Sales Innovation Expo 2015 – a Review

Sales Innovation Expo 2015

Welcome to the show!

Over the years I’ve probably attended 40-50 conferences and exhibitions as an exhibitor, mostly in the science arena but with a fair share in the metals manufacturing sector. However, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number I’ve visited as a ‘punter’.

Having spent countless hours gazing up and down empty aisles (METEC 2007 being notably bad) and being ignored by passers-by, I am ambiguous about the value of exhibiting, particularly at the larger shows.

Sales Innovation Expo 2015 (SIE2015) was held this year at ExCel in London and ran concurrently over 2 days with The Business Show 2015, Business Startup and Going Global. As a result, it was a big show with approximately 400 companies on display.

I arrived about an hour after opening on the first day and initial impressions were good with a very busy, very buzzy feel on the floor. The combination of four shows in one event attracted quite a mix of visitors from those looking to set up their first company to the more experienced looking to improve the way they operate. Happily, this impression continued right up to the end of the event with plenty of people still around when I left at around 4 pm on the second day.

Free Education

One of the factors that made me want to visit was the range of free seminars available. Over the two days SIE1015 had roughly 70 seminars and a clutch of Masterclasses run by various companies. In total, I attended 8 30-minute seminars and eavesdropped on 3 or 4 of the Masterclasses.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the seminars but was a little disappointed that the speakers in the first two fell firmly into the ‘me, me me’ category. Maybe I was a little naïve but isn’t that mostly what the booth is for? I also didn’t appreciate 5 minutes of really hard sell at the end of one of them. It was a classic ‘bait and switch’ with the title offering one thing but the content offering something completely different and of lower value. I came to the seminar to learn something, not to be sold at!

Far more enjoyable (in my opinion) were the speakers who genuinely shared something, who acted like thought leaders. Sure, they used examples from their own lives and businesses but only to illustrate the points they were making. As a result, I came away from those seminars feeling that I had learned something new.

That said, it was alarming how many people quoted the same statistics from the same handful of research companies – Forrester, Sales Benchmark Index, Sirius. One of the keys to success is differentiation so this is one to watch out for in our own writings!

Dan Waldschmidt at SIE2015

Dan Waldschmidt (yes, really!)

The absolute standout seminar for me was Dan Waldschmidt’s ’21 EDGY Ideas to Boost Sales’. I’ve been a massive fan of Dan’s blog for a few years and it was a real joy to hear his laser-guided, machine gun delivery on how to be awesome. Inspirational stuff! The big takeaway for me from his session was the story illustrating that, as a sales person, sometimes your customers life gets in the way of what you want to happen. Get over it and deal with the fact that what you want is NOT the most important thing in their life.

Good Booth / Bad Booth

Walking the show floor itself, there was the usual mix of good and bad booths that you see in any show. You know the sort of thing I mean; in the time it takes you to walk past a good booth, you know exactly what the company does. In contrast, a bad booth either tells you nothing or is so overloaded with information that you don’t know where to look. Or it suffers from the modern phenomenon of the exhibitor being far more interested in their electronic device than anything else. If you feel the need to check in, go off-booth to do it. I don’t want to look at the top of your head or feel like I am interrupting what is clearly more important than talking to someone who could continue to pay your wages.

It was also disappointing to see a relatively large number of empty booths. Clearly, some companies have money to burn!

It was also very encouraging that, in the main, the exhibitors I spoke to did a very good job of qualifying me in or out as a prospective customer. They recognised that exhibition time is very expensive and they didn’t want to waste that time speaking to someone who wasn’t going to buy something from them. If you can’t get that right at a sales innovation expo, you don’t deserve to be there!

There were a few exceptions to this, one, surprisingly, being from a company with one of the larger booths. I had a passing interest in their lead generation software offering, until I discovered that it was £250 per month. Not an outrageous amount of money but too rich for us. I made this abundantly clear but still they are going to contact me in six months time. Nothing will have changed but they will have wasted their time.

As a comparison, one of the other lead generation software companies established very quickly that I wasn’t a prospective customer and weren’t embarrassed to tell me so. I suspect we had a more interesting conversation as a result of them not needing to sell me on their product. I’m far more likely to go back to them when we are in the market for what they are offering because they knew what they were doing.

Another reason for me attending was to judge whether or not Arrosam should have a booth at next year’s event (11-12 May 2016 at ExCel, if you are interested). On balance, I think not as the audience is a little too general compared to our target markets but that won’t stop me attending again as a delegate.

Did Sales Innovation Expo 2015 Change My Opinion of Large Exhibitions?

To a certain extent, yes it did. The organisers did a good job of making the event varied enough to attract and retain a large number of visitors through the use of booths, keynote speeches, seminars and masterclasses. Equally as important was the simultaneous running of complementary shows with access to all four off one entry badge. Once you had exhausted ‘your’ show, you could find something to interest you somewhere else on the show floor.

Clearly, this is just one person’s opinion of this particular show. Were you there? What did you think? How do you feel generally about exhibitions, valuable or just an expensive waste of time?

If you like this post, please share the love and add a comment. We would love to hear from you, if only to confirm that we are not a lone voice crying in the wilderness! 


  1. Sonja Jefferson

    Hi Neil.

    Sounds like a pretty good event on balance.

    Event organisers, stand holders and speakers should read this to understand the experience from the punter’s perspective. As someone who does talks (and attends talks) pretty often I hear what you say about the hard sell. Hideous to be on the receiving end of when all you wanted to do is learn something new!

    I’d be interested to know if any of the stands stood out because of the information they were giving away. Any good examples of valuable content at work in an exhibition environment? Do let me know (equally interested in bad examples incidentally).

    Many thanks again for the article.

  2. Neil Fletcher

    You’re welcome Sonja. It was a pretty good event, even if you factor in the hard sell! None of the stands really stood out due to the information they were giving away – it was mostly the usual brochures and stuff like that. The devices to get people on to booths were the standard things – big bowls of sweets, ‘leave your business card to win a prize’ draws and games (darts and whack-a-mole).

    All of the seminars and masterclasses were given by exhibitors so you could argue that, when they were good, they were giving away valuable content. One (Slingshot Guru) did give away their seminar presentation as a little booklet, which I did like. No hard sell just useful information.

    On the plus side, there weren’t too many bad examples either. I did get subjected to a couple of ‘me, me, me’ pitches without any attempt to qualify whether or not I was a prospective customer but not many. I also had a few leaflets and brochures thrust into my hands by random passers-by but they didn’t stay there too long.

    And I was actually stalked by the competitor of one of the companies I spent some time with, culminating in the stalker giving me a 30 second pitch and a brochure. It’s a legitimate tactic but it did leave me feeling slightly ‘dirty’. I do still have the information so it must have been reasonably well done but…

    I guess there is a dichotomy in play – one of the aims of exhibiting is to collect contact details and immediately generate leads and prospects; one of the aims of valuable content is to disseminate information to raise awareness but without necessary identifying who is receiving it. If someone can crack the puzzle on how to weld the two together, we may start to see more valuable content appearing at exhibitions.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Sandie

    Hi Neil,
    Interesting read – I arrived here via your business card which you kindly left at our booth at SIE. Just wanted to say I agreed with your point about the exhibition being a bit to general if you have very specific target market. We did however find that SIE was a good oportunity for networking and have made some interesting contacts with other exhibitors.(Including some from the business show next door)
    Your idea to walk the show first was a good one.
    Russell and John who you met at our booth will, I am sure be in touch in the near future.

    • Neil Fletcher

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Sandie. There is always a balance to be struck when deciding whether or not to attend any given exhibition. In a past life, I would attend one big show every year and two or three smaller, specialist events. In general, I would get as many leads from each of the smaller shows as I would from the larger one. However, whilst the ROI from the bigger show was not as good, it was essential to be there to maintain a presence in the market-place. I’m still working out which are the ‘must attend’ shows for Arrosam!

  4. James (Sales Coach World)

    Hi Neil.

    Great review. I was all set to go and decided not to at the last minute. Very interesting read.

    • Neil Fletcher

      Thanks, James. Glad you liked it. It depends how far you have to travel, of course, but it’s well worth making the effort even if you can only manage half a day. I recognise not everyone is as ‘hard-core’ as me in wanting to spend two days at the show! Maybe I’ll bump into you next year…?

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