How Well Do You REALLY Know Your Exhibitors?

It’s nice to be in D.C. when everyone is gone!

This week I had the opportunity to make a presentation on the title subject in Washington, D.C. at an industry conference. This is the 2nd time I’ve spoken directly to this subject, and the 3rd time this year, at an industry conference, I led a discussion around this idea of really understanding who your customers are and what they need/are trying to achieve.

In my role with Freeman, I attend many of the shows where we exhibit. Like exhibitors at all trade shows, we do this for business reasons and we try to keep our eye on what we invest and what we gain in return. Having been an attendee at educational sessions at The Exhibitor Show, I find those goals are pretty typical for exhibiting companies.

ROI is measured differently by all exhibiting companies, and according to a recent EMI/Event Track 2012 survey, 71% of exhibiting companies track (in some form) their sales and marketing expenses at live events versus some sort of return (leads, new relationships, sales, brand awareness, customer engagement, product introduction, etc.). Of even greater import is the finding that companies who track ROI report that they are increasing their 2012 live event spend by 12.5%, versus companies that don’t (7.5% increase…still good news!). This certainly indicates that companies that track their spend are seeing positive results, and are thus increasing their investment by almost 50% more than companies that do not. Show organizers should be engaging deeply to identify and embrace companies that measure their results, and look for ways to enhance that experience.

Yet, in the 2 sessions I presented on this subject, and the one where I chaired an open discussion around trade shows and exhibitors, less than 10% of the show organizers in the audience had made any direct contact with their top 10% or top 20% of their exhibiting companies to understand their goals, how the exhibiting company measured success at their show, or how their show compared to other shows in their space.

In most cases, when I asked the question, no hands went up. Most of their contact with the exhibiting companies was related to selling them a booth, sponsorship, ad, table at a fundraiser, etc. In many cases, those assets were sold ala carte, and not as an investment package.

Exhibiting companies have not decreased the number of events they attend because of the economy or the rise of the internet. According to a recent CEIR study, the majority have actually stayed the same or INCREASED their participation in face-to-face engagements. That same study showed that attendees cited exhibitions and trade shows as their PREFERRED method of face-to-face engagement, and that sales calls to their business have actually decreased. My experience with audiences have also indicated that there are less sales calls made on them than previous years.

So, work with me here, if attendees prefer to go to conventions and trade shows, and the majority of exhibiting companies are not reducing their participation, isn’t this a ripe opportunity for saavy show organizers to engage in more meaningful dialogue with their exhibiting companies to help them in the identification of their desired customers represented at the show, and find ways to share data and help the two parties engage in meaningful ways?

Think Backwards! Helping your Exhibitors with their customers, helps the Exhibitor find greater value in your event.

The simplest expression of that interest could be a personal phone call or visit to your Top exhibiting companies/sponsors. Understanding their business, which are business solutions for their customers’ business challenges…who are of course the show organizer’s members…would also help the show organizer better understand what those exhibiting companies are also hearing from those same members. It would help the show organizer be on the cutting edge of trends, business challenges, and emerging solutions to deal with the future.

Our industry creates marketplaces that move our economy forward. The days of “If You Build It, They Will Come” don’t exist as they did in the heydays of show growth. We have the opportunity to engage with other 300,000 exhibiting customers every year at Freeman. We understand the objectives of their brand efforts, because we are also out there as an exhibitor, wanting to be successful in a return on the money we spend participating. We want to engage customers in meaningful experiences, and look to show organizers to help us.

How is your organization…whether you are a show organizer or an exhibitor…creating opportunities to work together to enhance the experiences of attendees’ participation in the trade show, and the return experienced by those that support it with their investments?

I would love to hear and learn from you!

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