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Exhibitor Tips for Success —Morgan

April 2008
THERE ARE many reasons why a printer may decide to exhibit at a trade show or conference. From generating solid business leads to creating or maintaining brand awareness, exhibiting can have very lucrative results—but only if it is orchestrated effectively.

In February, my staff and I hosted our annual Print Oasis Print Buyers Conference at Amelia Island Plantation in Florida. Print Oasis is the premier educational conference focused on the challenges of marketers, print buyers and production professionals. This year, 65 printers and technology companies were featured in the Exhibit Hall.

One of the main reasons print buyers choose to participate in our conferences is the opportunity for direct contact with prospective suppliers. Since it is usually a split-second decision for a buyer to determine whether or not to approach an exhibit booth, we wanted to learn how our attendees went through the decision-making process so we could help the exhibitors be as successful as possible.

To ensure the experience remained fresh in the minds of our participants, we conducted the survey within one week after the conference. More than 130 major print buyers participated in the survey, which had both multiple choice and open-ended questions. Forty-eight percent of the participants possess more than 10 years of experience, and 57 percent purchase more than $1 million in printing each year. Due to these strong demographics, we found the feedback they offered to be extremely valuable.

In the survey, print buyers were asked what specifically motivated them to interact with an exhibitor. What follows is an analysis of their content-rich responses.

We discovered that conference exhibitors were most successful if:

They set realistic goals. Successful exhibitors set goals well before the date of the conference. They were as specific as possible about their financial objectives and the ROI that needed to be reached to justify the expense of the conference. They determined how many qualified leads needed to be obtained to reach their set target.

They understood the process. Exhibitors understand not to expect to receive an immediate payoff from exhibiting. In the printing industry, the average turnaround time to convert a prospect into a customer can easily be six months. Successful exhibitors understood the conference was just the first step in building the trust with client companies. They spent their time establishing a foundation with the attendee instead of pushing for an immediate sale.

They did their homework. The best exhibitors ensured the exhibit event matched their needs and was an effective way to meet their goals. Because they understood that the print buyer’s perspective is the most important one, they spoke with clients to hear their thoughts on whether or not it would be a worthwhile event. They also researched if the event organizer had a proven track record with chairing trade shows and asked for detailed demographics on past attendees.

They researched the location. Successful exhibitors ensured the exhibit hall would foster a welcoming environment. The arrangement of the exhibit hall can have a significant impact on the success of the event. It is crucial that the exhibit hall be set up in a way that people don’t feel claustrophobic or cornered, while ensuring the highest level of traffic. Conference organizers should also provide an incentive for attendees to visit all of the booths.

They measured. The best exhibitors had a professional-looking booth that was inviting by nature and strong in content. One of the steps exhibitors often forget is to obtain booth measurements to ensure that their signage and display items will fit. People who were on top of things carefully reviewed the exhibitor prospectus to ensure it would have everything they needed. While this may seem like a minor point, print buyers will determine in just a couple of seconds whether or not to approach a booth. It is important to have one that immediately grabs a buyer’s attention by featuring a well- organized, attractive display.

They knew their advantage. In preparation for the event, several of our exhibitors took the time to check in with long-standing clients to ask them how they were initially attracted to their company. They asked them if it was the initial promotions, educational materials or special services that first drew their attention. After gaining this information, exhibitors used it to shape their competitive advantage.

They researched the attendees. Successful exhibitors had an in-depth understanding of who would be attending the conference and what level of experience the print buyers had in the industry. They tweaked their presentations to match the type of professional who would be stopping by their booth.

They thought ahead. Several of our successful exhibitors asked for an attendee mailing list several weeks before the event. They sent pre-show promotions that featured strong graphics, reinforced the brand and included the booth number of where the company would be located. The invitations gave an incentive for the attendee to stop by the booth, such as a drawing, a demonstration of a new product line or an educational white paper. Exhibitors who generated brand recognition before the event hit the ground running when the conference doors opened.

They sent the right amount of reps. Several survey respondents stated they value having the opportunity to talk to suppliers without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. There is a delicate balance between having enough staff to handle the booth during peak times, but not too many reps during slower periods. It is important to be able to court all potential clients without intimidating shy buyers who are unlikely to approach a group of three or more reps.

They knew whom to send. It is always shocking to see an exhibitor—who has paid for the opportunity to initiate contact with attendees—remain seated in their chair during the event. Our survey respondents communicated that they were amazed to see some exhibitors with their backs turned, talking on cell phones and working on their computers. It is important that exhibitors stand up, greet people and welcome them into their booth. A simple “Hi. Where are you from?” is often all it takes to get the conversation started.

They were professional, even off the clock. Unfortunately one thing we discovered when reviewing attendee surveys is a few of the sales reps got a little carried away outside the exhibit hall, which offended some of the attendees. Several representatives later apologized for the behavior of their co-workers. Eyes are upon reps at all times, and they are there as a representative of their company. Successful exhibitors got in on the fun—but in a respectful and mature way.

They valued unique networking. While an exhibit booth offers a wealth of opportunity, it is the personal interactions that are the most memorable for the buyer. Successful exhibitors participated in the scavenger hunt, bonfire on the beach and the hat party, all of which encouraged interaction between buyers and suppliers in a non-threatening environment. Not only did this create lasting memories among our participants, it helped generate brand recognition. Successful exhibitors sought out dynamic social situations that took networking to the next level.

They went to the seminars. It is surprising how many exhibitors do not attend seminars, especially when it is included in their conference package. Sitting side-by-side with print buyers is an incredible opportunity to learn what services they need, while establishing a relationship in a non-threatening environment. As one of our participants stated, “I was very pleased to see a number of printers in attendance at the actual conference. They were there to see what print buyers wanted, so they could become better service providers. Now that’s the kind of vendor I want to work with!”

They educated the audience. One of the main reasons print buyers attend a conference is to learn about new techniques and resources. Exhibitors that hosted mini-educational sessions received far more traffic than those who did not. In addition, providing educational materials like white papers were a huge hit with our print buyers.

They sponsored an event. Exhibitors that had room in their budget sponsored a special event. Hosting a themed party is a sav-vy way to encourage people to attend, and costumes or entertainers always serve as an excellent ice breaker. (Note: Events should always be coordinated with the organizer of the conference. Nothing will put a person out of favor more quickly than hosting an event that conflicts with private functions that have already been scheduled.)

They followed up. Obviously, following up after a trade show or conference exhibit is the most important part in securing future clients. This should be done in a timely manner, even if it is just getting out a thank you note to prospects who stopped by the booth. Making it easy for the print buyer to take the next step in building a relationship is a necessity, and this can be done by offering free Webinars or engaging them in other types of events. Successful exhibitors know that they need to follow up more than once to continue establishing the trust that was created at the conference. PI

—Suzanne Morgan

About the Author
Suzanne Morgan is president and CEO of the annual Print Oasis Print Buyers Conference (www.printoasis.com) and Print Buyers Online.com, a free e-community for print buyers and suppliers (www.printbuyersonline.com). PBO, which has 13,000 members who buy $15 billion a year in printing, conducts research on buying trends and teaches organizations how to work more effectively with print suppliers. Morgan can be reached at smorgan@printbuyersonline.com.
 

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