Observations on exhibiting – a wasted opportunity
If you have decided to exhibit or you have sold exhibition space as part of a partnership package, this is POTENTIALLY a powerful business development opportunity.
I say potentially, as unfortunately too often the opportunity is wasted.
I wish I had a dollar for every stand I walked past at an exhibition and conference where the exhibitor is wasting the opportunity they have invested significant time, money and effort in.
When the audience you have paid to engage with is walking past your stand, why on earth would you be:
• Sitting down reading the paper or your emails
• Talking to your colleagues
• Displaying body language that says “I don’t really want to be here, my boss sent me!”
I feel like going up to exhibitors and asking them why they bothered exhibiting in the first place.
Tips to help you and your partners maximise your and their investment
In this article I provide tips to ensure that you maximise your investment next time you exhibit and you can help your exhibitors to make the most of the opportunity you have sold them so they exhibit again next year. I discuss:
• The opportunity that exhibiting provides
• Planning for success – the key to maximise investment
• Exhibition stands that deliver desired outcomes
• What to say and do when you engage visitors
• Developing an effective Elevator Statement
• Required competencies for exhibitors
• How to enhance the visitor experience
• Learning from your experience to drive outcomes
• Do’s and don’ts
The opportunity exhibiting provides
Exhibiting at exhibitions and conferences is a powerful business development opportunity. It allows you to engage significant numbers of your audience in one location over two to three days. To appreciate the real value, let’s first consider the alternative to exhibiting and the real benefit: the lifetime value that can be generated.
The alternative to exhibiting
If you didn’t exhibit:
• How long would it take you to visit each of your target audience away from the exhibition and conference? Months! Think about what else you could achieve in that time
• How much would it cost you to visit each of your audience? Calculate the total cost of flights, accommodation and taxis or Uber to visit each person. The cost would be significant, particularly if you are dealing in international markets.
• Can you guarantee their availability and focus? The advantage of exhibitions and conferences is that they provide an environment where the people you want to engage with are in the mindset you want them to be in i.e. they are looking for new ideas, products and services. This might not be the case when they are back at the office meeting you in between dealing with their day to day issues (that is if they agree to meet you at all).
The real opportunity of exhibiting is the lifetime value that can be generated. Lifetime value is the value of one new client obtained multiplied by the number of years that the client stays with you.
Let’s say exhibiting generates one new client who contributes $20k in revenue p.a. and on average your clients stay with you for 5 years. Exhibiting has generated $100k in revenue for your organisation.
Due to the quantity of your target audience present at the event (the key advantage of exhibitions and conferences) the chances are that you will generate more than one piece of business. This of course will vary depending on the type of products you are selling and your sales pipeline ratios, however, if you obtain six new clients, you will generate $600k in revenue. By not attending you would have missed out on this lifetime value.
Planning for success – the key to maximise investment
To maximise your investment you need clear measurable objectives for participation and an effective plan which outlines how you will achieve the objectives. In far too many cases people don’t have a plan, instead they turn up and hope, then complain at the end that they didn’t get much out of exhibiting.
Establishing clear measurable objectives
Exhibitions and conferences provide segments of time; time spent each day at your stand and at networking events (both of which allow you the opportunity to engage your audience). The first step is establishing clear measurable objectives for each segment of time. Objectives should relate to the quantity and quality of desired audience interactions.
Targets should be set for the number of the audience you want to engage in each time segment. Specific targets will vary depending on what business you are in and your sales ratios, however if for example you target 60 meaningful discussions over three days (to achieve your 6 clients), this equates to 20 discussions a day, 8 each morning and afternoon at your stand and 4 in the evening at a networking event. If you have targets it ensures that you focus on maximising the available time.
“If you have targets it ensures that you focus on maximising the available time.”
The key to maximising time is not just quantity but also quality. To achieve this you need absolute clarity over who you want to do business with (your ideal client), so that when you meet people at your stand or in networking events you can quickly determine how much time you should invest in speaking with them. There is no point having an engaging conversation for an hour with someone who does not fit the profile of the people you want to do business with; every second you spend with them you are missing out on time you could be spending with the people you should be investing time with. This is where asking questions such as “tell me about your business” is vitally important as it allows you to determine how much time to invest in them.
Exhibition stands that deliver desired outcomes
Another consideration in maximising your success is developing a stand that meets your goals. Three questions that will help you determine the physical construct of your stand relate to what you want your audience to think, feel and do as a result of engaging with you at your stand.
Think –relates to taking your audience from a current knowledge level to a desired knowledge level. This includes knowledge about your organisation, your products and services, the features and benefits and their perception of you e.g. that you are a cutting edge, professional organisation launching a fantastic new product.
Feel –relates to the desired emotional response from the audience e.g. as a result of engaging with you they now feel inspired, motivated and confident in you, your products and your organisation.
Do – relates to what you want them to do, for example, sign up to your newsletter or agree to meet to discuss opportunities or buy now. The main aim is to feed the visitor into your ongoing business development activity.
What to say and do when you engage visitors
When you meet anyone for the first time the first thing you do is build rapport. The key to building rapport is engaging the other person in their world. This can be done through verbal and non-verbal communication.
Verbal Communication – Questions
Ask questions that engage the other person in conversation about their world rather than talk about your organisation, products and services. Ask questions and listen rather than talk.
After the usual pleasantries, ask questions that provide an easy entry path in getting them to open up to you. For example, ask them how the event is going for them, is the event what they expected, is it their first time at the event etc and then ask them to tell you about their business.
Ultimately, you want to engage them in a conversation about their business challenges, to do this you need an effective questioning technique where you drill down on their answers to get a detailed understanding of what challenges they face, which are most important and why.
Verbal Communication – Voice
It’s also important to be aware of their vocal patterns: match their volume, tone and pitch to build rapport at a deeper level.
Developing an effective Elevator Statement
What you must have at your disposal is a well rehearsed response to the question that you will receive many times at your stand and at networking events “so tell me what you do” or “tell me about your organisation” or “tell me about your product”. You have to deliver a snappy response (elevator statement) that attracts the audience. The key to developing a powerful elevator statement is to answer the following questions:
• Audience (who is your ideal client that uses your product?)
• Need (what is the burning issue that you address?)
• Solution (what outcomes do you deliver to them?)
• Proof (what are examples that provide proof?)
• Difference (what makes you different from your competitors?)
Here is an example:
• My name is John Smith – Personal introduction
• From Smith and Smith Events – Organisation
• We work with FMCG Companies – Who is your ideal client that uses your product?
• To help them launch their brands – What is the burning issue that you address?
• We design launches that announce a brands arrival in the market place and that kick starts their engagement with their audience. On average our launches generate minimum of $5m in media coverage – What outcomes do you deliver to them?
• Recent launches include the launch of product x and y – What are examples that provide proof?
• We only work with FMCG companies which mean that our clients can draw upon our wealth of industry experience relevant to their needs – What makes you different?
Features and benefits
Focus on telling visitors about the benefit of what you do rather than just what you do and relate the benefits back to their needs.
Non- Verbal communication
Use open and encouraging body language that says “I am approachable” this includes eye contact, smiling and standing up straight. Also dress in a manner that represents your brand and that makes you look approachable.
Competencies for exhibitors
Throughout the event there will be specific competencies that you will need to display to maximise your performance. These include:
• Active listening
• Your business
• Your ideal client
• Your features and benefits
• Current market issues
The extent to which you are competent in these will determine how effective you are over the length of the event. Use these as a reminder of what to focus on at the start of each day.
The full list of required competencies are outlined in my two books – see below
Enhancing the Visitor Experience
People like to do business with people they like and that can solve their problems, so besides building rapport, the key to standing out as an exhibitor is to add value to the visitor experience. Do this by providing exclusive information of value to visitors at the stand or provide an offer that is available only at the time of the exhibition at the stand (promote both of these before hand).
Learning from your experience to drive outcomes
At the end of the event ask yourself three crucial questions:
• What worked well?
• What didn’t go so well?
• What are we going to do differently next time we exhibit?
Do’s and don’ts summary
• Establish clear objectives for your participation and a plan to achieve those objectives
• Consider how you will integrate the event into your ongoing business development activities
• Develop and practise your elevator statement
• Practise key skills such as questioning and active listening
• Research key prospects that are likely to attend
• Ensure you are up to date with market issues (discussion points)
• Consider the physical layout of your stand to achieve your desired outcomes
• Develop an offer and information of value to give away
• Access a positive mindset at the start of each session
• Use engaging non verbal communication
• Ask questions and listen
• Uncover business challenges
• Discuss the benefit of what you do as well as the features and relate to the visitor’s needs
• Debrief your experience for future learning
• Follow up every lead
You can learn more about effective business development in my books:
Alternatively, attend my next public workshops for which early bird is now open.