Who Determines Event Attendee Quality? (Hint: It’s not the Organizer)

Attendee quality for any event is determined by its exhibitors and the results they get from your events. Despite the often grandiose exhibitor prospectuses that promote demographics as to how great their audiences will be, the real news is that exhibitors have become increasingly unhappy with the ROI they get from our events. According to the Freeman Trends Report of Q2 2023, as presented by Kimberly Hardcastle and Ken Holsinger at the recent SISO Summer Conference, meeting new customers and lead generation are the two primary goals of our exhibitors. And we are failing to deliver on either. As one example, there is a sizable 44% gap between the 94% of exhibitors who consider meeting new customers either extremely or very important and those exhibitors who are truly satisfied by the results they’ve achieved (only 50%).

That kind of shortfall suggests there is a big disconnect. Though we may think that attendee quality is strong and attendee numbers are ever-increasing, the reality is that our customers (the exhibitors) have become increasingly dissatisfied with the prospects that our events are delivering to them. For those large tradeshows that rely on exhibitors who expect to either close sales on the show floor or to get quality prospects that lead to sales later on, this spells danger. These exhibitors may not come back if results attributable to the event are not there.

And yet, the situation is not always our fault. Sometimes part of the problem is how exhibitors handle leads that they capture at our shows. I had one situation where I received attendee complaints about getting follow-up calls three times daily from the sales rep of a company that had scanned their badge at a show. Exhibitor processes – and professionalism – will play a large part in the ultimate success of their show experience and we must accept that judgements about the quality of an event and its attendees will be impacted by factors beyond our control. Yet acknowledging that reality does not leave us without tactics to pursue.

What then is the remedy for raising the attendee quality in the eyes of your exhibitors? How can you change their actual experience? I offer the following:

1) Identify the targets of your top exhibitors and confirm that they exist within your addressable audience.

2) Ensure that your written marketing plan has a strategy to attract more of these targets.

3) Perform analytics to identify any unique audiences that you are attracting and include this information in your Exhibitor Prospectus and other sales material used to recruit exhibitors. Make sure that future Exhibitor Prospectuses call out the targets that you are pursuing. 

4) Get an independent expert to guide your exhibitors on how to best nurture the leads that they get at your event. This can help them manage their leads more effectively and garner more sales.

5) Take the lead in educating exhibitors as to how your event attendees can be valuable sales prospects. For example, some attendees may lack the desired job titles sought by an exhibitor, but they may nevertheless be potential internal champions who influence decision-making or are gatekeepers who govern access. Rather than dismissing a contact with a lesser title, exhibitors might develop content and supporting tactics that positively impact the sales process via these secondary personas.  

6) Have frequent discussions with top exhibitors to develop feedback loops and measure progress.

For many years we have been able to put up a tent and have both buyers and sellers show up. Exhibitors accepted what we delivered and signed up for more of the same the following year. Times have changed – they now have a multitude of options from which to source leads. We cannot rest on our laurels, particularly given the dissatisfaction growing amongst our exhibitors.

Good luck with your efforts!

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