is to get them from their booth into people's hands. They stand in the middle of the hall, trying to hand them to the people as they walk by. It's fun to watch people's reactions as they are accosted by the MAS people.

On Friday, MAS was not having much success with their distribution. Our booth was pretty empty, and I was watching them. The attendees had various ways of NOT taking the brochures:
1) Avoiding eye contact. Either by looking up, down, or at the opposite booth.
2) Walking really fast past the MAS people.
3) Waving their hands at the MAS people, saying "Nein!"

I felt like MAS could use some help. I told him that the American way was better - direct, forceful approach. So I proposed to Wolfgang a competition - I bet him 10 Deutschmarks ($6) that I could pass out 5 consecutive brochures (without missing anybody) before he could. This would show them how much better the capitalist ways are!

The bet got everyone around us excited. All the nearby vendors heard about it, and gathered around Wolfgang and me, leaving only a narrow pathway for the attendees to pass through. We stood across from each other, and each accosted the people coming from our left.

You can tell what type of person will take your brochures. If someone is carrying several bags, all of them bulging with literature, t-shirts, and toys, chances are he'll also take a brochure from you - he's a packrat. if people are walking slowly and looking around, they'll also take the brochure - they're open. However, two types of people are most difficult: people woh have NOTHING in their hands, and other exhibitors. They're impossible.

Wolfgang was taking the suave approach. He stood there, drinking a glass of champagne, languidly passing out the brochures. It seemed to work. He quickly passed out two brochures, and then missed the next guy. Ha! Meanwhile, nobody had come my way. I was getting nervous. Then, four people came by, and by taking the very direct "American" approach, I was able to convince them to take a brochure.

Everyone was impressed with my four in a row. But they were mostly packrats and open people - not a big deal. Wolfgang was impressed. But he rose to the challenge, and quickly passed out four brochures. He was lucky. Nevertheless, we were tied; both waiting for the next person to come our way.

Wolfgang's guy came first. He was walking fast, and carrying nothing. I smiled. Wolfgang was determined, though. He grabbed the guy by the arm, and put the brochure in his face.

The guy smiled, shook his head, and stared to walk away. Wolfgang followed him, tapped him on the shoulder, and offered the brochure again.

This time, the guy shook his head, smiled, and pointed at Wolfgang's champagne. Wolfgang sighed, rolled his eyes, and handed over the glass. The guy quickly finished it off, and walked away WITHOUT TAKING THE BROCHURE.

All the vendors were laughing as Wolfgang tried to chase the guy, but he couldn't catch up to him. And, coming my way, was my chance to win.

It figured - it was an exhibitor. He was walking fast, and had nothing in his hands. I was in trouble. But I was determined. "Sir, I need you to take this brochure. You need this!" This is what worked with the other four.

The guy was an American. He smiled at me, and said "Why?"

Oh, these Americans with their questions! "I'm having a contest, and I want to win. If you take my brochure, I win". He smiled again. "It's gonna cost you".

Now, everyone is laughing. I offer him 5 Deutchmarks - nothing doing. I reach into my pocket and pull out my wallet, showing him my bills...

We conduct our transaction, and he takes a brochure. I have won! And have proven to these guys the superiority of the American approach...

.. and it only cost me twenty bucks.

CeBIT competition - germany