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The value of face to face

Barry Siskind


How much value do you place on an opportunity to sit down, face-to-face, with your customer? The question is not as easily answered as one might think.

In an age when technology is quickly moving in the direction where it is simpler and less expensive to connect on-line, we need to ask the question. “At what cost?”

This question has placed several challenges on the shoulders of those considering investing in trade show participation. Three questions emerge;

1. How do I define and measure value?

2. How can I convince senior management to support a trade show effort?

3. What steps can I take to insure that I am getting maximum value for the investment?

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

How do I define and measure value?

The value proposition needs to satisfy two groups: your organization and your customer. The value to your organization is in knowing that face-to-face interactions at a trade show are moving the customer along the sales cycle. The value to your customers is that face to face offers them something that technology does not; experience, understanding and confidence.

The way to measure both of these is through feedback. Soliciting comments from internal and external sources often uncovers helpful bits of information that let you know whether your exhibiting objectives are being met as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your exhibiting program.

With this information in hand you are in an excellent position to recommend change. This information also gives you a benchmark to measure whether the changes you have added add to your exhibit program are producing the intended results.

How can I convince senior management to support a trade show effort?

Studies have proven that senior management’s need is for a positive Return on Investment for its exhibition budget. But not all trade shows and for that matter exhibitors have the ability to measure Return on Investment. This is especially true for those companies whose exhibition objectives include soft objectives such as branding, presence and awareness. These metrics can best be articulated by a second equation which measures Return on Objective.

In either case, your exhibition ROI and ROO should have a positive effect on the corporation’s bottom line. In order to create a credible case for the exhibition budget, the exhibit manager must carefully collect and analyze the results from all the corporate marketing efforts.

Every corporation is different but understanding your success ratios is crucial to finding formulas to satisfy your senior executives. Some of the information you need to collect include your average sales cycle, your lead to sale conversion ratio and your specific Audience Interest Factor (which is the percentage of your defined audience who will make a purchasing commitment within your sales cycle.)

What steps can I take to ensure that I am getting maximum value for the investment?

The steps become clear when the role of the exhibit manager is redefined into two functions: tactical and strategic.

The tactical function is for many exhibit managers the area that demands most of their time. It involves such items as booking exhibit space, working with the display builder, arranging for shipping and creating a staff schedule. The tendency is to let these tactical items monopolize your time and effort.

Tactical is also for many exhibit managers the area that their performance is measured on. If the show goes without a hitch, their job is well done. But if there are problems then the conclusion is often that it was a result of a mistake made by the exhibit manager.

The strategic elements are those items that ensure that the exhibition effort is moving the corporation forward. These include such things as developing exhibition objectives, finding the right metrics for success and reporting on ROI and ROO. Because of the complexity of these issues, many exhibit managers leave these strategic considerations off their list of show responsibilities.

Here’s where a shift in corporate thinking needs to take place. The exhibit manager’s responsibilities require a greater level of sophistication. This also means a need for continuing education in one of the professionally accredited courses offered by industry associations, colleges or universities. It also involves support for the exhibit manager to take part in industry conferences such as The Exhibitor Show in the US or ExpoSystems in Brazil.

Trade shows in the future will be unlike anything we have encountered in the past. There is so much that will change but understanding their value will be a key consideration that corporations need in order to ensure the level of commitment to exhibition excellence is maintained.