In Event Sales, Relationships Matter

February 22, 2013

Adam Schaffer

Adam Schaffer is Vice President, Tradeshows and Exhibitions for HelmsBriscoe and a member of the IAEE Senior Executives Programming Task Force.

A little more than12 years ago at a gathering of top tradeshow organizers in Santa Barbara, Calif., the keynote speaker – himself an organizer who had just bought one of the largest shows and most well-known show groups in the U.S – stunned the room by telling his audience:  “You are nothing but a bunch of concrete salesmen” and then continued to skewer them for running, in his opinion, unsophisticated businesses, where they bought floor space at a discount and resold it at a premium. He went on to say that he was going to single-handedly change the exhibition industry. He didn’t make any friends. 

For those of you that believe in karma, three years after buying the show, this organizer filed for bankruptcy. While his style was abhorrent, the message did resonate:  Treat your customers better.

The good news is that tradeshows are not unsophisticated businesses, but marketing and commerce powerhouses. They grease the wheels of industry and often deliver a nice profit for their ownership. Tradeshow marketing and audience development has become as sophisticated – if not more – than that of publishing or broadcasting which were often considered the gold standard in those disciplines.  Organizers and their partners recognize that they are now providing an ‘experience’ that has to deliver consistent substance and value.  

Most notably, the sales profile of tradeshow organizations has evolved tremendously. Relationship selling, formerly reserved for the advertising and hotel sales world, is now de rigueur across the industry. 

If you are calling your customers once a year – or just re-signing them at the show and not seeing them until next year – you are missing a huge opportunity to serve the market. Relationship selling is about partnering with a customer and solving their problems. This customer orientation had been a foreign concept in tradeshows for many years.  There is one immutable rule in relationship selling:  Listening is the most powerful form of influence.

Here are a few key things for you and your organization to remember about ‘listening’ and operating in this environment of customer orientation:

•          Focus on understanding customers’ requirements

•          Generate an organization-wide understanding of the marketplace

•          Respond effectively with innovative products and services

•          The customer is at the center of the model

•          Return on customer investment

•          Lifetime value of a customer

Understanding these points – on a daily basis – has transformed businesses around the world and has transformed our industry. No concrete sales here, but selling an audience and unique marketing opportunities is what we now do. Listen and innovate. Listen and respond.   

That executive in Santa Barbara probably owes concrete salespeople an apology because they do a better job than he did. He didn’t take his own advice and didn’t listen to HIS customers. And he is out of business.

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