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Face-to-Face Marketing Trumps all…again.

Show-to-Show: Thoughts from the Show Floor by James Morris

It is that time of year again. I am suffering from “vacation-brain” as I prepare to head out for two weeks of R&R with my family. As importantly, I am in the midst of meeting with many of our customers to discuss event-marketing budgets for 2016 and to determine which shows worked and which did not in 2015. My belief is that “it’s not quantity, it is quality.”  It’s a cliché if there ever was one. But clichés exist for a reason — they’re validated by repeated experiences.

As I evaluate a customer’s schedule, my focus is not on how much traffic there is at the show, but on the quality of the attendees. Arguably, those people who care enough about a trade show’s focus to incur the expense of attending are more committed to the solutions they might find at a particular show. This makes them better prospects for whatever you have to offer. There may be fewer people walking the show floor, but those people are more engaged. With fewer people clogging the aisles, you’ll have more uninterrupted time with each attendee. Conversely, when the show is really crowded, you have to spend more time dealing with an aisle of questionable prospects. This scenario barely allows you enough time to say “hello” and scan their badges.

To me, face-to-face will always trump phone, email and social media. In this age of social media disconnectedness, rapid-fire emails and tiresome cold calls from sales reps, there is nothing so emotionally compelling and powerful as actually shaking the hand of a new acquaintance. Making friends face to face, in a no-pressure environment that is custom-tailored for such interaction, is the way to go.

As happens more and more at trade shows these days, you both — exhibitor and attendee — may have beers in your hands as you talk in the booth. You’ll form a genuine bond with genuine conversation — and your follow-up conversation after the show will be warmly received. You can also think of a trade show, as a way to make many face-to-face initial sales calls in one convenient location in a very short period of time. One place. Many prospects. That’s economy of scale. Try doing that on the road, driving from company to company in hopes of gaining a receptive audience with the right person.

By exhibiting at a trade show, you send a clear and credible message to attendees: your company is an active participant in the industry and is one that is willing to make this investment to meet potential clients and existing customers. Just like advertising, a trade show lends credibility to your brand as a leader and a viable partner.

Finally, ROI should be measured in years, not weeks or months. Too often, we marketers are taken to task immediately when it comes to showing the ROI of a just-completed trade show. How many leads did we get? How many did we close in 90 days? 60 days? 30 days? Yet, successful selling relationships, particularly in enterprise B2B, have a long sales cycle, most often it takes at least six-to-twelve months just to solidify. Similarly, the seeds that are planted from face-to-face conversations in a trade show may take a year or more to turn into a sale.

When the sale finally materializes, it may well be attributed to another marketing channel, because common practice is to attribute the close of a sales opportunity to the most recent source that motivated the prospect to action. That means that what started out as a trade show conversation may be attributed to advertising, a direct mail campaign or the web. We mustn’t forget to track the source of the lead to that very first interaction — at the trade show.

Still not convinced, here is some big data to support the effectiveness of the face-to-face events in today’s market:

  • 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. Which means more than 4 out of 5 people walking the aisles are potential customers for exhibitors.  Source:  CEIR: The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit Into The Overall Marketing Budget
  • 78% of trade show attendees travel more than 400 miles to attend an exhibition, which means you are getting a national audience at many trade shows.  Source:  CEIR report ACRR 1153.12
  • 99% of marketers said they found unique value from trade shows they did not get from other marketing mediums. Their 3 most valued aspects of trade shows were:  60% of exhibitors said they value the ability to see lots of prospects and customers at the same time; 51% of exhibitors said they value face-to-face meetings with prospects and customers, and 47% said they value the ability to meet with a variety of players face to face, such as customers, suppliers, resellers, etc.   Source:  CEIR: The Changing Environment of Exhibitions
  • About 50% of the largest 200 shows in the USA take place in just 3 cities: Las Vegas, Chicago, and Orlando.  Source:, The Trade Show News Network
  • 83% of exhibitors agreed that “Building, expanding brand awareness” is a high-priority marketing-related objective for trade shows. The next two objectives tied at 63%: “New product promotions, launches” and “Brand awareness reinforcement.”  Source:  CEIR Changing Environment Study
  • The top 3 sales-related objectives at trade shows are related to relationship management and engagement. Above all else, exhibitors want to meet with existing customers, key customers, and prospective customers.  Source:  CEIR Changing Environment Study
  • 67% of all attendees represent a new prospect and potential customer for exhibiting companies. This means trade shows are always rich in new business targets for Comcast.  Source:  Exhibit Surveys, Inc.
  • 45% of attendees visit only one exhibition per year. So when you exhibit at a show you will find unique prospects there you can’t reach at other trade shows.   Source:  CEIR Report ACRR 1152.12
  • The #1 reason for attending (not exhibiting) trade shows is to see new products.  92% of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products.  It has been the number one reason to attend for 25 years!  So trade shows are a great place to introduce or feature your newest products.   Source:  CEIR: The Role and Value of Face to Face
  • 46% of trade show attendees are in Executive or Upper Management.  That’s a lot of valuable attendees with top titles walking trade shows.  They certainly have authority to make buying decisions!   Source:  CEIR: The Role and Value of Face to Face
  • 84% of exhibitors say “High quality of attendees” is the most important factor when deciding whether to exhibit or expand booth size.  Also, 54% say “favorable return-on-investment,” is an important factor when deciding to exhibit or expand booth size, while 50% consider “Positive past performance” and important factor.  Source:  CEIR: The Changing Environment of Exhibitions

Like branding in general, we need to look at trade shows as a longer-term investment in growing relationships — not a quick fix to meeting short-term quotas for closed deals. If we do end up closing deals in the short term that is simply icing on the cake.