Why most exhibitions are a waste of time and money

Fish jumping out of bowl

As I type, marketing managers from consultancies, recruitment firms, LMS software providers and coaching firms are no doubt enjoying a well-earned drink having dismantled their stands at the CIPD Learning and Development Show.

They’re probably congratulating themselves on the long list of hot leads they’ve generated and looking forward to the gratitude of their bosses and colleagues.

Sadly, I suspect most of them will have made several mistakes that happen all too often at these events. In this brief blog I’ll list just a few of the most common ones.

Only speaking to people they know

Too many exhibition stands are used as meeting points for existing clients and contacts. Salespeople invite clients and prospects to the stand and then wander off to the bar. Of course on the way to the stand your client walks past every one of your competitors too, giving them a chance to make an impression.

Meet your clients and contacts on their premises; where they have the resources and time they need to make a positive decision and where they are not surrounded by your competitors casting doubt in their minds.

There is value in having clients on your stand if they are willing to speak alongside you as a living testimonial to your services.

Not qualifying leads

I can’t believe this still happens, but I’ve seen it and so forgive me for saying the obvious:

A business card thrown into an oversized goldfish bowl for a prize draw is not a hot lead. At best the only thing you know about that person is they want a Kindle (bottle of champagne, night in a nice hotel or whatever) or they know someone who does who has a birthday coming up.

Simply handing out brochures, stress balls and sweeties is perhaps even worse. You don’t even get any contact details for follow up. And post-event analysis has shown that most brochures end up in the bin before the end of the day.

Try to make any giveaways relevant to your produce or service; such as a research report. Offer to email your report and/or brochures to visitors rather than making them carry them around the halls. You demonstrate you care about their welfare and you get contact details too.

A gimmick to attract people works well but make sure you have a positive way of sorting the real leads from the polite passerby, the competitors and gift grabbers.

Becoming stand limpets

More deals are done in seminar rooms and coffee areas than on the stands. It’s important to have adequate cover but I’ve rarely seen stand personnel overwhelmed and more often than not they are seen desperately trying to tackle delegates rushing to their next seminar.

Turning up

Frankly most exhibitors are wasting their money and should not be at the event at all. These shows are terribly expensive in turns of space, stand design and build, collateral and staff hours.

And most of the organisations there end up talking to people they should be in touch with on a regular basis; meeting face-to-face, talking on the phone and sending genuinely useful information by email and (yes) snail mail.

In fact several organisations only keep exhibiting because their competitors keep doing so. If we ran entire marketing budgets like that we’d all be bankrupt.

Not following up

But the most common mistake, so egregious it should be a sackable offence, is most exhibitors do not follow up the leads they collect. This ‘gold dust’ data they have spent tens of thousands of pounds collecting ends up tucked in someone’s travel case or stuck on a laptop and forgotten until long after the event.

If you don’t have a follow up plan that means you will contact any lead within 24 hours or less – and the resources in place to achieve that – you are likely to be completely wasting your time and your money.