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Five Mistakes You May Be Making As An Exhibitor (And How You Can Correct Them) You can't control the overall exhibition experience, but you can control the experience associated with your brand.

By Omar Rahman

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What are the five biggest complaints from exhibition attendees? And how do you as a company ensure that you avoid them? In our two decades helping brands exhibit more successfully, we have met many happy exhibition attendees, but we have met our fair share of disgruntled, frustrated attendees as well.

Knowing the common complaints helps you combat them. True, you can't control the overall exhibition experience– but you can control the experience associated with your brand. So, let's look at the biggest complaints from exhibition attendees, and how to avoid them.

What really annoys exhibition visitors?
The bad news is, there are five common complaints amongst exhibition attendees. The good news is that you can do something about all of them.

Not getting enough quality face-to-face time
CEIR's 2017 report, Exhibitor In-Booth Tactics, offers a framework to understand exhibition attendees' primary engagement needs– those are needs exhibitors must fulfil to generate maximum attendee engagement and thus maximum ROI. People-to-people engagement is the first, so it makes sense that not getting this face-time with exhibition staff would be a major complaint. From the visitor's perspective, attending an exhibition is a big investment. If they leave feeling they haven't got their investment's worth, they'll certainly not remember the exhibition in a good light.

Solution: To solve the "not enough face-time' complaint, you have to understand the root causes.

First, maybe the exhibition space itself is poorly laid out and overcrowded. This can leave attendees feeling they're always moving from stand-to-stand, without the chance to stop and engage. That's definitely less true for bigger, established exhibitions that invest hugely in space design, but it's still a consideration. When you're booking exhibition space, do pay attention to the floorplan, exhibitor numbers and projected visitor numbers and make sure you're not joining a disaster waiting to happen.

Second, and most important, this complaint can come from exhibitors feeling they're not given enough attention. And this is completely within your control, no matter how busy the exhibition is. In many ways, busier is better because that means more potential leads– it's not about avoiding being busy but managing it.

Which means you need enough staff to meaningfully engage stand visitors. That almost always means more people than you think you need. Staff might represent an additional exhibition cost, but you won't generate ROI if your visitors feel ignored, so cutting costs here is a false economy.

Unsatisfactory product displays and demos
The other need CEIR outlines is people-to-product engagement –the chance to explore different product offerings, which makes good sense as some 90% of attendees believe that exhibitions are an important part of product sourcing, buying and comparing. Unfortunately exhibiting brands don't always meet those needs and visitors come away feeling unsatisfied.

Solution: You can easily fix this complaint by ensuring you show off your products. Think about ways to bring your product to life– a brochure can be useful for visitors to take away, but can you go further? Product demos and samples can be a good option, although admittedly easier for some brands than others. If you can't physically bring your product with you, look for other ways to replicate that experience.

Many brands are now using virtual reality to create product demos, for example. Or online games could recreate your product in a fun, engaging context. Or think about an experience that could bring your brand promise to life. For instance, say you're a premium airline business. Your product, practically-speaking, are flights but your brand promise is refined luxury. You could recreate that feeling with an exclusive in-booth airline lounge, giving visitors a taste of what they can expect from you.

Feeling like a number
Most exhibition attendees have felt this way at some point. Like an anonymous potential lead that every business wants to grab and convert. There's so much potential for this because exhibitions are sales events. With a high number of suppliers and potential buyers all in one room it's not surprising that attendees sometimes feel they're in a cattle-market.

Solution: If you don't want visitors to feel like a number, don't treat them like a number. Exhibitions might be a sales event, but they're not just a sales event. They're certainly less about on-the-day sales than they once were. Today's exhibitions are about building relationships – getting beyond sales rhetoric to genuine connection.

So, how do you make sure you're delivering a human experience? Partially by recognizing that exhibitions are about more than the cold, hard numbers. And setting the right attitude is deeply connected to the targets you set for your exhibition team. Think beyond volume of leads or product enquiries to incorporate qualitative targets that speak to attendee experience. For example, volume and length of visitor conversations could be useful, as could post-event experience surveys.

It is also the little things, which stem from good, old-fashioned customer service. Make sure your staff are impeccably trained, so they are personable, engaging and memorable for every visitor.

No follow-up
Depending who you listen to, between 70% and 80% of exhibition leads aren't followed-up post exhibition. Which is outrageous, given that the vast majority of event ROI comes post-event. But think about that from the attendee perspective. You're excited to meet suppliers, compare products and ultimately, move your business or personal life forwards.

So, you put effort and time and money into attending an exhibition, in the expectation you'll get something back. You ask questions and try products and build relationships, believing those things will convert into a new product, a new service, or a new business relationship. Then you get home, and nothing happens. All those suppliers who made you feel special, who you felt really positive about– nothing. Which makes you feel like you're not special at all. Like your business doesn't matter.

Solution: You need a clear structure to follow-up with leads in the right way, at the right time. You need a way for the right person from the right department to quickly deliver the optimum follow-up to maximize conversion. Which is a case of lead segmentation. By things like product and region, but also by position in the sales funnel.

Someone who's never heard of you before but scrawled down their name to get a free coffee should get different follow-up treatment to someone who's visiting the exhibition to meet you in-person after attending your webinar series.

As Chris Noonan suggests in Sales Management, develop a mechanism to record, group and prioritize leads as you get them, and a mechanism to check follow-up is actually happening. That can be as simple as a timetable.

There's no nice way to say this– exhibitions can often be dull. Exhibiting brands do their best, but from the attendee perspective that can get lost in translation. Attendees eventually get tired, bored and disengaged. It's like snow blindness: when you see too much of the same thing, you see nothing. And that's exactly what you don't want, in the quest for better exhibition ROI.

Solution: Uniqueness is one of the three most important rules of exhibiting, but to take it one step further– it's important to be uniquely you. To combat exhibition snow blindness, you need to stand out from thousands of potential competitors. Brands that hire the same old stand, from the same old exhibition booth company (the same company that's likely behind 80% of the stands at your exhibition) will get the same old results.

Even new, exciting technology can be "same old'. Hopping onto the trend bandwagon is rarely a solution. New technologies are great– but only when they authentically align with your brand, so they don't ring hollow. You remedy attendee boredom with a deep understanding of who you are, as a business, and finding innovative ways to bring that brand story to life.

Control the exhibition experience you deliver
Ensuring exhibition visitors have the best possible experience is in every exhibitor's interest. But the nature of exhibiting means you can't control every element of the experience attendees have. What you can control is the experience attendees have with you.

Control the experience you deliver, and you go a long way to making sure attendees remember you in the right light. Setting up those positive brand associations translates into sales increases further down the line. That's how you generate maximum ROI and ensure your exhibition is successful– even if other exhibitors are not.

Related: The How-To: Increasing Your ROI From Your Post-Exhibition Strategies

Omar Rahman

Co-founder, TGP

Omar Rahman moved to the UAE from the UK in 1991 to take a business development position in the sales department of EMA Lubricants, a joint-venture with Exxon Mobil. In 1995, he teamed up with Alexander Maddock to launch Top Gear Promotions LLC – now known simply as TGP – an exhibitions and events solution provider, having executed over 2,000 successfully delivered projects locally, regionally and internationally, for organisations including Etihad, Dubai Holding, General Electric, Dubai Tourism, IPIC, Masdar, Qatar Airlines, Emaar, Expo 2020, and many more. Rahman studied Civil Engineering at the United Kingdom’s North East Surrey College of Technology.

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