Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let's Be Honest - This Isn't That Hard...

When I was in college (1978) I worked an exhibit booth in home shows in Cleveland and Buffalo.  I sold casual furniture.  I worked every day, every hour of those shows.  Went through a lot of Diet Coke and Tic-tacs. When the dust settled, I had earned enough to walk into a dealership and purchase my very first new car with cash money – a very powerful memory and surprisingly empowering realization of a goal I set in advance of doing the shows.

I recently came across a photo of me taken on the final day (I think the final hour of the final day) of the Cleveland show (see below).  Though it was decades ago, I still remember how dog-tired I was when that event ended.  Like an athlete that leaves “it all on the field” I knew I had worked it hard; extracted the most out of my opportunity.

My “training” in advance of these shows?  Not much.  I met the company owner during move in.  He explained the product, its features and benefits, and said: “Let’s be honest – this isn’t that hard.  Be courteous, keep yourself and the booth tidy, listen carefully, take good notes, and if somebody is interested in buying, don’t be shy.  After that, follow your instincts.”

That was it.  I wrote that down on an index card and kept it with me during the shows.  It resurfaced years later, an old bookmark.  Solid advice then, solid advice now.


Fast forward to 2013.  I’ve started my 3-month sojourn (see previous post) by visiting several shows over the past several weeks, and I can’t get beyond those words: “…this isn’t that hard…”

Last Saturday I was in Chantilly, Virginia, at one of our Marketplace Events home shows.  The show was packed and buzzing.  People were buying and selling, hundreds of exhibitors were exchanging information with prospects.  It was a terrific marketplace – exactly what we (the show organizer) promised to deliver and exactly what the exhibitor (the customer) had hoped for when they purchased exhibit space.

In the midst of this beehive, with people everywhere, I then encountered this:

The moment after I took this shot this gentleman looked at me.  Now, most people might be curious as to why someone takes their photo.  Not this fellow.  He looked at me phlegmatically enough from his perch with an amused look, as if to say, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re thinking taking that photo, but the truth is I don’t really care.”  He didn’t attempt to ask me why – he didn’t attempt to ask me anything.  It wasn’t that he was unpleasant, unkempt or unruly.  He was utterly ambivalent.

And that’s when it hit me.  Any discussion about what works or what doesn’t work on a show floor starts from the inside out.  Specifically, any discussion of what works and what doesn’t work on a show floor starts and ends with people’s attitudes inside the booth

Look at it this way.  An enthusiastic, engaged exhibitor at least has a chance to extract some minimal value even when they participate in a poorly organized and poorly attended event.  When this same exhibitor participates in a well-organized event they can make a killing in sales and/or lead generation.

However, a disinterested, disengaged exhibitor has zero chance to extract value in either circumstance described above.  

In the end, the most customer-centric show organizer can’t do much to assist an exhibitor who puts “boots on the ground” who don’t care.  Show management can educate and cajole and provide helpful tools, but in the end it’s entirely up to the exhibitor to get the most out of the prospects walking by.  Ultimately, if an exhibitor doesn’t want to engage, they don’t want to engage.  It’s as simple as that.

This is not a guess.  Marketplace Events has mountains of proprietary data that (sadly) confirms that less than 1/3 of exhibitors engage with prospects once the prospect enters their booth.  Said a different way, almost 70% of people who enter any given booth on any given show don’t get approached by anyone representing the exhibitor.  Think about that!  It’s horrible because it means we’ve got an astounding number of customers who are simply ignored.  Trust me on this - we’ve got thousands of hours of video that prove it.

I know how show organizers think.  In their heart-of-hearts they believe it is their duty to provide the raw material – qualified customers – which they hand over to their exhibitors to turn into customers.  Whether the exhibitor knows what to do with the raw material, well, most show managers think that’s not their problem.

But it is his or her problem – it’s everybody’sproblem.   The face-to-face medium works because of engagement and interaction, not in spite of it.  Any show manager worth their salt knows that.

Like the man said: “Let’s be honest – this isn’t that hard.” 

Except, of course, when we make it that way.  Hopefully the next several posts will help make things a bit easier…

Tom Baugh
CEO, Marketplace Events


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