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In What are the Characteristics of a Top 5% Event

I’ve had the fortune to run a world-renowned event – Macworld – and have managed several others that have come close to ranking amongst the upper echelon (the top 5%) of events. They are the types of events whose presence commanded attention – and attendance.
 

We are now experiencing significant pent-up demand for in-person events, regardless of the history or prestige of a particular event, that follows the Covid-induced dormancy of the past couple of years. But at some point, we’ll return to a pre-Covid norm where there are few events considered so well-regarded that their success is not dependent on a strong marketing and management effort. Of course, the reality is that no event is a success on its own. The best events are so well engineered and operated by top personnel that they are assured of the quality, both in strategy and tactical execution, needed to remain amongst the best and most successful.

But if your event is amongst the remaining 95% – let’s call them the “good, the bad, and the ugly” – are you resigned to that status or is there a formula that can get you to the top? I think there is. 

The goal is for your event to be a magnet within its particular industry, such that it’s easy to market and easy to sell both to sponsors/exhibitors and attendees. The industry press for the market your event serves is uniformly positive and considers the event an important venue for industry news, for interacting with market participants, and for discovering new trends or validating existing ones. 

Among the characteristics of this Top 5% event are:
 
1) The event strongly represents the market segment it serves. It covers the reality and challenges of today and provides education for tomorrow.
 
2) All the right people are there. And because they are, everyone else wants to be there, as well. The market’s heavy hitters, biggest customers, and industry experts consider your event as the place to be.
 
3) The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) level is a 10. If you’re not there, you’re missing out on making a key business contact, closing a sale, and finding out what’s happening next. Miss the event and you’re a step behind everyone else.
 
4) Marketing the event is easy– little more than announcing the details of the event. No arm twisting is needed. Prospective attendees are seeking information and standing by to register. You just need to provide them with the information at the right time, medium which suits them.
 
5) The sales pitch to your targets is “you want a piece of this.” The Exhibit and Sponsorship staff only have to state, ‘this is the place to be’ and ‘inventory and best opportunities are going quickly. Sign up before you get what’s left or, worse, miss the opportunity entirely!”
 
6) The Execution (Operations) of the event is first-rate. As an attendee or an exhibitor, things seem to run like clockwork in advance, during, and after the event. Of course, the reality is that problems rise, but any issues aren’t visible to customers. And even if they are, they are dealt with quickly, honestly, and fairly.
 
7) Attendees look forward to attending the event. They are counting the days, setting their schedules, and can’t wait to be there.
 
Sounds like a dream, right? It’s not. You can probably think of events that fit the scenario I’ve described. But most of us don’t have direct experience. Would you like to know how to make it happen?
 
Getting into the top 5% requires relentless and resilient behavior, and the ability to keep a lot of plates spinning. You have to really want it – and take the necessary steps to get there.
 
Here is my guide for how to make it happen.

1) Make sure you have well-paid, hardworking, smart, and qualified staff who love what they do, and – perhaps more importantly – love people. Perhaps you are inclined to go ‘cheap’ with staff with little experience. But the effort you will require from the staff means you should want the best employees. Getting them may cost you, and it will be worth it.
 
2) Make sure you understand the audience you want to attract and cater to its needs. Everyone says they are doing this, but very few are successful at it. Each of your customer-facing staff needs to have a visceral feel for their audiences. That means not just sitting behind a computer screen doing analytics, and certainly not hiding in the staff office.
 
3) Make sure you have secured industry support. Do you represent the top association(s) in your market? Do you have the present and future “movers and shakers” involved? Do you listen to their input? Can you get the top buyers to show up?
 
4) Apply the lessons learned in understanding your audience to write a marketing plan that has the means, messaging, and timing captured correctly. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for staff to be unable to write a marketing plan that includes the resources to be used, the milestones that trigger certain actions, and the budget that allows for pivots if the plan’s expectations are not being met.
 
5) Make sure you can reach your addressable audience. I had this covered this in a previous interview. But if you are not messaging to your entire potential audience, you are going to have audience gaps that your competitors can conquer.
 
6) Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford to do at each stage of the building of your event (i.e., make this part of your annual planning). Building the best events is not accomplished with one try, your achievement will be based upon a constant, consistent plan that obeys budgetary and other restrictions. So be conservative – or perhaps better stated “pragmatic” – as to how you move forward, while still seizing opportunities.
 
7) Get salespeople who can paint the picture for exhibitors and sponsors at the start of this quest to get to the top and where you are heading. You might have the foundation for a 5% event already, so you need talented staff who can get exhibitors to see the future and fund what’s needed to invest in the items (and the people) that will get you there. Make sure they are convincing and riveting in their presentations.
 
8) Have an operations team that doesn’t give up when things are hard. Getting to the top will be challenging. Make sure your operations folks are smart with budgets, can negotiate with suppliers in an environment of rising costs, and, at the same time, can organize themselves to get all of the necessary items done, without burning themselves out.
 
9) Create content for the event that helps your market successfully get to the next level. Make sure the content of the event leads the way for the industry. Hire the smartest consultants to envision what that is, and bring it to the event with the rest of the team.
 
10) Continue to do these year after year. It’s all about spinning plates, but also knowing what to do and, conversely, what not to do. You have to commit to being consistent, relentless, and resilient.
 
11) Be nice to your customers and give them the benefit of the doubt. Without customers, you have no event. Show a smile, and be good to them, even if you have a business to run.
 

I was fortunate to run to Macworld when it was already well-run and extremely successful, so my job was more keeping it successful as one of the world’s most esteemed events. I recognized the elements that made the show successful and ensured they continued to happen (much as I’d like to take credit for its success).

That experience – and others – made clear to me how hard getting to the top is and I tip my hat to those who are currently doing it. It can be done if you have the willpower. Good luck!
 

How to Find – and Keep – the Best Salespeople

I am frequently asked if I know any great salespeople who would be interested in a new opportunity. Given the frequency of the question, I thought I would outline what I feel are the common elements for a successful effort to hire (and keep) a great salesperson. When speaking at the SuperNiche Conference last April I stated I would only ever hire a salesperson who was recommended to me and would not hire anyone any other way.

And I still think that’s the right approach. However, if that’s not possible, I recommend the following:
 
WHEN YOU REVIEW CANDIDATES
 
1) Forget about past work in the business.

Most people hire by resumé when they don’t have a recommendation. This often is a trap, as people can accentuate the positive and minimize the negative in that document. Here’s what I suggest your focus should be when you meet the candidate: do they have the innate confidence, the assertiveness, needed to sell? Identifying raw talent over experience can give you an advantage over other companies that tend to look for people who fit a certain profile.

2) Hire at any age- if they have the stones.

Look beyond the candidate’s age. Five years ago, I hired a 70+-year-old who still works with me to this day. He has the chops, the customer service, the doggedness, and the closing ability that many other employers probably didn’t recognize because of his age. Similarly, I would hire (and train) a younger person who didn’t have the experience typically expected for the role. My first conference company, DCI, staffed their team with salespeople who were a mere two years out of college. In the 90s DCI rejected many acquisition offers that were attributable to how the company was engineered. The quality of the sales staff was a cornerstone of its value.
 
WHEN YOU INTERVIEW CANDIDATES

3) Challenge them.

Once you’ve gotten through the introductory chat and feel comfortable with the discussion, question their ability to do the job and wait for the response. If they agree with you or give you a weak answer, you successfully have disqualified a ‘poser.’ You want them to qualify themselves as the best of the bunch and well-positioned to do the job. Sales is no place for wallflowers, so do your best to filter them out with tough questions.

4) Do they exhibit dominance and influence?

Do they naturally try to take control of the interview? Do you see yourself positively influenced by their style, presentation, preparation, knowledge of your company, and the challenges of the position? If so, you may be on to a winner. If not, how will they perform when you’re not with them?

WHEN MAKING THE OFFER
5)  Offer them a piece of the action

The worst mistake a sales manager can make is to give a salesperson a big base relative to their commissions. The best decision a sales manager can make is to pay for performance. There’s no hiding if you can’t sell, so why not pay for stellar performance even it might result in a higher commission rate or paycheck for them than you originally intended? You should have scenarios that lay out what the salesperson can earn that you can show the candidate. Even better, include such details in the advertisements you use to recruit candidates. Emphasizing performance will identify those who don’t plan to ‘mail it in.’
 
 
HOW TO RETAIN THEM ONCE HIRED

6) Make sure they are trained.

When I looked around to see what kind of official sales training exists, I was shocked at how few options exist, particularly for event sales. I even considered starting my own sales training program to fill the gap. Therefore, I would suggest that your company commit to a minimum of quarterly sales training for your staff- whether it be internally managed, involving external consultants, or best yet, leveraging your own salespeople. In the third option, your staff can use their experience within your company to recommend areas of improvement and ways to overcome common roadblocks that can be formulated into regular training. Most companies do not commit to periodic sales training; identify your organization as ahead of the pack and this will give you a big advantage in acquiring and retaining the best sales staff.

7)  Be a sales-driven company.

In 2021, I wrote a post that identified five types of companies. If you have a sales-driven company, congratulations, you have the best environment to attract great salespeople. In such a company, they are the stars, and there’s no hiding from poor sales when the organization’s spotlight is on you. The best sales staff are driven by ego and highlighting the winners will help your company foster success.
 
8)     Make sure they are well incentivized.
Note I didn’t say, well paid irrespective of results. As I wrote earlier, the larger the percentage of total compensation that is a base salary, the greater the likelihood you will have problems with performance. Let the ‘cherry’ be a little hard to reach, but ensure your best people get the best rewards, even if it costs you a little more.

Your salespeople should never be completely comfortable. They should also be rewarded for their performance, particularly when the company is doing well based on their efforts.

Plan to change the way you source.Interview, hire, compensate, and retain your sales staff and watch your company’s revenues take off. And have fun doing it!
 
This post gets its inspiration from The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.
 
 

How Finding Your Addressable Audience is the Difference for Success and Failure in Events: An Interview with Marketing Guru Shauna Peters

Since my March interview with Shauna Peters, vice president and marketing strategist for mdg, a Freeman Company, I’ve heard a lot about the ‘addressable audience,’ which I believe is a key concept that every event marketer needs to embrace to maximize their event attendance. Since a lot of the ‘buzz’ on this topic is coming from mdg, I decided to invite her to expound on the idea. Here’s what she had to say:

Warwick Davies (WD): Shauna, I heard the term ‘addressable audience’ in one of Sam Lippman’s Attendee Acquisition Roundtable from someone at MDG. Then Vinnie Polito mentioned it in a forum at SISO in August. Could you define what it is?

Shauna Peters (SP): To get you an accurate definition, I consulted with our senior director, insights and data marketing strategy, Safa Khairy. She shared that addressable audience is usually referring to the target audience that can be reached either online or through third party acquisition. This means, the total potential attendee audience you want to target outside your existing in-house database. We have found that a significant portion of audience acquisition happens through paid media. These addressable audiences are the target audiences we know we can acquire through campaigns on online platforms (think search engine marketing, paid social, etc.) and through email list purchases.

WD: Sounds like a concept that every organizer should understand and do something about. How hard and expensive is it to do?

SP: We agree with you! Given the massive reshuffle of our audiences – from the great resignation to the great retirement – we know that house lists have been decimated. This means we need a better understanding of the total addressable audience and the appropriate channels to reach that audience. Understanding time and expense as factors to undertaking projects like this, we approach the work through a tiering system that ranges from fast turnaround/low cost, which is informative but provides a more surface-level view of the audience, to more extensive work that also requires a closer partnership and deeper investment with the client to develop complete segmentation. The approach we recommend comes down to objectives, timing and goals.

WD: Now that you know what (who) your addressable audience is, what do you do next?

SP: For us, understanding the audience informs our agile marketing strategy. This helps us recommend an appropriate channel mix and budget allocation that aligns with audience segmentation and content creation and distribution channels to reach those audiences. Ultimately the work informs us of the best way to reach and convert the target audiences.

WD: What results have you seen from organizers who have done this well?

SP: This has been really exciting for us. We have used the outcome of addressable market work to develop paid media campaigns that introduce new channels and created tailored messages – even where segmentation is limited – which has improved our return on paid media advertising spend and the performance of email campaigns using purchased lists. Ultimately, it has helped us deliver the right message to the right audience via the right channel, which in our experience has been directly correlated to increased registration conversions (ex. Critical buyer groups). And that is a real win for our client’s audience acquisition campaigns.

WD: Since recently the industry has been crowing ‘about quality over quantity’ (until the attendee numbers exceed the pre-2020 numbers), how can you ensure that you have the quality AND quantity while executing an ‘addressable audience’ strategy?

SP: That’s where the value of an addressable audience study comes in. We first identify the total prospect pool using both industry averages for conversion rates and any historical event conversion rates, then we project the prospect pool necessary to reach the 2020 target. Our process factors in audience segmentation and targeting, while taking the quality of the prospective attendee into account. This means that the study outcome provides organizers with not only total numbers to target but also a clear understanding of how to prioritize marketing budget based on the critical audiences they need to attend. Now you have clarity on the tools and process to rebuild your database with the right prospects, and thus increasing both the quality of attendance and the quantity.
 
Great stuff Shauna! Hopefully we’ll see more people doing this as events return to their previous heights. Thanks again for agreeing to share your thoughts!

Is the Future All About Going Back to The Past for Events? Interview with Industry Veteran Rob Weissman

Rob Weissman has had a long and varied career since he started in the tradeshow business in the eighties. He’s produced shows for National Expositions, Blenheim, and Tribune Schwab Fox/Atwood New Media, consulted on dozens of major exhibitions, and run two of his own firms, Century Exposition Management, and, Alliance Media Strategies. He has produced shows in the US, Japan, and Mexico. Rob is well known for his outspoken views on all things tradeshow, so I wanted to get his take on what lessons the tradeshow industry has learned from the pandemic, and the future of our industry. I was thrilled that he took the time to chat with me.

 

Warwick Davies (WD): You had a long career in the trade show industry is there anything particular that stands out?

Rob Weissman (RW): It has to be the extraordinary strength and resiliency of the live tradeshow model; especially the main components: exhibition, conference, networking, special events, award programs…although the importance of those elements of this has been somewhat clarified due to the COVID experience.  Tradeshows have weathered, and in fact withstood digital disruption far better than many other media and advertising vehicles. In fact, while not producing significant additional revenues, technology has made show production far more cost efficient, and thereby profitable. We both have computer tradeshow experience…I’m sure you remember the days of print/mailing a few million 4/C, 32-page attendee brochures.  Hell, you probably remember 10$ long distance phone calls and badge typists. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the virtual tradeshow. While its absolute failure was predictable and avoidable (for more detail see:  
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-b2b-virtual-tradeshow-failyet-again-part-1-robert-weissman)

It did serve one purpose, albeit unintended, by revealing the unique attributes of live shows that continue to make them viable, and impossible to replicate digitally in a financially sustainable model. While COVID hit every business segment dramatically, the pain in tradeshows, in addition to the interruption of the “live” model itself, was amplified by the fact that the industry itself had shown essentially uninterrupted growth over the last 30 + years. By the way: regrettably, but predictably, the “metaverse tradeshow” is now being touted by the usual suspects. The good news it won’t be as bad as the virtual tradeshow, the bad news, it will be worse…and for precisely the same reasons. The technology does not matter…the professional and personal motivations and agendas of participants in live shows are the key…as is my suggested use of the term “participants.” The perennial straw man arguments of conflating live and remote viewing of the Super Bowl…or World Cup for my millions of international fans…with potential remote viewing of tradeshows has been proven false because people don’t “view” tradeshows…they “participate” in tradeshows.  In a sense, they are the “players.” They have a number they wear on their uniform; their statistics are listed in the program, etc.  In fact, in addition to the product expo, attendees actually represent a ‘stealth’ parallel exhibition. They are displaying themselves to the industry at large.  They attend for both personal and professional reasons.

WD: What grade would you give event organizers for surviving the pandemic?

RW: Incomplete. Actually, I’d probably give a B+. As mentioned, the industry as a whole had a period of clear sailing longer than most people’s current employment in the field. Consequently, staffing and projections were based on continued growth. Other than insurance and staff reduction, there were no options for loss mitigation, other than the virtual attempts. The industry was truly in uncharted territory.

I don’t want to dwell on virtual too much…nobody else did…but had they produced digital events without the bloatware and absurd pricing and expectations…basically to maintain brand awareness and some revenue, they probably could have achieved the same results. Clearly, they had to try something. For those new to the industry, virtual may have seemed logical; the unrelenting noise coming from pundits and suppliers strengthened that incorrect assumption. But for experienced organizers who experienced the virtual flame-out of a decade ago, perhaps scaled back attempts should have been appropriate. That’s the reason for the B+, as opposed to ‘A’.

Obviously, the reopening came none too soon, as the virtual model was unfeasible typically after one iteration (once virtual, twice shy). One positive that I’ve observed over the years is that exhibitors are quite forgiving of one mistake. EG: If you make a mistake on timing or location (or virtual tradeshow) and own up to it and rectify it, exhibitors will stay with you, for the most part. Organizers are not being blamed for trying virtual once. From both the inside and out, I’ve seen major shows disappear and truly it took several years of aggressive mis-management to ultimately destroy them. Again, properly managed established tradeshows are very resilient. 

WD: What would you say they learned?


RW: Certainly, the value of insurance…as well having, or at least starting to think about, back-up plans for major disruptions. Additionally, the need to recognize that even without major disruptions, the fact that there could be more frequent cyclical ups and downs should be factored into internal planning, no matter how attractive “x %” growth predictions may be to analysts. This holds doubly true for associations and private firms relying on essentially one or two annual events. For multi-management firms, I think the risk-reward aspects of the past decade of global expansion have recently become highlighted.  Clearly, China is the 800-pound panda in that equation. While the term “deglobalization” has become common, I’ve used the term “re-globalization” in the sense that relatively geo-politically stable markets (US, Western Europe) will be the main focus of new shows and M&A activity. In fact, despite somewhat lesser revenues, these shows could see their M&A valuation actually rise, based on the “stability” premium. I suspect the holy grail of possible acquisition, or at least JV activity, with US association shows has been (re) added to the radar of multi-management firms.

On a more granular level, the role and intrinsic value of the major components of tradeshows has been clarified. In the absence of live events, the individual main components of shows could be examined according to the scientific method of isolating and examining variables. One thing that became clear is that, absent the “whole” of the live show experience, the conference content has minimal intrinsic value. Simply put, in the overwhelming majority of cases, when offered digitally, people would not pay to view conference presentations, and in fact, not even view them free of charge in numbers that would produce significant ad revenue. This was actually proven years ago with the failure of BOB.TV, but the fact that this behavior was replicated when there was no live alternative really hammered home the fact. I believe show organizers are adjusting both the logistics and budgets of their conference programs as a result.

WD: What have event organizers done well over the last three years?


RW: Bottom line: Survived; and come back in a better position to meet upcoming challenges.

WD: What have they failed to do?

RW: I’ve been saying that the new normal will look quite similar to the old normal (and in fact already does); for better and for worse. The “better” is that ‘live’ is getting stronger with each show. The ‘worse’ is the return to attendee head-counting. Long before COVID there were voices saying “let’s get away from the numbers game and focus on quality, buying-power, or even more precisely “results”. However, rather than seizing the opportunity to change the focus, numbers still seem to dominate the conversation. To be fair, a large amount of the numbers-counting does come from suppliers with an alternate agenda; often damning extraordinary results for the first iteration of re-opened shows with faint praise by comparing the numbers to all time…and perhaps unsustainable under any circumstances…highs. That said, I submit that focusing on the number of different firms attending the show; and the purchasing power represented by these firms, are far more important metrics than head counting and that organizers should make that a universal talking-point.

Speaking of talking-points, the subject of sustainability, while far from new, has become ubiquitous…in fact, I believe there is currently a live event in Egypt addressing that issue. Regarding sustainability and show location, “One coast to coast flight in the U.S. produces at a minimum 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. If all climate-change causing emissions are included, one flight from the United States to Asia or from Asia to Europe can produce as much as 5 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions, which includes both carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. To put that in perspective, 5 metric tons is the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by every human each year on the planet.” In the spirit of brevity. Purchasing carbon credits is akin to a weight-loss program of over-eating and then vomiting (I think there’s a medical term for that; and it’s not a long-term solution). I’m just spit-balling here to maintain the alimentary metaphor, but another alternative is not overeating in the first place.

Finally, one of the most astute observers of the industry, Phil Soar, has often commented on the lack of awareness and understanding of exhibitions by the general and financial press. This is due to the continuing lack of a tradeshow press writing ‘about’ the industry; instead of just ‘for’ the industry. The kind of coverage common in all other industries, from the Wall St. Journal to Variety…where organizations, management, and events are examined and critiqued in detail…including predictions and debates about the prospects for success of newly announced products and initiatives, independent analysis of performance, comparison of competing products etc.  However, I’m not sure if this is a failure to create a real industry press, or a success in suppressing one.


WD: Many companies say that that many things are different post COVID and events have to change but secretly hope that things can be exactly as they were pre-COVID. What’s your view on this?

RW: I think it’s highly probable that their wishes will come true. Most changes will be evolutionary, and actually a continuation of items and features that began long before COVID.

Mega shows may shrink or disappear, but they will be replaced by other events with the same traditional format and features; perhaps based on geographical mandates, or industry-specific focus, for example. Anecdotally from watching my LinkedIn feed, I get the sense that overall participation figures may actually increase over the years, albeit spread over a larger number of events. To return to a previously stated theme, many of the “things must change comments” are coming from pundits and vendors who are attempting to sell something that theoretically “changes” current show formats. If you review the chatter from 5 or 10 years ago, you’ll actually see many of the same buzzwords; E.g.: more personalization…as opposed to less?   When did “event technology start? The fax machine? The IBM Selectric…yes, I produced an Event Technology Expo in 2008.

If actions speak louder than words, show organizers clearly recognize now, more than ever, what makes a show truly work, and are spending their time doubling down on those traditional features. The key elements for tradeshow success remain unchanged. I suggest checking out the photos posted on LinkedIn from the recent slate of “events about events;” Eat, drink, and be merry…Cheers!

Please note: there is nothing wrong with the underlying rationales for why established tradeshow model work so well…other vehicles should in fact be envious of the longevity of what is essentially the same basic model since its inception; as well as the profit margins that result. When I say “tradeshows work” I typically add, “though not necessarily as advertised.” To that I would add that tradeshows, while very hard and intensive work, are not complicated.  People love going to tradeshows. One main obstacle is that there is a limit to how many shows an average attendee can visit in one year. The goal is to get them to put your show on their schedule.

WD: One of the main weaknesses that events have is that they have little idea of who their attendees are beyond spreadsheets and analytics? What’s your view on this?

RW: Actually, I think that has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. While that may be true in some instances, I believe the majority of the “in the trenches” organizers/managers consider themselves, in word AND deed, to be part of the industry their show addresses, as opposed to being in the tradeshow industry.  And that entails being knowledgeable about all aspects of the industry they serve. That said, it sometimes appears that their knowledge of the industries and people within it, is under-utilized or ignored, based on decisions made by people above them in the organization, who have a different background and focus.

Obviously, the potential attendee universe for a given show is far larger than the potential exhibitor universe, so, other than surveys, and visual examination of behavior at shows, intensive individual contact is not feasible. Show advisory boards provide some utility, but I’ve found that folks who want to participate on those boards don’t always represent the rank and file; plus, people are less forthcoming with real opinions when speaking in front of a group. One-on-one, “off the record” conversations with board members can be far more productive.  And while Sun Tzu is often used for business strategy, in this case, I prefer Napoleon, who despite significant committees and spies, would dress up in commoner’s disguise and go to taverns to hear firsthand what was being said about him.

In my experience, some of the most pressing “disconnects” are actually between show organizers and the rank and file “exhibitor experience” at a show. I’ve had the experience of working a booth at a three-day event; it was quite enlightening. Do that on multiple occasions and you’ll get a quick understanding why exhibitors don’t follow up on certain leads. (BTW-are these the same exhibitors who are demanding more info re the attendees?). While staffing a booth may not be possible for everyone, simply standing on a loading dock during installation, as well as at the official contractor desk could be useful. Doing a mock exercise of interpreting and completing the forms in the exhibitor manual would also be helpful; or observing a focus group doing the same. A related disconnect is between various departments within show management firms.  I’ve seen cases where advertising, marketing, and PR departments did not communicate with the sales department, or each other in more extreme cases.  I suspect I would not shock anyone by saying sometimes these relationships are borderline adversarial. Actually, this syndrome is correlated with the many of the shows that I’ve seen disappear, as I mentioned above.

WD: What will events look like in 5 years?

RW: I’m going to substitute the term tradeshows for events…and say, not surprisingly, remarkably similar with respect to the previously mentioned foundational elements; barring any sudden change in the DNA of attendees and the reaction of the exhibitors to that DNA change.

Some potential changes:

While ‘attendees’ love visiting tradeshows; certainly, on the company time and the company dime, exhibitors, especially booth personnel, can be ambivalent. I think forward-looking exhibitors may participate in live shows in a quasi-virtual manner.  Large screen video technology… 8-foot-high video wall panels… will allow booth personnel to show entire product lines on demand.  And based on the comfort levels achieved with Zoom, etc., in addition to live booth personnel, the panels could be fully interactive so that company reps could participate remotely on an on-demand basis…I don’t mean just a zoom size interaction, but full-body, actual scale, audio/video interaction. The goal being that no attendee leaves a booth without personal contact. Obviously, this would allow any number of headquarter offices to monitor the booth activity, both in real time, and for post-show review. Larger firms could have remote bull-pens of reps ready to engage attendees during peak periods, while still being able to perform day to day tasks during lulls. CEOs would be able to engage with VIP’s…and private full scale video rooms would also be an option.

In a related point, astute show managers could eliminate tracking devices such as RFID, and simply mount video cameras around the show. One ceiling mounted fish-eye could probably handle total coverage of most halls with respect to traffic flow, and certainly provide more meaningful information than a heat map. Other cameras could be mounted in more specialized areas. Of course, in addition to operating as an on-site mission control center, this video could be sent to the home office(s) in real time, steamed live via YouTube, and recorded for post-show analysis; with modern zooming options allowing very granular observation.

In the big picture, based on cost and sustainability issues, we may see more regional events in a return to the model of a small number of sellers traveling to meet a large number of buyers.

And as far as seismic changes, there is always the possibility that exhibitors will realize how powerful they are in the current financial model of shows, and take their destiny into their own hands, so to speak. This could take the form of a Michael Dell- type disruptor to ‘open the books’ on show finances and operations and demonstrate that they could spend 50% less and actually have a product built to their exact specifications. In an alternate scenario, exhibitors could form a no-sense committee to produce shows on their own, or put management “out to bid.” Can you imagine if exhibitors, or groups of exhibitors, negotiated prices with organizers in the same fashion that organizers negotiated with contractors?

This scenario could be accelerated at some point, based on the experience gained by exhibitors continuing to produce their own, single-sponsored events; here again, the true costs and economics of show production could become apparent.  If you further factor in the show being produced to simply break even, along with the elimination of 35 % of show production costs currently allocated to exhibit booth sales, as well as any commissions being added to drayage, etc., the efficiencies become apparent. In fact, I believe some events incorporate some aspects of this model; Pittcon comes to mind.  While I give this scenario 0.01% of happening within five years, I will point out that a quick glance at the news indicates a new era of austerity in the spending in many business segments; all expenses are being examined. It should also be noted that exhibitions, for the most part, have never been subjected to show competition based on price. In fact, I can recall in the heyday of computer shows when pricing was based on raising exhibit space pricing as much as possible, as long as you were one dollar cheaper than Comdex…and Adelson was always generous in raising the bar. That said, if one major domino were to fall and the news was discussed in the financial press in the same manner as say cable-cutting, things could get very interesting.

All things considered, in the big picture the safest bet about the next five years is lather, rinse, repeat.

 
Wow, Rob, that’s a lot to think about. I appreciate you taking the time to look at the past and future. I look forward to this starting more of a robust conversation on where we all should be going and what we should be doing! Thanks again.
 
More information about Rob can be found here:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/robweissman/ 

Have Conversations with 100% of Your Sales Prospects

Most event salespeople are transactional. Their outbound phone calls and emails, whether to sell a booth or a sponsorship, tend to approach the sale as a transaction – a one-time thing. And then they wonder when these attempts don’t generate the successes they desire. Why? One key factor is that the salesperson is choosing the time, the product offered, and all the terms that govern the transaction. But many prospects aren’t ready to buy, particularly at a time chosen by the salesperson.
 
What can you do to change this dynamic? Wouldn’t it be great to have prospects calling you rather than putting them on the spot simply because YOU have a sales quota to meet?
 
The way to achieve this is to become a resource to your customers, transitioning from tactical salesperson to a consultant who offers more to customers than just “stuff” they can buy. That helps to change the context of your interactions, since success is not always defined by your ability to close a sale. As an example, a consultative salesperson should try to have at least an annual strategic conversation with at least 20% of their customers. The goal of this conversation is not only an order, but also a chance to understand your customers challenges, and to see if you can assist them in these. You might consider 20% a conservative target, but customers may well be wary of this consultative approach, considering it merely another sales tactic (which is what it shouldn’t be). The proof will be in your ability to offer value that is not tied to exhibit space or sponsorships.
 
Have I convinced you yet? Some may respond, “Warwick I already do this. I offer pre-show sales training for my customers on the event floor.” Some event managers may consider this an attractive benefit, but my own experience is that the last thing exhibitors want when prepping for a show – with all the last-minute tasks they need to complete – is to spend time with event management staff on training. And for experienced exhibitor staff, such offers might even be considered a bit presumptuous.

The key is to offer services that your customers could use WITHOUT your product. Examples are:
1) Education that helps your customer better market to their customers: perhaps a webinar or a luncheon briefing at a time and place the customer selects. If the information is valuable, it positions you as an expert and differentiates you from competitors. If you’re knowledgeable about the markets you serve and you invest some time developing compelling content, wouldn’t you want to have such an offering?

2) Industry education that helps your customers 1) better understand the characteristics of the buyers in their markets, 2) develop ‘buyer journey’ information for helps design their sales processes, and 3) tactics that help promote actions at each journey milestone to move things forward or, if appropriate, to disengage because a prospect is not ready or perhaps not right for the offer.

3) An invitation to a digital hub that fosters information exchange, which could include customers, industry experts, buyers, even competitors.
 
Your goal should be to think holistically about your customer’s long-term needs and offer a portfolio of capabilities that help them address those needs. If you can position yourself as a market expert who is a resource to your customers – rather than a sales pest – I believe your influence – and your sales – will increase.
 
Wouldn’t YOU like a leg up on your competitors? This is a way. Give it a shot.
 
The inspiration for this post is from Chet Holmes and his book The Ultimate Sales Machine, a book with a lot of good ideas. Check it out here.

The Seven Conditions for Successful Event Sales

If you are good at it, there is nothing more satisfying than being a salesperson. You have few of the mundane tasks often required in other kinds of roles and your individual performance can have a direct and immediate impact on your (potentially unlimited) income. The sales role also rewards an entrepreneurial mindset, as the most successful salespeople treat what that do within their companies as their own “business.” And if allowed to do so, they will regularly exceed expectations.

I am often asked if I were to chart the road to success in sales, what characteristics of a salesperson and the environment in which they work would I insist upon for salespeople to exceed their quotas.

  • A Commitment to Daily Activity – As an inside salesperson, you should be making 60-100 contacts a day, with the goal of 6-10 daily engagements (conversations). This is the foundational work – the unglamorous day-to-day activity – needed for any success.
  • A Clear Monthly Sales Goal – At a minimum, this target for a salesperson should be equivalent to the annual quota for each show, divided by the twelve months of the year. At any point in the year, your reference should be the number of months year to date times that monthly number. But good sales reps will strive to get ahead of that number, so that they have a cushion when they encounter the inevitable slow patch.
  • Plan B Items – What are you going to do if you find yourself short of that aggregate monthly total? You should have a number of remedies that could include quantitative actions (e.g., increasing the number of calls, sending more outbound emails) or qualitative steps (e.g., getting management assistance on key calls, leveraging or creating new marketing materials, soliciting help from other sales reps, etc.). If things are not going well, you must adjust.
  • Seamless Engagement with Exhibitor Marketing – You should have a regular sales shot to your prospects and your past exhibitors (at least one monthly per event/activity you are working on). The marketing folks who work for your exhibitors should be your best friends; so treat them well.
  • Mechanisms for Getting New Leads – This should already be happening in your company, as you should be getting leads from Google Alerts, competitive events, LinkedIn, Salesforce, etc. Are all the available tools being employed to deliver the desired ‘addressable audience’ sought by your exhibitors? If not, get help to do so.
  • Seamless Exhibit Operations – Flawless execution of your events/products is critical. Nobody notices when things run smoothly, but everyone does if things are a mess. Problems with execution create a barrier to renewals, add-on sales, etc.
  • Great Sales Colleagues – Is the atmosphere of your sales office collegial or cutthroat? You need a bit of ambition, but ensure you help your colleagues as necessary and they are willing to help you. There should be enough money to go around so share it!
 
If you adhere to all these conditions, you should soon see the results in your sales performance and your commissions. Keep disciplined and good luck!

Are You Guilty for Sending Idiot Marketing Messages? 1

Here are some [what I consider to be] idiotic marketing messages:
  • Last chance to sign up is Friday!
  • Hours left to save – register today!
  • Early bird pricing extended!
  • High-level content at ABC Conference!
  • Elite Expertise at XYZ Summit!
  • Breaking News: XYZ to keynote Acme Conferenc
 
You may ask why I characterize them as idiotic. Perhaps you’re thinking “I use that approach in my email subject lines all the time!” However, I’d argue that these messages primarily are for situations where you know that people are interested in attending your event already. In those circumstances a price reduction, some kind of promotion, or additional information on an event’s content may be what’s going to get them to register for your event, if they are already engaged with you or the event marketing. But otherwise this kind of marketing is blind and clueless.

The thing that always gets me about poor marketing tactics is when the presumed ‘buyer’s path’ is based on faulty assumptions, the biggest of which is that the recipient of your messaging actually cares about your event or already is a raving fan.

Given that most events are not considered to be indispensable – or indispensable over a sustained period – to assume a prior year’s attendee is predisposed to return, if given the right incentive – is a mistake. Was the event valuable for them or memorable in some way? Or was it just an interruption of their daily business? How do you know?

If someone hasn’t been convinced of the value of your event – or worse, doesn’t pay attention to your marketing and therefore doesn’t know what you are talking about – do you think they’ll care that the early bird discount ends on Friday or some other marketing offer? If you are not segmenting your lists and tailoring your message for your key personas, then I’d argue you are guilty of lazy marketing. You haven’t put in the time to know whether a price decrease is the right offer. You’re just guessing.

You should be able to segment your past attendees into 4-5 main categories. Then you should ensure you have a buyer path for each category, a path that is not based on assumptions but rather is grounded in data and personal knowledge.

Assuming you have the metrics to indicate that the members of a segment are at a point in the buyer’s path when they’re ready to sign up, the messages I referenced above should have an impact. If you are crafting the same message for everyone- get ready for marketing panic.
 
Prospects are getting smarter. They’ll avoid you and your messages unless you also are smart about them….

Reviewing Event Profit, Product, and Marketing Strategies to Eliminate

Building successful events has many elements, but the three most critical for sustained success are Profit, Product, and Marketing. They comprise what I would call the Event Triangle.

Here’s how I would describe them:

  • Profit – The ability to build an event for which revenues continually exceed expenses.

  • Product – The event consistently delivers benefits to participants that are not available either from other events or other market resources. The event clearly must be superior to alternatives, and its managers must continually evolve the event (both in terms of content and structure) to meet changes in the market(s) it serves. Participants must leave an event feeling they’ve received value for the time, expense, and opportunity cost. And participants should be confident that the next iteration of the event will deliver similar value.

  • Marketing – The ability to position the event in ways that emphasize the benefits it delivers to participants. It employs the best tools and methods to identify and reach out to the desired audience, executing outreach through the right modes of communication, with the right cadence at the right time. The marketing plan must minimize costs while achieving the attendee number, quality, and revenue goals. At the same time, the strategy and tactics must reflect insight into the known and unknown needs of the communities it serves.
 
Optimizing all three of the above is both an art and a science. It requires:
  • Knowing where (and where not) to spend money.

  • Knowing what to improve and what to leave alone.

  • Understanding your audience at the deepest, personal level (not just via spreadsheets and analytics).
  • Maintaining close contact with your stakeholders such that they want to help you succeed.

  • Understanding when to make midcourse changes if you are not meeting milestones (and what to change).

  • Being vigilant and agile regarding external factors that may impact success (competition, market changes, etc.).

  • Remaining humble and grateful for your customers regardless of your success (so that you don’t become greedy, disrespectful, blind sighted, etc.).

  • Being opportunistic regarding chances to expand your event.
 
Ensure that your focus on profit, product, and marketing is balanced, so no side of the triangle is overloaded. If you concentrate primarily on profit and neglect the other two, you are likely to fail. Yet, if your attention to product and marketing leads to neglect of profitability, it will leave you with an event that may lack long-term viability. Excluding extraordinary circumstances such as our experience with COVID and the periodic challenges of difficult economic conditions (impacting exhibitor/attendee budgets), almost all the success or failure of events can be attributed to whether all three elements of the event triangle are healthy, and working in synchronicity with the others. Usually, the ability to build a healthy and qualified audience means you can attract the necessary exhibitors and sponsors to make money. 
 
Everything above sounds easy to do in principle, but without attention to the three key components and keeping them in balance, it is tough to do in practice.

For more information on how to build such an event from scratch, go here.
 
Many of you are well aware of the above; so, if that’s true, I am likely to be preaching to the choir. But if you are having problems, review the key three elements and make the necessary changes.
 
Looking forward to hearing news of your events, I am here toasting your present and future success!

Launching an Event: How to Avoid Financial Disaster

In theory, launching an event should not be too difficult. The steps of a launch can be laid out much like a pilot’s nighttime view of an airport runway’s landing lights. If you are methodical in execution, analysis and do things in the proper order, you should be successful. That typically is how it happens, that is until you reach the most important step which is often ignored- testing.

Here is the sequence:

 

1)  Establish the Idea

You need an idea for your event to differentiate it from what already exists. The idea must be smarter or more exciting in ways that will attract better participants or a greater number of them. Or it offers a new format that better suits the market. Most new events merely mimic what already exists (and thus start at a disadvantage.) Invest the time needed to ensure that your event will be different in meaningful ways, that it can attract attendees and exhibitors, and that you can make money doing it!

 
2)  Develop an Event Resume
 
Once you have the idea, write up a one-pager (the Event Resume) that answers the following questions:
 

• What is the event?

• Where and when does it take place?

• How many attendees/exhibitors are expected?

• Why it is compelling?

• For whom is it intended?

• What benefits will an exhibitor get through participating?

• What benefits will event attendees receive?

• How much will it cost for an attendee or exhibitor to participate?

 

The Event Resume should be self-explanatory. If a prospect can’t determine by reading it (without your additional assistance) that they should participate, then it needs further review and refining. Without this document’s ability to sell your new event, your launch will likely fail. Building an effective Event Resume is difficult, but if you can’t (or won’t) clearly state your value proposition, your marketing outreach will be weakened.


3) Create Champions

Now that you’ve persuaded yourself and your team to move forward, you need to get 3-4 others whose judgment you respect. They must agree that the event you’ve conjured up is worth doing, offering value not already available in the market. That validation should help you justify the event costs (which could be huge) and affirm that the financial risk is worth taking.


4) Establish a Specific Venue

Once you’ve picked a prospective date, make it real with specifics about available venue options, given your event’s ‘footprint’ in terms of both content and the projected number of attendees and exhibitors. What financial commitment is required to secure that venue, including the hotel room blocks?


5) Develop a Preliminary Budget

Given the above, you should estimate expenses in terms of room rental, audio-visual requirement, food and beverage, exhibit area, staff hotel rooms, airfares, related T&E, etc. Put those costs into a spreadsheet, together with projected revenues. This will determine whether 1) you can afford to do the event, 2) what your expected profits would be, and 3) the necessary investment and cash flow assumptions associated with producing it.

 

6) Conduct True Attendee Testing

Here’s where most organizers fall short with their research. What should happen is that you test the viability of your event with prospects in your database to confirm that your attendance assumptions are correct. Despite the means available to event organizers, too often they fail to market test new event ideas using their databases. And if they do test, they have no idea about how to evaluate the results to determine whether to move forward. I recently attended an event industry conference at which a panel convened specifically about launching events all agreed that their launch decisions were based on a ‘gut feeling.’ How scary- and dangerous – is that?

If you ask, “Hey Warwick, I don’t want to be like that. How do I test market a new event idea?” Here would be my guidance:
 
• Develop a list of anyone who might have a legitimate interest in your event. The larger the list, the better.

• Send out an email blast to this list to confirm interest and gauge the strength of that interest.

• Ensure you have a great call-to-action (e.g., “to get more information when it’s available, click here” on the email) to ensure that positive responses are actionable. Note that a good result is a 20% open rate and a 15% click-to-open percentage. Anything better suggests you will attract enough attendees, while anything around those percentages or less suggests there’s insufficient interest.

7)  Do Some Exhibitor Revenue Testing
 
Can you increase the exhibitor revenue that is part of your assumptions? Pick the top 20 most relevant exhibitor prospects and have your best salesperson set up calls or meetings with each decision maker. Get feedback to confirm whether they would support the event financially. Compile the results to see whether your exhibit revenue expectations are real or merely a pipe dream.

8) Refine the Event Resume and Budget
 
Perhaps the preceding steps have suggested that you must adjust the concept for your event. Or you’ve discovered that initial revenue projections are overly optimistic. Redo the numbers and see whether they are still compelling for all the work it will take to get this going. Then look in the mirror and confirm that going forward makes sense.

9)    Launch!
 
If all the above testing has confirmed your initial confidence, then it’s clearer that you should launch. But if the results are only neutral or something less, consider delaying the initiative until you develop a better approach. Or perhaps you should consider shelving the idea altogether.
 

If all of these steps sound like a hassle, imagine how you would feel if you chose to launch without doing your homework and ended up with a turkey of an event.

Be brave! But be smart! Your unique position is your visibility into the future and your confidence in the data that supports that vision. So let that be a guide in your building something great.


Why you should replace 20% of your sales staff – NOW

I have strong opinions about sales staffs, having managed them in some shape or form since 1996.  As I’ve previously written, I believe only 20% of salespeople are more than order takers.  Given that assertion, I was asked recently, “What about the other 80% of our sales staff?  How should I manage them so that I can hit my sales targets?”
 
To answer that question and to understand the needs of your sale staff, I’d plot the entire sales organization on a bell curve.  If we look at such a standard distribution and assume that only 20% of your sales force are getting it done, as stated in the above-referenced article, then I would also suggest there are two remaining categories, both of which are underperforming.  They represent 60% and 20% of the sales staff, with the larger number those that may have potential, while the smaller number represents those who won’t ever improve sufficiently.
 
How can one manage an organization composed of these three different groups?
 
The Top 20%
 
Give them aggressive quotas and get out of their way.  Give them a sense of ownership – that what they work on is theirs.  Effectively it’s their business to make successful.  Make sure they are hitting their monthly quotas and be available with resources if and as they need them.  Otherwise, let them do their thing.  They will exceed their goals with minimal help.  These folks are your rainmakers.
 
The Middle 60%
 
The difference between this group and the one above is skills and results, while what distinguishes them from those below is attitude.  These folks need help and guidance, but they are willing to learn.  If guided properly they can be ‘fixed’.  You should ensure they have monthly goals and are doing the requisite outreach to prospects.  Perhaps include roleplay exercises, either with you or one of your top 20% performers.  When they show signs of making headway, offer rewards of formal training classes that can help fill in the gaps in their skillset.  Make the investments that can enable their growth into your top-tier category, as there always will be turnover in that group that requires replenishment.
 
The Lagging 20%
 
Unfortunately, you must get rid your organization of those who fall into this category.  Some of your best sales performers can drop into this category, becoming lazy and entitled and lacking the effort that previously drove their success.  They may try to game the system so that they can generate a solid income without having to do much.  Their negative attitude may attributable to missed promotions or the loss of juicy territories to others, but they won’t respond to encouragement or direction.  Furthermore, they will disrupt your efforts to make changes that require their effort and improvement.  That response will be negative motivation for others, who will see them resisting your efforts to make changes, which will hinder your effort to improve the middle 60% group.
 
When I have been called upon to consult with event companies with sales generation problems, the root of the issues frequently concerns staff in the last category who are trying to maintain the status quo despite the need for changes to be made.  As I said, for the sake of your own goals, you must dispense with them, as there is no ‘saving’ to be done.
 
Beyond addressing the bottom 20%, these are other steps I would take to both retain the top 20% and incent the other 60% to get there.
 
  • Pay well beyond what is available from your competitors. Your top salespeople are well aware of the options they have to make money.  Preempt their wandering elsewhere.

  • Pay for performance. You’d be surprised how many salespeople have more guaranteed income from salary than incentive from commission/bonuses.

  • Allow them to share their opinions about matters beyond what they are working on. Salespeople are on the front line and may know more of what’s going on than you do.

  • Give them guidance. Most people never have had mentors and their careers suffer as a result.  Either build this support within your own company or allow your salespeople to find mentors outside the company.

  • Hold each salesperson accountable monthly for effort and results.
 
When approaching the subject of letting poor performers go, I’ve heard comments along the lines of “I know I need to get rid of him, but I worry I find an immediate replacement who’s better.” Though making a change is difficult, when you let someone go, the vacancy hastens the effort to get a replacement. It also creates opportunity for others who remain to expand responsibilities (temporary territory assignment, increased commission). Though it’s not easy, removing underperformers is the right way to go.
 
Unfortunately, the people who have slowed my own performance are those that I didn’t replace when I knew it was needed.  I certainly have learned that lesson. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.