- What if you knew that half the attendees at an important trade show were first timers?
Wouldn’t you consider this show as an ideal opportunity to reach out to these new attendees and add them to your new business leads list?
- And what if over three quarters of executive decision-makers said that they asked for a price quotation from at least one supplier at the trade show?
I bet that you would definitely make the business case to invest in a high-profile sponsorship with a range of entitlements that would make your brand so visible that your booth would be a hub for potential customers.
Trade shows have traditionally served as key meeting places for buyers and sellers of all kinds. Vendors are encouraged to invest thousands of dollars in sponsorship packages offering brand visibility, exhibit space, and various opportunities to connect with potential buyers.
But as Forrester Research points out, in this Age of the Consumer, technology empowers customers, who now control when and where they buy, and increasingly that’s not in a store. I would add, and maybe that’s not at a trade show.
While I am not suggesting that marketers withdraw support for trade shows, I caution against using three commonly cited reasons to justify investing in trade show sponsorships –
- “We’ll be conspicuous by our absence.”
Ask yourself, “What is the real reason for sponsoring the event?”
What if, as a result of changes in the business environment or your company’s business strategy, your company has shifted its focus to another market segment or has dropped a product line, or has been presenting the same message to the same audience year after year at that show?
If any of these reasons is true, your participation may be irrelevant to the 92% of attendees who go to trade shows to see and learn about what’s new in products and services.
By reducing or withdrawing your company’s investment in the show, you may in fact be sending the right message to the market about your positioning and business focus, which may not be a good fit for the trade show and its attendees.
- “We get a chance to showcase our expertise and our products.”
Whether the opportunity involves doing a presentation, moderating a panel discussion or doing product demonstrations in a booth on the exhibition floor, chances are that you’ll only be able to reach a subset of the attendee population at the show.
In reality, when podium positions are secured, presenters are prohibited from promoting their solutions or products. Furthermore, attendees spend very limited time on the show floor, as the time allotted is generally 15-30-minute breaks between conference sessions, possibly two times during the day.
- “We’ll definitely generate sales at the show.”
I’ll be cautious here, as admittedly, there are times when sales are made at trade shows.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research reports that 46% of executive decision-makers made purchase decisions while attending a trade show. But that’s less than half of the attendees with purchase decision-making authority. It’s not clear what percentage of those purchase decisions leads to sales transactions.
To state that sales will be generated at the show is plausible only if it can be proven that there is a significant proportion of the attendee population comprised of decision-makers and that you know who they are, where they are at in the buying cycle and that you know how to contact them during the event.
Consider these facts
The 2015 Exhibit Survey’s Trade Show Benchmarks indicate that trade shows are still important venues for business development.
- 38% of attendees indicate that visiting exhibits influences purchase intent
- Over the past five years, approximately half of all trade show attendees have consistently reported that they plan to buy products, solutions and technologies they see exhibited within 12 months after the event.
These facts also tell us that new business is developed and secured over an extended period of time and not on the trade show floor. We can conclude that trade shows do have a place in the mix of on-going marketing programmes.
The relative importance of trade shows to the business development process should be the guiding principle that determines whether or not to invest in trade show sponsorships and if so, what the appropriate investment should be.
Here are three key questions, which, when plausibly answered, can support the business case to invest in trade shows.
- Why attend?
The reason for sponsoring the show is aligned with the company’s business objectives.
This can be done by scoring the company’s agreed on and established trade show selection criteria.
Important selection criteria include the attendee population, conference theme, content, event reputation, uniqueness of the opportunity, cost and value, timing and availability of key staff and attendees.
Each criterion should be assigned a weighted score according to its relative importance to the company’s business objectives and priorities. For example, if the priority is to enter a niche market segment, higher weights should be assigned to the attendee population and uniqueness of the trade show.
- Who will attend?
The trade show provides the opportunity for direct contact with target clientele who are also in the target audience of the company’s on-going marketing programmes.
The 2015 Exhibit Survey’s Trade Show Benchmarks clearly point to the need to engage in pre-event, on-site and on-going communication and marketing programmes to drive new business. Investing and participating in trade shows, like any other business investment, should be part of an integrated programme of marketing communications and business development tactics that consistently reach out to a defined target clientele over an extended period of time. That’s how companies build an engaged, loyal clientele.
- What’s really in it for the company?
The sponsorship entitlements create new assets for the company.
To be of value, the sponsorship investment ought to provide the company with assets that can be leveraged to build contacts and relationships so as to generate new business over time. Some examples include access to attendee lists, bonus distribution of white papers to attendees, on-site opportunities to host or attend invitation-only events.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.