Most conferences now encourage attendees to reach out in advance to set up meetings with exhibitors. I tend to use this option as a last resort but and I've occasionally been able to set up business meetings with a target this way. London Bookfair and BookExpo are two conferences where I used their conference networking function. Unfortunately, it is my experience this avenue is frequently ignored by the publisher, despite the fact that there is frequently a specific person identified as the recipient for your message. I'm not sure if this is due to laziness or just incompetence but either way this makes this route to contacting a target often hit or miss.
Sometimes - and this has occurred to me in other contexts - you wonder at the decision making and competence of some of the people on the front lines. Given some responses I've received from marketing and sales staff, I wonder how aware senior management are in the breadth and depth of the barriers sometimes placed in front of people who want to do business with them. Training any staff to use their common sense or go beyond the strict limits of their job description for the betterment of the company sounds like something that wouldn't be needed but that's often not my experience. This might be especially true of staff who are placed as points of contact - at a trade show or conference, etc. - where they are likely to receive a wide array of overtures. Most of these will be spurious but occasionally that's not the case. Many of these contacts will be beyond the staff's experience or specific day-to-day job responsibilities (that's the nature of a trade show), and they should be trained to validate these contacts and forward them to the right internal person. Or they could simply provide the right person to approach. Too often they are not forthcoming in either way.
At a recent conference, I noticed that a division of a publisher who I've been trying to reach for a long time was exhibiting. Since all my prior contacts had run cold I reached out to the contact person on the conference website. I validated my approach by noting we were working with a sister division of the company (and with several competitors) but to no avail. I was told that the division was not in fact exhibiting this year and the marketing assistant suggested I register on their supplier website and the right person would get back to me. I went to the supplier website and it was clear to me this site was more for plumbers and paper suppliers. Not exactly where I thought I'd get the right response.
When I went back to the marketing person to question whether registering on that site was likely to put me in touch with someone at the same level as the person we were working with in their sister division, I got the pert response from the marketing assistance 'why don't you ask her yourself?' That's a quote.
That wasn't very helpful but the story has a happy ending. My colleague, was also chasing a contract at the same company, ended up getting a meeting at the show. Interestingly, when I went by the stand the marketing person I had the above exchange with was standing right next to the person my colleague arranged to meet. Now, how do I remind that marketing person about her complete incompetence - in a nice way, and shouldn't the boss know what the front line is doing?