Reprinted from the June Business column in Metalforming magazine.
By: Michael Bleau
If you haven’t finished planning for the November METALFORM show in Chicago, don’t worry, you still have time. But it’s dwindling fast, so better get a move on! And, if you’re undecided on exhibiting at trade events due to the recession, then think again. Done right, trade events can bring your best return on promotional spending investment, but you need to really establish why you’re at these show—what is your primary objective?
According to Skyline Exhibits’ senior marketing consultant Jennifer Kilbride, each year companies in the USA and Canada spend $170–190 billion annually on promotional events comprised of trade exhibitions, conferences, regional and private shows — up from 2007’s $135–$150 billion. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), whose census of exhibition attendance and revenue sets the industry standard, over the past 40 years the percentage of attendees with buying plans has not changed significantly in times of recession. And, thanks in part to the economy, buyer density has increased as multiple major events have consolidated into mega events such as the alignment of FABTECH International, the AWS Welding Show, and METALFORM. In this case, the combination of metal forming, fabricating, tube, pipe and welding suppliers and buyers under one roof makes it easier and more efficient for buyers and exhibitors to justify attending. It’s a great mix where all can accomplish much more by spending only a few days of floor time. Accompanying the mega event trend is a reduction in buying teams. Many companies have, due to workforce consolidation and travel budget limitations, cut their buying teams and are sending more informed duos or sole decision-makers. More qualified buyers and less bureaucracy adds up to a more compelling value proposition for trade events. But this is only half of the story; careful planning and execution reduces stress and frustrations and brings maximum results.
The Numbers on Event Value
• 77% of visitors have some kind of buying power and 70% of these visitors intend to buy within the next 12 months.
• Prospective buyers spend 8% more time on the show floor than they have in years past.
• On average it costs $212 per lead from a show versus $308 for the same lead generated from field sales.
• On average it costs $705 per sale from a show versus $1,140 for the same sale closed from field sales.
• 66% of marketers feel that fewer sales calls are needed to close a sale from a show lead.
Source: According to the Center for Exhibition Research (CEIR) and Skyline Exhibits. www.ceir.org and www.skyline.com
With empowered decision-makers attending shows and 70% of them planning on spending, why do exhibitors sometimes beat around the bush? Are sales professionals exhibiting to make an appearance for the sake of brand reinforcement, to stay on someone’s radar, to introduce a new product, to display a ‘living’ advertisement or generate leads to feed field sales reps with follow-up sales calls? If so, why? If the majority of attendees are coming with the intention of buying, then why make them wait for a follow-up? Is your competition going to close the deal on the floor or keep the door open for rivals to follow-up after the show? Are you? What are you planning to accomplish at the event? If two-thirds of the attendees are coming to buy, then shouldn’t you come ready to sell?
Align yourself with the 70% who are ready to buy; prepare to close orders. Come ready to address all aspects of the sales process in short order, from needs assessments and product demonstrations to producing firm quotes and having the authority on-site to negotiate final terms and accept orders. If your product or service is more complex and your customers far-flung, then work ahead of the show to address application requirements with an eye towards hosting a final negotiating/closing meeting at the show. Where else can you more cost-effectively pull together a succession of closing meeting where your entire sales management team and your key prospective customer’s decision-makers can assemble and quickly come to terms? This is the time, the place and buyers are ready to buy, so seize the opportunity.
While we’re not going to cover how to prepare for a show from a promotional stand-point as this is the topic of a future column, we will address a few critical pitfalls that you must avoid at all costs as failure here can derail the best laid sales plans. These pitfalls all speak to presentation and prospect perception. In short, put your best effort forward. Time and again while scouting shows I witness empty booths during prime event hours or, even worse, ill-prepared or poorly coordinated booth staff that are tarnishing the company’s reputation and brand through their unprofessional appearance and actions. Considering the cost and hard work behind your exhibition efforts and the shear numbers of eyes on your brand, there is no excuse for accepting anything less than the highest level of professionalism from your staff. Here is a short list of ‘perception killers’ that you would assume to never witness at a trade event, but you’d be surprised how often you’ll notice each the next time you walk an event floor with an critical eye on booth personnel.
• Nothing turns visitors away quicker than seeing your staff eating, talking or texting on their cell or checking email. Ban cell phones, computers and eating by staff in your booth. Remind your staff that the booth isn’t their office or a lunchroom; it’s akin to your best customer’s boardroom and they need to respect the space.
• Control the ‘chatter’ and mind your manners. This goes back to the customer boardroom mindset -- respect the space. Leave fun office antics, loud stories and questionable language at home.
• Avoid that 11th hour worn out, frumpy look. As a long day draws near fatigue can become increasingly visible as your booth staff stares at the clock in anticipation. Help them to look their best; provide fresh, crisp shirts so they can change halfway through the day. It will perk them up and tighten their appearance as the day ends. Provide a shoeshine kit or reimbursement for daily shoe polish touchups. Have wet wipes on hand for a quick face wash for men and provide a makeup break for women. Rotate your floor staff with frequent breaks to keep them fresh, fed, bright-eyed and upbeat.
• Another turn-off to attendees is having to approach seated booth staff. My advice, lay down double padding under your carpet and eliminate chairs. This will keep your staff up and active. Both your staff and visitors will appreciate the added padding and the extra cushion might entice visitors to stick around to learn more about your offers. Do provide table seating for scheduled or impromptu sales meeting.
• Don’t setup a self-serve area for candies or trinkets. Table or bowl displays of ‘goodies’ or spiffs only satisfy the ‘trick or treat’ crowd. Have quality premiums available and in-hand to offer during conversation and a card exchange. Keep in mind having your logo imprinted on an item is a reflection of your brand, so choose wisely.
• Avoid the awkward nametag gaze. When approaching visitors instruct your booth staff to stifle the temptation to try and read an attendee’s name, company or title from their nametag as if your prequalifying them based on their position. During an initial approach, make eye contact, smile and politely introduce yourself and let them do the same. Then strike up a talk with an open-ended question to get a conversation going.
Present your best. Bring professional, motivated and knowledgeable staff that is prepared to work with prospects through the buying process. A recent CEIR study reports that exhibition floor staff generates 85% of the positive feelings prospects experience during an event. These initial, positive feelings lead to trust, which leads to opportunity. Today’s event attendees are some of the most prepared, empowered decision-makers to step into your booth space. Make the most of your time together and make it easy for them to buy from you.
Served in various capacities within capital equipment engineering, robotics, project management, sales and marketing.
L&A collaborates with Industry Scope, Prior to L&A Nancy was Vice President of Public Relations for a full service B2B agency.