Exhibiting well is probably the best live marketing exercise for any company or organisation – but it is also a huge investment – so what happens when the exhibition you poured your annual budget into does not live up to expectations.
It has to be said that there are exhibitions which don’t deliver the promise which the organisers make – and which you as exhibitors are entitled to expect. And because no-one wants to be accused of negativity it’s a topic that is rarely discussed. So …..
Take heart – at The Exhibiting Agency we have witnessed this situation many times over the years – but are fortunate in being able to identify value for our clients and ensure that all is not lost – indeed a great deal of benefit can ensue. You just have to remember that when times are tougher you have to work harder.
What are these situations? There are many that cannot be predicted or controlled – external factors that have a direct impact on the success or otherwise of a tradeshow. Often these circumstances are genuinely beyond the control of the organisers or of the exhibitors, and quite simply you have to make the most of the situation that has been handed to you. Remember a gathering of likeminded, pro-active, and ambitious organisations – involving resourceful professionals – will generate limitless opportunities to conduct great business which you might not have expected….
Here are five suggested action points to put in to place if the exhibition you are showcasing at appears to be particularly quiet. Please remember these come from years of experience – we have encountered them all and turned many apparently dire situations into highly profitable ones. It starts with a very clear definition of your objectives and a thorough understanding of these by anyone who is operating on or around your stand on behalf of your organisation.
- Think quality, not quantity. When considering your objectives in attending the show you may have set yourself a target quantity of leads to follow up later. To achieve this quantity you need an efficient process where your people listen to what the prospects are looking for, and move them swiftly on to a future meeting. But if the show is quiet you can listen even more intently and you have the luxury of being able to spend more time with the right people. But listening is the key – deciding at the outset what criteria your prospects need to conform to – and remembering – that at a slow show those who attend (once you have got rid of the inevitable would be suppliers and vendors) are more likely to be seriously interested in what you have to offer. So take time to identify the quality visitors.
- Conduct real time market research. Whether the show is busy or slow you will rarely have a better opportunity to listen to your market place – to see what your competitors are doing – to ask existing customers what they think of your current products and / or services – and to question the visitors who do attend about what they might be looking for. Market research at trade shows is real time. You can ask real questions of real people. And it often surprises me that this market research objective is not way up on the list of activities to be conducted at any live marketing event. And incidentally – why not ask the visitors to your stand how they enjoyed the experience?
- Explore partnership opportunities with the other exhibitors. Often your organisation may be providing an invaluable component, a specialized service, which another exhibitor may include in their offering but not as a specialism. At a previous health and safety show our clients who provided portable appliance testing as a specialism were approached by an organisation they had previously perceived as a major competitor. The result? A collaboration which has added value to both companies.
- “Physician heal thyself”. How well does your own staff understand your products, your services, and the proposition beyond your product? How effective are your own people when they are out of their comfort zone? Approaching people they have never spoken to before? How effective are they when listening (see point 2 above) and instead of simply using the show to invite existing customers with no specific purpose in mind, how well can their performance be measured – especially their ability to follow trough leads from top quality prospects they may never have been able to get to other than at the show – however quiet. So use the exhibition as a team building, real time training, and – yes – motivational experience.
- Hijack the show. Create an experience when you initially plan your attendance at the show that potentially can push the impact of your attendance well beyond the walls of your stand. Explore the possibility of a seminar or speaking slot. Co-operate with the organisers to prepare a key interview. Generate a piece of high profile publicity through an attention grabbing stunt, but always make sure that this is on message and in keeping with the tone of your brand. And often this degree of creativity will set you apart from all the other exhibitors, allow you to punch above your weight and be the best remembered stand when you follow up the leads that you do get. Being prepared to stick your neck out in this way shows self confidence and courage and usually your co exhibitors have no response.
As always the above five points sound good on paper – in theory – but can they work? My best real time experience of turning a disaster into a dream event comes from an exhibition many years ago at Wembley Conference Centre – Sales Solutions. This was a new show aimed at sales managers – the exhibitors being people who could improve the performance of a sales force. Around 100 exhibitors gathered for this new 2 day show – on exactly the same day as a rail strike was declared. Result? No visitors. At this time it was our portable display panel company which was exhibiting. What could we do in the face of no visitors? We adopted a number of the options above and one in particular, talking to our co exhibitors. In conversation with one of these – the Central Office of Information in those days – we learnt that they were seeking a manufacturer of panels to re-equip the job centres – yes – nationwide. One thing led to another and we generated a contract worth £1.4m over 3 years from this otherwise barren exhibition. And if you don’t believe me – visit any job centre today and you will still see some of the metal panels which we supplied in the late 80s proving the point that probably our single largest contract came from an exhibition with no visitors.