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Trade Events: Maximize Results by Closing New Business

By: Michael Bleau

Monday, June 01, 2009
 
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 shows—what is your primary objective?

According to Skyline Exhibits’ senior marketing consultant Jennifer Kilbride, each year companies in the United States and Canada spend $170 to $190 billion on promotional events comprised of trade exhibitions, conferences, regional and private shows—up from 2007’s $135 to $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

The Numbers on Event Value 77 percent of visitors have some level of buying power and 70 percent of these visitors intend to buy within the next 12 months. Prospective buyers spend 8 percent 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 $1140 for the same sale closed from field sales. 66 percent of marketers feel that fewer sales calls are needed to close a sale from a show lead. Source: The Center for Exhibition Research (CEIR) and Skyline Exhibits, www.ceir.org and www.skyline.com
consolidated into mega events, such as the alignment of FABTECH International, the AWS Welding Show and METALFORM. In this case, the combination of metalforming, 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.

With empowered decision-makers attending shows and 70 percent 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 or capability, 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 come ready to sell?

Align yourself with the 70 percent 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 toward hosting a final negotiating/closing meeting at the show. Where else can you more cost-effectively pull together a succession of closing meetings where your sales management team and your key prospective customer’s decision-makers can assemble and quickly come to terms? This is the time and 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 standpoint, 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. What follows is a list of ‘perception killers’ that you would hope 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 a critical eye on booth personnel.

Perception Pitfalls

• Nothing turns visitors a quicker than seeing your staff eating, talking, texting or checking e-mail. Ban cell phones, computers and eating by staff in your booth. Remind your staff that the booth isn’t their office nor 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 half 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 turnoff 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. 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. Provide table seating for scheduled or impromptu sales meeting.

• Don’t set up a self-serve area for candies or trinkets. Table or bowl displays of goodies only satisfy the trick-or-treat crowd. Have quality premiums available and in-hand to offer during conversation and a business-card exchange. 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 to 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 are prepared to work with prospects through the buying process. A recent CEIR study reports that exhibition floor staff generate 85 percent of the positive feelings that 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. MF

 


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