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.
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!
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?
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