How to Get More Revenue When Your Customer Budgets Are Shrinking

Times are tight. Even though ‘events are back’ your exhibitors are cutting back, as evidenced by their smaller budgets. They are returning neither your calls nor your emails. How do you reverse this trend and accelerate the process needed to increase your sales?

You CAN increase sales year over year, even though times remain tough.

As always, the fundamentals are still necessary for my guidance to work. You must have developed strong relationships with your customers and have ROI-driven events that can draw both the quantity and quality of attendees that your customers seek. You also need a proven commitment to customer service and a record of smooth event operation.

But given that foundation, there are things you should do immediately to [what I would call] ‘train’ your customers to understand that by choosing to work with you in the way that you propose, it will be to their benefit. And it will increase your revenue.                                                            


1) Always have an annual plan to offer each of your Top 10 (or more) exhibitors.

First, you need to understand the customer’s decision-making timetable to ensure that your proposal has an opportunity to be fully considered in advance of budget decisions. Next, you should look at the prior history of a customer’s purchases with you to identify when items were acquired throughout the year. Assuming your interest in bundling multiple purchases within a single contract, you should be able to create incentives (e.g., volume discounts of some type, free or discounted service add-ons, etc.) that the customer can acquire within that contractual relationship. Then, with such a baseline established, you may also have the opportunity to make additional offers during the year. The result should be increased year-over-year revenue from any customer who participates.

2) Ensure you have a champion within the exhibitor organization who A) understands what you are offering and why, and B) has the power to influence decisions regarding that offering.

This is of course critical. For your plan to work, you need someone on the customer side who is an advocate for your plan. This must be someone who likes and trusts you and has influence within their company. Someone who merely gathers information is unlikely to spend the time to understand the details of why a plan such as yours is beneficial for their company. Even if they did, they’d not have the authority to act on that understanding. So, avoid the information gatherer and find the decision-maker or -influencer.

3) Find out whether an exhibitor wants to “Dominate”, “Compete”, or “Be Present.”

Thanks to Ryan Dohrn for this one. Find out if your customer wants to “Dominate”, “Compete”, or just “Be Present” at your events and, more broadly, what are their goals for their market. Perhaps this is a question that you’ve never previously asked a customer. If that’s true, and you choose to do nothing else that I am recommending here, please remember this guidance. Understanding your customer’s goals will help you understand their spending focus and, accordingly, help you construct and position your offer.

“Dominate” customers should want the biggest presence at your events, as they are seeking to be more influential than ANY of their competitors. That means they’ll be incented to spend to achieve that goal – a huge green light for your plan. Customers who aspire to “Compete” will want to be on an equal level with their competitors – neither more nor less. Those who choose to “Be Present” will want to do the minimum, but they’ll need to ensure it is sufficient enough to be visible.

Your Top 10 customers (with a prior history of investing in your events) will likely fit in the first two categories, as there will be a strong correlation between their past spending on events and their broader goals for the market. But you’ll need to calibrate your package offers accordingly. If you have put together an exhibitor package that fits a customer with a Compete goal, but the customer tells you they want to Dominate, that’s a signal that you should add more to the package to accommodate the greater ambition. But if you presumed a customer has Dominate aspirations (with the appropriate package for that goal) and they indicate they’re intent is to Compete, I would recommend that you not adjust your offering, but rather leave the proposal as is, for reasons I will explain below.

4) Always propose a package to an exhibitor based on your research as to what is right for them.

Don’t look to have a detailed discussion about the elements of a proposal before you send it – unless the customer requests it. If you have done your homework, you’ve already picked the items they should want, and you’ve been insightful about presenting a package that fits their goals and is comparable to what they have bought previously. 

5) Give them the best deal possible without compromising existing pricing arrangements.

Make sure you’ve given the appropriate discounts – based on a presumed annual commitment – but don’t be more aggressive than that with your pricing offer. When you get the inevitable discount requests, you’ll have the defensible position that that no-one else – with similar dollar spend – is getting a better deal, thus helping you ensure your goal of a revenue lift from each customer.

6) Go for the close, asking when the deal will be signed and what their process will be.

Present the package and ask what the next steps will be. Put pressure on getting a decision if there is anything in the package that has a limited inventory. Have an agreed timeline for moving the deal forward. Surprisingly, the last few times I have done this, the deal has sailed through with the customer signing off on a package with the components, conditions, and payment schedules that were in the original proposal; all just by asking when the deal will be signed. This is why I recommend NOT adjusting a Dominate package if you find they are more likely to be a Compete customer. There’s always a chance that a customer might opt for your bigger proposal because it’s what was presented to them.

7) Repeat this process for all your Top 10 Clients.

Sounds easy, right? It is easier than you might think if you follow the guidelines above. If you can do this for all your key customers, you will increase their revenue contribution. In addition, you will ‘up the ante’ for other companies who want to Dominate or Compete, since their competitors will be investing more. Given that budgets are shrinking, you will also be taking marketing investment that would otherwise go to competing events. At least you will be taking money from the event competitors that are not pursuing similar customer strategies themselves. Perhaps you’ve noticed such activity from your competitors? If so, you’re late to the party, but you can recover by acting.

Good luck in getting more sales when budgets are shrinking. It’s eminently doable!

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