You can tell the state of the economy by the size of the corporate expense reports.
As far as how you get to attend conferences like this, the first method is to NOT be the technical expert in your company. You need to be the person that is either the decision maker on large purchases (CEO, CFO, CIO), or the primary influencer of large purchases (VP or Director of IT, etc). The sales departments of big vendors don't give a rat's rear-end about the senior propeller-head code-jockey that actually uses their products - they only care about the people that sign the contracts that get them their commission checks.
The second method is to have a really good story the vendor can use. If you work for Intel, EMC or General Motors, the story is easy - just your company's name is enough. If you don't work for one of the big global name brands, then you need to be in an industry that is hot or where the vendor really wants to grow their business (eg, healthcare or gas/petroleum, etc). If you aren't in a hot industry, then you need have a cool story - like growing 40% a year for the last 3 years or going from a regional player to a global company. If you are willing to be a reference for a company and let them use your story, then they will do just about anything to keep you as that referenceable account.
If you can combine the first method with the second method - then you are golden. You will never pay to attend a conference (you will receive comp'd tickets) and you will not pay for a single meal or drink while at the conference.
You will have hopefully noticed that I did NOT say your company had to spend millions of dollars with the vendor. Although that can help, it is actually NOT a requirement. Having one whale client might be a salesman's dream, but there are only so many Moby Dick's in the ocean. It's much more likely (and useful) to have clients that can be used as bait to attract other clients. Ten mid-sized fish is a more stable cash flow than one whale.
Customers might be seen as prey by the sales sharks, but a smart customer has MUCH more control over the situation than most people think, and if you know how the sales game works, you can work it to your (and your company's) advantage. For example, you should ALWAYS know the fiscal calendar of your vendors. If your major vendor has a fiscal year that ends on January 31, then always negotiate new deals in January, and dangle the idea that you can close the deal before Jan 31 - if the price is right. Some people think they should make vendors believe they don't have the money to buy the products to get a better price. That's wrong! Early in the negotiations, you need to make sure the vendor thinks your company is growing at tremendous rate. Business is great! Get them slobbering at the mouth to have your company as a customer. Then, when they are counting on a huge deal from you, you hit them with completely unreasonable demands for price discounts. So, now they included your company in their sales forecasts and promised the CEO to land you as a customer - will they now walk away from your demands or will they be willing to deal?
Which, of course, takes us to the third method for getting to attend conferences - your own company is willing to send you because they know you are going to save them big money by working the vendors like Mr. Violin works a concerto. This is the hardest path, but it's always good to have as many tools in your bag as you can.
So, the next time you see a pointy-haired boss, and you think to yourself: "What an idiot! I never want to be a manager!" - remember this little post...Edited by billybob_jcv - 9/26/13 at 9:53am