Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Necessary Evil or Tradeshows & Conferences: Part One

Trade shows and conferences are still an important part of the marketing mix, but very seldom is their potential fully realized. The booth is packed and shipped with the latest literature packs. People who may or may not be appropriate to staff the booth are volunteered for booth duty. Flight reservations and hotels are booked. The day arrives and the show commences. The booth is always staffed, the literature is always present, anyone and everyone who enters your floor space is talked to and their badge is scanned. Someone is placed in charge of the leads, everyone goes home, and management feels that shows not that important in the marketing mix.

Most companies have very professional people who worry about the show logistics, but few companies focus on what happens in the booth, and the follow-up process. Why? Because event marketing is not that high of a priority to most companies. People are sent, not selected for their potential impact. The follow-up is spotty. The potential impact for the show is not really realized.

To really understand what the potential is, someone has to be given the ability to change what is done at a show. At a company I was in charge of sales at, we would take four workstations to a trade show and demo all day. At the end of the day we would be dead tired, and have accumulated 100 to 300 questionable leads. We talked to so many people that they started to blend to together. Well meaning booth staff would look for people that were standing two or three deep at the demo stations and ask to if they could scan their badge for follow-up. When we left the show we would send out a mail pieced that thanked everyone we scanned for their attendance and then we would just wait to see what would happen next.

I lobbied to not do any demonstrations and request that booth visitors fill out a form during a brief product overview. The first question was, I am here only for the “give away”, and I am not interested in your product. True or false. After much debate the company decided to cut back to one demo station for occasional demos and to include the form. Just the action of qualifying the lead had such a positive impact on the sales people that they spent more time in the booth. They were excited about talking to real potential customers and about real potential deals at the show. No phone exchanges, no who are you again scenarios, or no I can not talk to you right now I am in a meeting. Real sales conversations with the sales team fully engaged were happening on right in our booth. The next show we left the single demo station behind and we improved the process five fold. We actually were plugged into some sales deals only because we had attended the show. Our competitors adopted our strategy a couple of shows later.

Think about it. As an example say someone throws 10,000 Monopoly dollars on the floor of a room, and in that paper mess they mix in 1,000 US dollar bills. You are given 10 minutes in the room and whatever you can carry out is yours. Now let’s say you have an hour, then a day and now 3 days to sort through the money on the floor. At what point have you picked up all of the US dollars and you start collecting Monopoly money? My guess is that point is never reached. Now let’s say for ever piece of money, real or counterfeit that you walk out of that room with, you are going to be charged 10 cents. Remember leads do not come for free. The answer again is that you come out of the room with no Monopoly money.

In the real world all leads cost money. Why does your company want to spend money on something that is a very long shot? In accounting there is the concept of “Sunk Cost”. Once you spend money for something, you have lost the ability to spend that money again. Any decisions you make should not be based on spend. Once you have spent x number of dollars on the booth why chase bad prospects? Prospects that burden your sales and marketing effort. I call it the “high-body count effect”. High body count gives management a warm glow that the company is on the right path. All a high body count means is that you were effective in drawing in anyone with a heart beat that walked by.

In the room example, let’s say you take a vacuum in to the room and you vacuum everything up in 10 minutes. You walk to the door then to settle your account. You have just vacuumed 11,000 pieces of paper that at 10 cents each will cost you $1,100 dollars. You have $1,000 dollars of real money in the canister. You have just lost $100 dollars. If you had picked up just the real money, you would have been charged $100, 10 cents per piece of paper, and you would have made $900. The delta is $1,000 and the difference between profit and loss. Trade shows should be thought of as an opportunity to highly qualify prospects and establish the initial contact. It is not about collecting every name in the place. You can buy a cold lead list from many sources and have spent a lot less money. Part of the sales process has to be qualification. The earlier you qualify a lead and turn them into a real prospect the better off you are as a sales and marketing team. Your resources are focused on making deals not shifting through trash. Just as in any process, not everything is perfect. You will find out later that there are some people who have a casual interest that will heat up over time, but if they fail to give you the information to have a dialog with them, it would have been impossible to engage them anyway.

The take away here is just because you are spending a big chuck of money on a trade show, don’t ever think you are doing the right thing by just collecting names. In fact this could have a harmful effect on your sales results and the company’s bottom line.

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