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Why Event Managers Aren’t Attracting and Retaining Exhibitors

As a show organizer, do you know how to attract and retain exhibitors? I’m not asking if you know which questions to ask them. I’m asking if you know how you are going to go about gathering and acting upon this information.

I was at PCMA’s 2014 Convening Leaders annual meeting in Boston last week, and since then I have been thinking about Monday’s session on exhibitor retention (“Fresh Perspectives from Exhibit and Sponsorship Decision-Makers”). The decision-makers on the panel – all of whom represented the kinds of exhibitors that show organizers fight to have at their shows – made it pretty clear that there are two main things they want organizers to do if they want them to exhibit:

  • “I need you to understand my business objectives.”
  • “I need you to show me the data.”

We all know that exhibitors have to see the value. They have to justify the expense of exhibiting at your show from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. This is not a revolutionary concept.

However effective it may have been for show organizers to hear this to reiterate the concept in that session, we didn’t walk away with a solution. I think in order to solve the problem, the real question we need to answer is “why.”

Why aren’t event managers able to understand exhibitors’ business objectives?

At first, I was floored in the session when the panelists said they have never been asked by a show organizer what their business objectives were. But then it dawned on me: perhaps they’re not asking these questions because they don’t have the right system in place to manage the answers.

If you want to attract and retain exhibitors, you have to understand their business objectives by asking them what they are. Before you can even decide whether you’re going to use a survey tool, place calls, send emails, or another method to ask exhibitors questions, you need to know you have a reliable place to collect and aggregate the answers you’re going to receive. What good is it going to do to ask the questions if you’re not effectively storing the data?

You need a contact management system in which to store and report from that data to help uncover real opportunities. At a bare minimum, it could be as simple as a spreadsheet. Best case scenario, it’s as powerful as event customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Exhibitors have to believe you understand their needs. They have to believe your exhibition aligns with their goals for the year. As one panelist put it, “If you’re not asking me what I want to get out of the show, you’re missing the chance to sell me.” I would take it a step further and say that if you’re not asking what exhibitors want and storing that information, you’re wasting your time asking what they want and definitely missing the chance for future sales by not being able to draw on that information later.

reading-exhibitors-mindsWhy aren’t event managers able to show exhibitors valuable data?

It would be really hard to attract a new exhibitor if you can’t send them the data and measurements to prove why yours is a good show for them. And, if you can’t provide them with any data that helps justify the expense for exhibiting at your show, you’re not helping improve your chances of retaining that exhibitor for next time.

As stated in PCMA’s article 4 Secrets to Securing More Sponsors and Exhibitors, “New data-collection tools have paved the way to showing who your attendees are, where they spend their time, what matters to them and of course, whether they are the right audience for prospective exhibitors and sponsors.” Exhibitors need this information about your show’s attendees before they can decide if the show is worth their time.

Just as you need to store data about your exhibitors, you also need to obtain – and be able to provide – data about your attendees that can be shared with potential exhibitors. This is where having the right CRM and unified databases becomes so critical to your success. A vital step in attracting and retaining exhibitors is having solid, reliable information that you can present.

If you don’t listen to them, you probably won’t see them at your show.

find-exhibitor-information-with-event-crmYour show’s success hinges on your ability to understand your exhibitors and attendees. The more you know about your attendees, the better data you can provide to potential exhibitors to help sell in your show. The more you know about your exhibitors and their business objectives, the better chance your show has at helping them meet their goals. The better your data management system, the better value you can get and give to your customers.

Don’t hesitate to email me with your comments or questions. You can also join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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