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Selling Exhibit Space and Sponsorships

Ungerboeck FloorPlanIf you happen to be one of a handful of show organizers whose events sell-out with little or no effort year after year, congratulations! However, for the rest of us, achieving sales goals requires significant effort. There’s been much written about how to find the right salespeople and develop compensation plans that incentivize the sales team to achieve goals and to grow the event. But little has been written about the importance of selling efficiently. And this is especially true for the show organizers with finite staffing resources (which is probably most of them).

The expression “Work smarter, not harder” is a bit cliché but it remains valid. Efficiency comes as a result of employing tools and techniques designed to maximize performance. And when it comes to exhibit space and sponsorship sales, the benefits can be significant, for example: accelerated cashflow; reaching sales goals more quickly; and having more time to focus on creating new initiatives and opportunities.

How we approach the sales process is the key to efficiency and, ultimately, effectiveness. And that begins with creating a strategic plan and establishing priorities. A great illustration of this can be found in the way medics assess casualties on the battlefield.  Although selling exhibit space is certainly nothing like war, the battlefield practice of “triage” can be very instructive when applied to sales.  In the context of war casualties, medics divide the wounded into three categories: 

  1. Those whose injuries are so severe that nothing the medics do will likely help;
  2. Those whose injuries are minor enough that immediate care is unnecessary; and
  3. Those who are severely injured but who will likely survive if care is administered quickly.

As you can see, focused effort is essential to achieving the highest and best results. Of course, all wounded are tended to. But triage enables medics to quickly determine their priorities when resources are limited, and time is of the essence.  

In the context of exhibit space and/or sponsorship sales, by using a similar “triage” approach we can group past, current and prospective customers into three categories as well: 

  1. Those who are not likely to buy no matter how much effort you put into it;
  2. Those who are likely to buy with little to no effort on your part; and
  3. Those who aren’t likely to initiate the purchase on their own but who have a high probability of being sold if the proper effort is made.

Let’s examine each of these categories individually, beginning with Category 2. These are (hopefully) the 75+ percent of your current exhibitors that are already sold on the value of your event and who simply need to be re-booked. They are, in many respects, your “best” customers, and they deserve to be treated as such. But it is essential that these companies be re-booked for next year’s event as quickly as possible so that maximum time can be preserved to focus on the companies in Category 3 – from which most new sales will undoubtedly come. (Companies in Category 1 should be included in the distribution list for the exhibit prospectus and other promotional materials. However, little to no sales staff time and effort should be invested until or unless higher priority targets have been exhausted.)

Why you may ask, is it so important to focus first on closing the sales that we’ve already acknowledged will eventually happen even if we do nothing? First, allowing the re-booking process to occur at its own pace will create an ongoing distraction as sales staff must continually shift their focus away from procuring new business. But more than that, having the re-book process completed as quickly as possible ensures that prospective exhibitors see a floor plan with a majority of booths already taken– a powerfully compelling testament to the importance of your event!  

There is no doubt that approaching the sales process in this manner is key to maximizing the performance of your sales team. Of course, that assumes you can quickly and accurately determine the category to which each of the companies in your database belongs. Current exhibitors are easy. Prospective exhibitors, not so much. And it’s not simply a matter of knowing what products or services a company sells. For example, do you know which if any of the companies in your database do not offer their products or services on a national basis? If so, it’s possible you have prospects whose interest in your event ebbs and flows as you move around the country. Do you know the fiscal year of each of your current and prospective exhibitors? Do you know when they finalize their budgets? This is especially important when marketing your event to companies that have never exhibited with you before. Even the “little” things can make a big difference. For instance, how easily are you able to see the exhibit history for each of your exhibitors? How about what they’ve purchased, and their total spend year-over-year?  

The more detailed the information you have on all past, current and prospective customers is, the more effective your sales team will be. But it’s not enough simply to have the information; it must be accessible. Again, the goal is to maximize the time your sales team has to pursue those all-important “Category 3” prospects. Employing a management solution that enables you to quickly and easily view and manipulate that information – not just across time but also across events – is essential.

There is, arguably, no aspect of exhibition management where technology has been more transformative than in sales. It is now possible to empower one’s sales team in ways never imagined. Developing a strategic sales plan and then carrying it out with precision no longer requires hours of preparation poring over mountains of historical documents. Systems exist today that eliminate all the traditional inefficiencies and allow salespersons to focus on actually selling and, more importantly, maximizing the effectiveness of those efforts.

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