What is the Current State of B2B Trade Shows?

What is the Current State of B2B Trade Show?Traditional-style B2B trade shows were the best thing for companies to network in their respective industries. Imagine massive halls filled with everyone from newbie sales representatives to seasoned C-suite executives and everyone in between. They were held once a year, and companies needed to be present there if they wanted to get hot leads and build credibility. However, B2B trade shows showed a decline in participation by the end of 2016 and during the 2020 pandemic, well, we are not sure when large crowds will be able to safely form again. 

In the case of B2C businesses, these companies are facing a downright breakdown because they’ve cozied up to their consumers with traditional marketing channels. Modern consumers are now also adept at ignoring mindless and depersonalized advertising. Yesterday’s marketing tactics are proving to be less effective, which shouldn’t come as a shock because Millennial consumers grew up with ad overload and can easily ignore it. They want to be entertained and want unique experiences.  Unfortunately, without being able to get out and physically engage their consumers, more and more brands are contributing to the clutter in the digital world, and to stand out, a brand needs to really do something special.

As for B2B companies, experiences are also taking a pivotal role in B2B marketing. A growing number of B2B companies are choosing experiential marketing because it is much more effective in creating relationships and cutting through the overwhelming noise. Instead of choosing to meet and greet their potential clients on trade shows, where competition lurks behind every corner, they decide to take their own mobile roadshow or trade show to clients. This provides numerous opportunities to connect with a changing generation of decision-makers, reduce customer acquisition costs, and build long-lasting relationships.  Also, mobile trade shows (customer roadshows) have far less attendance, but the right decision-makers, since the event is at their customer’s parking lot or at a neutral local space with a smaller crowd.  

Why Traditional Trade Shows Don’t Work Anymore?

At a trade show, your maximum reach limit is limited to the number of attendees, and there are no ways to filter the audience by interest or buying cycle. They are limited to a one-time event, and there is no real value offered to leads.  Additionally, for challenger brands especially, they are outspent by the big guys who are building big experiences, and frankly, if you aren’t building an experience for your customers, you aren’t going to be remembered.

Even if we’re talking about a massive event with tens of thousands of attendees (once this can safely happen again), there is a limit to how many of them you talk to, and not many of them will be B2B decision-makers. They might not have any intention of doing business with you, while some of them might be close to closing a deal (but due to nearby competitors, they might decide to go with someone else). At most of these conferences, exhibitors stand at their booths or tables, giving away promotional material and networking, hanging out at the bottom of their marketing funnel.

Trade show attendees are bombarded with different advertising campaigns and messages, and often tune more and more things out. The enticing background videos, neat taglines, attractive hostesses, and well-designed booths simply don’t appeal anymore. There is also the problem of booth overstaffing where people get together to network or come to break the monotony of their office routine. The interaction of attendees is sub-optimal, which doesn’t make trade shows the best opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with potential clients.

Experiences Matter for B2B Brands

In comparison, B2C customer experience index ratings rank much higher than their B2B counterparts. According to McKinsey, the average B2C company scores 65-85% compared to the average scoring of 50% for B2B companies. This tells us that the majority of B2B target audience members are not satisfied with interactions with their B2B associates. Of course, the goals and audiences of B2C and B2B companies differ in many ways, but modern customers don’t necessarily differ much in their minds. B2B customers are people who frequently interact with B2C experiences (e.g., buying products on Amazon for personal needs). They see how B2C brands are continually coming up with new experiences (both digital and real-life) that are not often seen in the world of B2B. However, these improved B2C experiences and rising expectations that come out of them are also migrating to the B2B realm.

Since B2B experiential marketing is like having a field trip come directly to your customers, B2B audiences react positively to well-designed B2B experiences, such as B2B mobile trade show tours. Business consumers that can experience your product or service, such as try your new tech solutions, building products or office furniture, before they invest in them (and do it in front of their premises) are more likely to remember your brand and products. This gives you an immeasurable competitive advantage over companies that showcase their products on trade shows, conferences, and other events.

  • The most significant benefits that real-life B2B experiences can bring to your brand (and that can’t be reaped from traditional trade shows) include:
  • Direct communication with prospective B2B customers
  • Creating a buzz around your brand
  • Showcasing and proving the quality of your B2B product
  • Networking and collaborating with useful non-competitors (companies that can complement your experiential marketing strategy)

Why Mobile Trade Show Tours Deliver Better Results?

When you visit your potential or current B2B client, the unique experience you provide them will help you break through the clutter and position yourself as different from the rest. Many people believe that trade shows still happen because people are afraid to stop doing them. You can be different by taking your budget that would otherwise be spent on a single trade show and launch a series of mobile roadshow experiences on multiple locations. You will be the non-trade show brand, with competition being nowhere in sight. For example, when on a trade show in Las Vegas, your competition is everywhere from the trade show floor to hotel bars and restaurants. But with a mobile trade show, you are the only one there with you and your products or services and can easily experience your product or service as being the best on the market.

Furthermore, such experiences will make decision-makers and C-suite executives feel special, especially when you give them the opportunity to set an appointment when it’s most convenient for them. You will be saving them lots of precious time by setting up an event on their company parking lot with snacks and drinks. They will also feel good because they are in their natural environment and most likely engage in genuine and meaningful conversation with you. By getting all of the decision-makers at once to meet with you or your representatives, they will move faster through the decision cycle (some companies reported that their sales cycle was cut almost in half).

B2B Mobile Trade Shows Matter for Your Brand

We have to have a realistic perception of the current state of trade shows and to look into the future to know how to adjust to the ever-changing market requirements. Mobile roadshows are the future because they place products directly in front of the right people. They help brands foster loyalty after the sale and speed up the decision-making process, while the concept behind these events-on-wheels is quite simple – if the buyers don’t want to come to you, then you bring your offerings to them. It is an immersive and memorable experience that brings the best bang for your marketing buck.

Hussmann, a B2B food service, spent tons of money to attend an industry trade show every year. But in 2016, it was announced that that year’s trade show would be the last, so they teamed up with Pro Motion and successfully used mobile trade show tours for their B2B marketing. The news they received couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient moment because they had just launched a new line of refrigeration systems that they wanted to exhibit. The thing was that showing photos on the Internet wouldn’t cut it, and their prospects had to experience it in person in order to appreciate it.

Pro Motion planned and executed their B2B trade show tour. We hired a 32-foot trailer to carry their refrigeration system and trained brand ambassadors to present Hussmann’s eight decades of innovation in the field and showcase their new refrigeration unit. We analyzed their overreaching goals and planned the locations based on agreements with their prospective and current customers. The trailer stood in front of their company location, in the parking lot, and the employees were coming to visit the novelty attraction during the day. When it got the decision-makers’ attention, they got out of their comfortable office chairs and came to discuss the features of Hussmann’s new refrigeration unit.

Eventually, Hussmann managed to sell their new units thanks, to being the only company around, far away from competitors. For Hussmann, it was a better strategic campaign than a trade show exhibition that brought them a higher ROI. They received hundreds of orders and saw a transparent return.

A Few More Tips on Creating the Perfect B2B Roadshow Tour

  • Be the educator

Nobody likes an approach that’s too salesy. Avoid being pushy and just deliver relevant information, education, and solutions for your prospect’s issues. Have them experience your products or services first-hand and make it worthwhile for them. For Hussmann, this meant helping their prospects understand why they created such a product and what problems they wanted to address. After their demonstration, executives discussed how much easier maintenance would be, how much money they would save, and other benefits of having these refrigeration systems in their stores. Hussmann provided the base experience that got everyone thinking

  • Be there first thing in the morning

Your roadshow vehicle should be open and ready before the first employees begin to arrive at the office. To make the best possible first impression, keep perks such as food and beverage to offer visitors as a welcome gesture.

  • Instigate post-event conversation

During the event, make sure to collect contact information of C-suite executives and other stakeholders who had hands-on experience with your products. Contact the interested decision-makers after your mobile trade tour comes back to your headquarters. If they are asking for a meeting or a follow-up, it means they are halfway through the sales process. If they don’t contact you first, be sure to reach out to them in a timely manner (about 3-5 days after the roadshow event).

Even the biggest skeptics have seen that trade shows are slowly becoming a thing of the past and that are being replaced with reverse-trade shows – mobile roadshows. They are something like a professional field trip and provide a more exciting and meaningful experience for key decision-makers. And even if trade shows manage to regain their popularity, they cannot provide the same benefits as B2B mobile trade show tours can. A company cannot meet its clients and prospects in their natural environment and engage in a one-on-one conversation. Instead, trade shows will always be noisy and cluttered with competitors competing to grab the attention of the same prospects that you are trying to connect with.

The decline of the traditional trade show format is an opportunity for change. B2B mobile trade show tours are still not that recognized or used across different industries, making it the perfect time to leverage its advantages and elevate engagement with prospects to levels you could only imagine. Take things on the road and make a one-of-a-kind impression that will get you your prospects’ and client’s undivided attention, allowing you to differentiate your brand by providing an educational field trip.

Remember your favorite field trips you took as a child? In business, exciting field trips are still a possibility, all thanks to B2B trade show tours. They are all about moving away from the uncertainty and coldness of connecting on trade shows, finding ways to meet decision-makers in person, showcasing products, and establishing the familiarity that’s essential for B2B relationships.

Want to work directly with an accomplished experiential marketing agency with 25 years of experience? Pro Motion is an industry leader in creating engaging, effective campaigns. Give us a call at 636.449.3162.

Learn More About Experiential Marketing from PMI President Steve Randazzo in his book Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World. Click here to download 2 free chapters!