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Trade Shows Are Dead — But You Knew That Already

By May 28, 2019 September 6th, 2019 No Comments

For decades, convention-style B2B trade shows enjoyed star-studded status in their respective industries. They functioned almost as annual Super Bowls for businesses and were irresistible to seasoned C-suite executives, newbie sales representatives, and everyone in between. Attendees sauntered through massive halls by day and experienced bustling hot spots such as Las Vegas and New York City by night. Skip a year? No way! You went to your field’s respective trade shows or risked losing credibility and hot lead sources.

Somewhere along the line, though, the trade show lost its luster. (In fact, some of these events are now veritable ghost towns.) By the end of 2016, B2B exhibitions showed a drop-off in participation. Between 2015 and 2017, attendance at Houston’s Offshore Technology Conference fell from 95,000 to below 65,000, and even JCK Las Vegas — once a must-go experience for jewelry industry bigwigs — is on the decline.

Decision makers no longer want to head out and deal with overeager hawkers, and they’re tired of spending dollars to become a captive audience. So they slash the budget for old-school trade shows, ensuring no one has to deal with fistfuls of weathered brochures and unwanted swag.

This reality might sound like the makings of a horror movie for B2B folks who depend on large-scale trade shows to keep pouring leads into the sales funnel. Thankfully, there are alternatives — and one stellar option is the mobile trade show tour.

Why Mobile Matters for Brands

The concept behind a mobile trade show is simple: If key buyers won’t leave their desks, companies have to bring their products to them. This isn’t field sales 2.0. It’s a totally different kind of beast that bucks the typical pitch and provides a memorable experience. There’s also no need for decision makers to clear their calendars, as the mobile trade show has flexible “open for business” hours. It’s one of the most objection-free ways to get face time with prospects on their terms.

Not long ago, Hussmann, a B2B food services company and a Pro Motion client, learned how groundbreaking a mobile trade show tour could be for its brand. Before working with us, the company attended a huge industry trade show every year. It had a giant display and spent tons of money to be there. Then, Hussmann heard the bad news: The 2016 trade show would be the very last.

Just like that, one of Hussmann’s industry showcases dried up quicker than it ever thought possible. Here’s the real kicker, though: It had just launched a beautiful new refrigeration system, and you had to experience the massive fridge in person to truly appreciate it. (When it comes to innovative industrial refrigerators, a few photos on a website or in an uninspired catalog won’t cut it.)

Concerned, Hussmann called us to discuss the predicament. Our answer? Develop a mobile tour with stops at dream clients’ campuses. Hussmann gave the green light and allowed us to lease a 32-foot trailer to house the new refrigeration system. A duo of brand ambassadors were trained to become the lead presenters and showcase both the new unit and Hussmann’s eight decades of innovation. We planned our destinations based on agreements from current and prospective customers who were interested in seeing the new product right in front of them.

At each tour location, the trailer stood out in the parking lot like the novelty it was. Employees from all parts of the corporate strata visited the shiny attraction throughout the day. Word spread, and decision makers at each stop discussed the possibilities they saw in the refrigeration unit. Stakeholders from every department abandoned their ergonomic chairs out of curiosity. A festive atmosphere filled the air, and Hussmann’s new product gained respect and interest in the process.

Needless to say, Hussmann didn’t miss selling its wares among hundreds of competitors in a harshly lit convention center. It was too busy enjoying the electricity of being the headliner and the only game in town — and it was within walking distance of customers and prospects.

A Few Mobile Trade Show Truths

We’ve mapped out our customers’ B2B road shows for almost two decades, and we have a proprietary process that ensures valuable return on investment. If you’re ready to break out of the dated trade show mold and launch something truly engaging, keep these handy hacks in mind.

  1. Set up early and stock up on perks. You should arrive at each prospect’s parking lot before the first employees are scheduled to arrive and set up the displays well in advance of visitors. For those who were invited to the showing, this serves as a reminder — so don’t be surprised when you see prospects heading toward your trailer right after they step out of their cars. For everyone else at the company, it generates buzz, intrigue, and many a water cooler conversation.

Besides this, keep snacks and beverages on hand during the day as an added perk for visitors (you can reel a surprising number of people in with free food). All of this paints a welcoming first impression. After all, the goal is to seem less like a sales hustle and more like an intriguing pop-up shop where genuine engagement is the No .1 goal.

  1. Act like educators. Cut the sales act. Instead, focus on delivering pure education and solutions for your customers — and maybe even “edutainment.”

Because this is a live presentation, get your customers involved. Have them physically touch and experience your products. This activity should be productive and worthwhile for your visitors, not an opportunity for you to launch into a heavy pitch. Guests already sit through enough of those. Bringing your product directly to them shows you care. Now, they don’t have to take a day or two and travel to another boring trade show.

With the Hussmann mobile trade show tour, our brand ambassadors helped guests understand why the company created a certain product to solve client problems. And after demonstrations, Hussmann found that attendees started to sell each other by continuing the conversation independently.

  1. Spark after-show discussions. After the mobile trade show tour pulls out of town, reach back out to interested decision makers. For example, Hussmann collected names of top executives, engineering technicians, maintenance staff, and other stakeholders who mulled over the refrigeration system.

Based on the conversations in front of Hussmann’s product, the next steps were clear: Customers were already asking for the next follow-up call or meeting. As those folks were already halfway through the sales process, Hussmann’s representatives contacted them in a timely fashion — as long as the prospective buyers didn’t call Hussmann’s team first.

If one of your budget line items is trade shows and you’re not seeing impressive ROI, consider replacing it. A mobile trade show tour allows you to put yourself front and center without all the competitor hoopla getting in the way. You might even get a promotion with the new sales results. And as a plus, you’ll never have to worry about wearing an uncomfortable plastic lanyard or trapping tepid leads in forced conversations.

Want to learn more about the success mobile trade show experiences can bring?  Download a free chapter of our book – Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World at www.steve-randazzo.com to learn all about Hussmann’s experience and discover the benefits of hitting the road.