Exhibitions are a key component in the business development toolkit for many organisations. They also provide an opportunity to put into practice some key business development behaviours.
At marketing events, such as exhibitions and networking, the buyers are on the look out to make connections with potential partners. But with a large number of service providers, the process in the buyer’s mind becomes less about selection and initially, more about the elimination of unsuitable providers. A key objective for service providers at these events is therefore to not be de-selected.
In their minds, buyers reject service providers for many reasons, some of which are more ‘emotional’ than ‘rational’ based on demonstrated behaviours.
As I discovered first hand as a ‘buyer’ at a recent event, firms that exhibit the right behaviours will be selected, earn trust, the right to start a relationship and there is a good chance we will work together in the future. Exhibit the wrong behaviours and you will almost immediately be deselected.
So how can I stop my organisation being de-selected?
The dynamics at play at Business Expos are quite interesting.
There are exhibitors (suppliers), who have spent large portions of their marketing budget to attend and who are eager to get some value (leads or appointments) – in order to justify a return on investment to their organisation.
Then there are the delegates (buyers), who have taken a day out of the office to attend and who almost universally are eager to gain some value (gather information or form some connections) – in order to justify a return on investment to their organisation.
The dynamics suggest, therefore, that an exchange of information in order to gain value is in everyone’s best interests. So why doesn’t this always happen? Why are firms de-selected?
It is because many organisations do not have the required skills or convey the right behaviours to manage the critical ‘Moments of Truth’ and then capitalise on the ‘Chance Encounters’.
Remember, the exhibition scenario could easily be translated to any aspect of your business development behaviour.
Moments of Truth:
Moments of Truth, as coined by Jan Carlzon, are “Any point of contact when a client can form an opinion of the quality of service the firm is providing.” Clearly this is very relevant at an exhibition, where (the clue is in the name!) you are outwardly exhibiting the quality of your firm.
Unfortunately, get these moments of truth wrong and you will be de-selected immediately.
Having attended an exhibition very recently and been on the receiving end of these moments of truth, here are some top tips based on behaviours observed as a ‘buyer’.
Crucially, everything you do represents your company and forms an opinion in the client’s mind:
- Don’t ‘traffic stop’: You are selling a quality service. In a department store, this tactic is known as ‘traffic stopping’ – but you are not selling perfume! Let potential clients approach your stand when they have chosen to engage you. Push someone into a conversation and they will push back.
- Look the part: First impressions are everything. The quality of your stand and collateral determine the perceived quality of your brand in your client’s mind. This equally applies to your personal appearance.
- Don’t ignore visitors: It’s amazing how many people ignore you when you are clearly interested in what they have to offer. If someone asks you for some of your collateral, don’t just hand it over but find out why they are interested!
- Be polite and welcoming: Give yourself the best possible chance by engaging your buyer in the first instance. Look interested. Give a warm welcome and then start asking questions.
- Act appropriately – Does eating lunch or constantly checking your phone really set the right quality image of your organisation?
- Remember this is a first date! – Exhibitors often have scanners so they can scan the barcodes of delegates’ name badges to collect their details. Don’t scan someone’s badge just for approaching your stand. It’s like exchanging business cards with someone at a networking event before you have even spoken to them. You have to engage and earn trust before you can do this. These behaviours do not make for a comfortable experience, make you look a bit desperate and will get you de-selected.
Once you have made a good first impression and your buyer (delegate) has decided to start a conversation, then you need to know the behaviours to make the most of this ‘chance encounter’.
The key is to create engagement by understanding the client’s context in every conversation.
Remember, it is very unlikely that you will win business today. This will require a relationship formed over many interactions, over many months. The key is not to be de-selected. So how do you build context, create engagement and generate an opportunity at an exhibition?
- Ask questions and listen: It is all about the buyer. Find out as much information as you can. What makes their situation different?
- Don’t sell – be helpful: The buyer wants you to find a way to contribute some value for them. An elevator/sales pitch will push me away. If the delegate instead tried to sell to you (which happens a lot at exhibitions!) would you not push them away?
- Be prepared to think creatively: Don’t just offer your pre-determined solution. If the encounter does not go the way you expected, you need to know your business inside out so you can offer other potential services or a referral to a colleague.
- Don’t discount the buyer – keep an open mind: Do not discount the ‘buyer’ if there is not an immediate sales opportunity with this particular individual. As a buyer, it’s amazing how obvious this behaviour can be. This is naïve and short-sighted as often you can still find a way to help.For example, don’t discount a delegate because their name badge doesn’t say ‘Director’ – they may have explicit authority to make the purchasing decision. Similarly, if a delegate appears to work for a competitor, they may be actively searching to partner with your firm as you have capabilities they do not.