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Exhibiting by Hope Doesn’t Work

“The reason some exhibitors don’t do well at boat shows is because they exhibit by hope instead of by objective.  They hope a good prospect will come into their booth. They hope they might make some sales!” So says sales trainer Jefferson Davis of Competitive Edge in Charlotte, N.C. But the successful dealers exhibit by objective — specific, measurable objectives.

Apparently, the number 1 reason many exhibitors don’t get better results from a show is because they don’t set quantifiable objectives. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports only 46% of all exhibitors set any specific objectives for their show participation. That means more than half must just expend a lot of money and hard work getting there so they can sail along on hope! I hope that has not been you, but if it has how about trying something different at your next show?

Let’s set a measurable objective for an upcoming show. I’ll use the Cleveland Boat Show for example. Let’s establish how many significant contacts we will make at the show. By definition, a significant contact is when a salesman has an interaction of 5 minutes or more with a prospect resulting in the acquisition of name, address, phone, level of interest and possible timetable for a purchase, and sets up a basis for follow-up (“I’ll call with that information,” or “Let me send the latest material to your home,” etc.) after the show. Here’s an easy formula:
• Number of show hours = 81
• Multiplied by number of sales people = 6 salesmen
• Total man hours at show = 486 sales hours
• Multiplied by number of significant interactions per/hr = 4 per salesman (4-6 per/hr per/salesman is average, according to CEIR)
• Total Significant Contacts for show = 1944

That’s nearly 2000 specific, good caliber contacts that can be developed more extensively immediately following the show! And, it keeps the sales team focused and working every show hour, every day.

Finally, if this last fact doesn’t shock you, it should. The CEIR report goes on to say that only half the exhibitors who bother to set a specific show objective will actually follow up the leads! In other words, less than 25% of exhibitors do any real follow up. Incredible!

Then, again, I suppose if you don’t have any objective to acquire contacts to follow up, it would be a problem, wouldn’t it?


8 comments on “Exhibiting by Hope Doesn’t Work

  1. robert nelems

    Have to agree with CC.This kind of approach had no validity 30 years ago and has no validity today. Makes for a good speech when you are paid to motivate at sales meetings,but has little real world use.Never did,never will.

  2. Van Snider

    Another aspect of having success from boat show exhibiting is pre-show marketing. Exhibitors who are most successful in selling at or shortly after a boat show are those who effectively market their participation in advance to their client list and build incentives into why folks should attend and, specifically, do business with them at the show. PS- I don’t think your time has past as one of your readers suggest.

  3. Jim

    Spoken like a true show promoter there Van and I respect your and Norm’s knowledge regarding trade shows. I have never been able to get past the notion that inviting my client list to a major boat show is the same as drawing them a map to my competitors’ front doors.
    I love boat shows, but leave the marketing to the show people whose job it is supposed to be. I have always believed we spend enough on the show already and have every right, considering that cost, to expect the show to be well marketed by the promoters.
    Making the show pay off is, of course, up to the dealers skills and those of his people.

  4. Todd

    Frankly, the past few years I’ve seen boat shows become less and less effective in bringing new customers. We have had limited success moving exsisting customers or prospects up at the shows but those are customers we all ready had so why spend the tens of thousands of dollars?

    Today boat shows are not a factor. There are too many and none are heavily attended. Spend the money on customer appreciation events, boating events (cruising, fishing tournys, day trips, etc) and referral programs. Maybe then builders, NMMA, and promoters will get the idea that simple saying there is a boat show this weekend at the civic center just isn’t going to work. We need to collectively find a way to get people interested in boating. The high entry cost, fuel expense, repair/warranty issues, and general aggravation turn more and more of our customers into golfers everyday.

    The numbers game you used just does work when the aisles look like bowling lanes. We’ve all seen the empty convention centers where sales people out number attendees 2-1. We all know the definition of insanity… doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

    Happy showing at the show. I’ll be the sales person in street clothes checking out the competition…I just might have a beer and a hot dog while I’m there.

  5. CC

    A few of you are all part of the gang. The fact is banging on in someone’s face, gloating that you’ve been in business since 1492 BC, and all the other banal platitudes has absolutely nothing to do with bringing down barriers of resistance, articulated sales arguments, and focusing on what ‘John Smith’ sees when looking for a boat. This industry (what’s left of it) hasn’t moved off the ’80’s mentality. This MRAA stuff not only got old, it went no where.

  6. Gordon McKelvey

    Todd, right on brother, you must have attended the Nashville Boat Show for the past five or six years. The Nashville Boat Show opened last night 1-9-08. This is the first show I have missed in 32 years and I’m loving it.

    Instead of paying NMMA and all the other associated show cost, I invested some of that money in a website this past year. My legitimate lead generation has increased significantely compared to what the show here ever produced. I took somemore of my annual show budget money and took my family snow skiing in Colorado the same week I would be setting up for the show. We had a ball and I’m still ahead by the sum of over $10,000.00. While I was on the slopes, I actually closed 3 deals and I’m negotiating on three others. I’ve had a great start for 2008.

    Here’s the deal guys. A boat show is just that, a “SHOW” and a “SHOW” isn’t a “SALE”. NMMA isn’t stupid, they know if they market their “SHOWS” as “SALES” the attendance figures would fall like a ton of bricks. NMMA is looking at ticket sales and turnstile numbers. They don’t give a rat about the dealers selling anything. Boat shows attract, sticky fingered kids, people lined up at the houseboat exhibit, disintersted wives, Bubba, Leroy, Billy Bob, Junior, and all the rest of the good ol boys looking for a deal on “Jelly Worms”. If you took away all the junk booths at most NMMA shows you could do the boat thing in a high school gym.

    So get serious guys, stop wasting money on tired, worn out shows. Figure a way to get the local dealers together and do a “SALE”. Doing something like that can’t be any worse than what you’ve got now. At least it would cut down on all the sticky goop you have to clean off your boats at the end of the night.

  7. Pete Peterson

    I have to agree with Todd. Show Promoters have become lazy, doing little or no promotion to bring people to the show. They have a no lose situation, as they make their money on the space. The ticket sales are gravy. As a former concert promoter I can tell you that until they realize they make nothing unless they bring people through the gate, this trend will continue.

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