What Does an Exhibit Sales Manager Actually Sell?

The conventional notion is that exhibit sales managers peddle booth spaces and sponsorships. And that’s what shows on purchase orders. But insights from Stephen Pia, Dan McGrath, as well as the Freeman Trends Report Q2 2023, make it clear that the true business value of an event is in access to a qualified audience. 

This point of view resonates with me. Given that premise, shouldn’t exhibit sales managers immerse themselves in understanding both the current and potential attendees sought by our exhibitors? We also must grasp the intricacies of the strategies, tactics, and plans that exhibitors are devising to engage these audiences. If our role is as a marketing partner, it’s imperative that we understand their goals and how we can play a part in achieving them.

It surprises me how little time sales personnel invest in learning the marketing initiatives of exhibitors. Or, even worse, their ignorance of the specific demographic profile(s) of attendees sought by exhibitors at these events. To compound this issue, even when exhibit sales professionals do know what their clients are seeking, they often fail to communicate this crucial information to their event marketing counterparts so that attendee targets and messaging reflect that knowledge.

This disconnect often leads to a focus on the quantity of attendees rather than their quality. Attendee satisfaction becomes less relevant a metric if there’s no definition of what satisfaction is or an assurance that the “right” targets are being satisfied.  This can trigger a reevaluation of an event by exhibitors that can lead to a downward spiral that spells doom for the event itself. 

To change course, exhibit sales managers should consider the following steps:
  1. Ensure alignment between the marketing targets of your event and those sought by your exhibitors.

  2. Engage with attendees during the show to gain insights into who is in attendance and what matters most to them.

  3. Participate in Event Marketing Strategy meetings to better understand the event’s target audience and to help marketing staff assess if it aligns with the targets of exhibitors.

  4. Determine what the event marketing team needs from exhibitors. Facilitate the acquisition of pertinent information from exhibitors to aid event marketing efforts. After all, the success of the event is essential to the success of your exhibitors at the show.

Event profits come from the show floor— the exhibitors. If exhibitors fail to gain business benefits from the event, they will eventually look elsewhere to invest their money. Exhibitors are there to meet prospective buyers. It is imperative to intelligently target those buyers (the event’s attendees) because, fundamentally, they are the “product being sold” — not just floor space.

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One Response

  1. Great thoughts again Warwick.

    What I have told - and continue to stress to everyone I have trained over 30+ years that what we really sell is opportunity.

    The opportunity to meet with qualified buyers of their products and services. The opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue that can help those attending enhance and grow their business.

    The opportunity to create economies for venues, cities and other vendors.

    And, the opportunity for us to grow professionally as we speak with the market and learn what they need to accomplish their goals. Both as attendees and as exhibitors.

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