Imagine the typical conference scene depicting hundreds of people at a convention center doing a variety of interesting meeting and tradeshow things.
Now consider this image is a hand drawn double page spread in large children’s book.
Your task as the reader is to find Waldo, the supplier and exhibitor, at the event hidden in the group. Unlike the famous Waldo with his distinctive red-and-white striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses, Waldo the supplier does not have any distinguishing characteristics. Waldo the supplier looks and acts like all of the other people in the scene. So, where’s Waldo the supplier?
As you intently scan the two-page spread, you realize that the page is full of red herrings involving deceptive use of red-and-white striped objects, just like the real children’s book Waldo. The harder you look, the more you notice that there is really no way to tell who is an attendee or an exhibitor.
Then your eye notices a tiny stripe on each individual’s name badge. Some name badges have green stripes, some yellow and some red. You conclude that attendees have a green stripe, exhibitors yellow and speakers red.
Then your brain notices an amazing pattern. All of the suppliers with yellow stripes congregate in small huddles away from attendees. As you continue to scan the page, you recognize rooms set in theater style with a podium at the front and a speaker. The attendees are all sitting facing the speaker looking at the back of heads of each other. You don’t see any exhibitors sitting with the attendees. The more you analyze the page, the more you detect that the exhibitors rarely are with other attendees, except in the exhibitions hall where they expect the attendees to just come to them.
You chuckle to yourself and say out loud, “Not much different than most conferences I’ve attended.”
A couple weeks ago, Dave and I participated in GaMPI’s Meetings Exploration Conference in Atlanta. At this event, Dave had an interesting observation that reminded me of the “Where’s Waldo” children’s book. He didn’t see many yellow-striped name badge exhibitors attending breakouts. Their absence sent a loud message to attendees. Suppliers want their business, but they don’t want to help them be successful.
As Dave and I presented two sessions on hybrid events, an unusual thing happened. Even though most suppliers are worried about how hybrid or virtual meetings will cannibalize face-to-face events, we found a Waldo, an exhibitor, attending our session. 80% of the exhibitors did not attend any GaMPI education sessions but Megan Maharry, National Sales Director from Disney did. Yes, she could have chose to follow in the footsteps of her exhibitor peers and reply to emails, play Mafia Wars, hang out in their booth or respond to RFP’s that they’ll never win. She wisely chose a different path.
Megan was present in all of the concurrent sessions. She understands that she is in the relationship business and that by attending the breakouts with the planners, she’s growing those relationships and helping attract planners that will later visit her booth. She’s building trust and sharpening her saw so she can better help her clients solve their problems. Megan doesn’t just sell brass, glass and attractions. She sells better meeting experiences. She gets that meetings mean business…that face-to-face matters.
And Megan has a deeper understanding. She really surprised us by asking us the $64,000 question: “How can we help our clients provide Hybrid Meetings along with their face-to-face events? What should we be providing as the venue to support their endeavors?” Wow, that was the right question and she got the right answer too. Megan now has a secret weapon that will help her in her consultative sales approach.
So what makes Megan better than the rest? Is it good training, a genuine interest in helping her clients, a love for the meetings industry or good genes? Dave said “It’s all of the above and I’d put big money on her employer getting more ROI out of their participation in the MEC than their competition.”
The moral of the “Where’s Waldo The Supplier” story? Suppliers, if you truly believe that the meetings and events industry is a relationship business, then you should carefully consider your actions at your next tradeshow. Suppliers don’t build and grow their professional network without taking advantage of participating in every opportunity possible. That includes participating in the breakouts to better understand your customers challenges and opportunities.
As Dave says, “Suppliers, go to more education sessions so you can be more helpful to your clients. You might actually learn something. You might book something. You might even build relationships that pay off for many years.”
What do you think? How can you attract more Waldos in your education sessions? Do you have any advice for the Waldos at your exhibitions or events?