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Nortel's Virtual Trade Show

Nortel Networks held a trade show -- and nobody had to go.

Instead of renting a convention center and paying the expense of setting up and staffing a conference, the networking manufacturer held an online conference, letting prospects log in from the comfort of their desks.

With "Building the Mobile Enterprise," Nortel promised to help companies understand the best tools and strategies for mobile employees, teaching them to evaluate ROI and manage mobile endeavors.

Just like a traditional conference, the online expo included a keynote address and presentations from Nortel executives, partners and analysts. A virtual exhibition hall featuring several Nortel product groups let users look at literature and presentations, chat with a rep or send a message to others who also were visiting that area.

The virtual trade show infrastructure was provided by Unisfair, a five-year-old company whose clientele has focused mostly on media companies, including Businessweek, Reed Business Information and The Economist.

"Corporations are trying to get control over how they do their lead generation, specifically in relation to conferences and expositions," said Gonen Ziv, Unisfair's senior vice president of sales and operations.

"We've heard that they go to these large physical shows, and they don't get anything out of it. People are bouncing balls and playing games [instead of paying attention]. They'd like to be more focused and in control, while still reaching a global audience."

Unisfair's services team creates a branded online environment and designs the online trade show Web site and microsites. While clients select speakers and topics, Unisfair can work with clients to market the virtual show.

While one advantage of Web-based content is that it can be accessed from anywhere at any time, Unisfair shows are held at a specific date and time. Ziv said the advantage of an online event versus a Web site is the interactivity.

"There's a big difference here, it's not static," he said. For example, at the end of a conference session, attendees can send text message questions to the panels or presenters, and they answer in real time. Attendees also can network with others, browsing or searching the names and inviting others to chat.

"You're reaching a global audience," Ziv said. "People haven't traveled one inch, but they're interacting in real time."

For Nortel, Unisfair added the ability to qualify and rank sales leads. Visitors to the exposition site are graded on criteria including job title and function, company revenue, primary business activity and number of employees.

A questionnaire asks where the company is in the sales cycle, how much is budgeted for a project, what the time frame is and whether the company will hire a system integrator for the project.

Next, attendees' actions within the site are tracked and graded. Such activities as asking questions, visiting sponsor and partner booths and chatting with reps all can show whether an attendee is hot to trot or a looky-loo.

Unisfair's technology compiles the information on users and provides show sponsors with lists of leads ranked from those farthest along in the purchase decision-making process to the least likely to purchase, labeling them as "Red Hot," "Very Hot" and "Hot."

Then, there's the "afterglow."

Once the live event is over, it moves to on-demand. Unisfair will host on-demand access to events for three months; companies can extend availability for a fee. Pricing starts at $15,000 for small events, but many cost as much as $100,000.