“Attendee registration for the event is well ahead of where we were at this point in 2012, and we’ve significantly exceeded our projections for exhibitors and exhibit space, PACK EXPO International 2014 and Pharma EXPO will host over 20 percent more exhibitors than our 2012 event did." ” Jim Pittas, SVP, Trade Shows, PMMI via exihibitcitynews
Iconic Industrial Trade Shows
Companies in the manufacturing and industrial space mark the passage of time by the occurrence of certain notable trade shows. IMTS, Fabtec, ProMat, Automate and PackExpo are examples. And as PackExpo gets underway in Chicago this week, record exhibitor and attendee participation highlight the role that direct interaction plays in the industrial buying process.
But it's important that manufacturers which are facing ever more difficult revenue growth challenges understand the role that trade shows optimally play in a market development strategy.
They still matter - they haven't died as predicted. But they have changed, and extracting maximum value requires understanding how buyers buy, and how to leverage a 3-4 day event into a 4-month campaign.
People do business with people....occasionally
People need to be comfortable with the companies and people with whom they are doing business. Particularly with complex B2B projects where the buyer's / champion's professional credibility is on the line, it's an important step. And at the end of the day, no matter how many pages of "belt AND suspenders" legalese is folded into a contract, no complex deal is finished satisfactorily because of the contract - it's because people deliver.
There's no substitute for meeting in person to measure the people in whom you are investing resources and your personal credibility. And trade shows provide a great opportunity to meet efficiently, "belly button to belly button," with a number of diverse contacts including customers & suppliers.
Exhibitions also provide an opportunity for some focused research. Many shows are too big now to simply wander about and hope to be struck with inspiration. But they are ideal to explore and expand concepts since so many thought leaders are congregated. It's this element that's notably more important than 10-20 years ago when industrial trade shows were sales events which were independent punctuations of any longer term market development strategy.
People want to do business on their terms
You're certainly familiar with the statistic that more than 93% of all B2B purchases originate with an internet search - and that buyers are typically 70% of the way through their buying process before they're willing to talk to a sales rep.
What we know from those statistics and research on buying journeys is that buyers are accustomed to managing their own buying research, and researching extensively. The internet makes collecting and considering even diverse information so easy that buyers now expect to gather insights in their interactions with suppliers. Or rather they discriminate between suppliers based on the insights they receive.
Companies peddling products accrue little credibility. Companies which offer thought leadership and industry insight as elements of their market development strategy establish themselves as experts, AND as resources upon whom buyers can rely.
Trade shows at the nexus of research and relationships
Companies that cram a booth full of machines and video monitors miss the point. They're still stuck in the days of broadcasting features. With a few exceptions when a project team descends on a show to make a final side-by-side comparison for a selection, the objective of industrial exhibitors should be to stimulate research and solidify relationships.
The physical presence at a show provides a powerful tool for both - but not when they rely on lighting to strike a visitor wandering the aisles. Instead a carefully planned campaign well in advance of the show should be built around challenges that their prospects are facing.
And add a practical twist - a message like "Love the power of the internet to research solutions to your pressing business problems....but miss the opportunity to sit down across the table from a real person to brainstorm solutions?" And skip the postcards and "no reply address" emails that exhort folks to visit you in booth #XXX to see the latest innovations in XXX. Guess what...they don't care. If they're investing time and money to visit the show, they're coming for their reasons, not yours.
The bottom line?
- trade shows (like print advertising in trade journals) remain an important tool in the market development strategy toolkit for industrial companies
- understand how the tool fits into new buyer behaviors (it's not an unchanged vestige of yesteryear selling)
- fold the trade show budget into the larger plan (for instance even identify specific focuses for activity around the show that map to key stages of the buyers journey)
- maximize the two "R"s - research and relationship elements of the buyers' trade show experience
- nurture them after the show according to the same sort of lead scoring/management that you would any other lead. Respond & support, but don't "pounce."
Stop blowing a huge portion of your marketing budget on a couple 3 day events. Trade shows are prospect/customer facing opportunities for thought leadership with a relationship twist bolted on. Integrate them into your overall market development strategy for a far better return on your marketing investment.
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