B2B Buyers Have Changed, Expos Haven’t

The way B2B professionals buy has dramatically changed, but our dependency on expo revenue hasn’t. There are two primary segments that leverage the traditional exhibit business model — conferences with an expo and expos with a conference. Based on our deep analysis of dozens of shows, the former are the event business models being disrupted most. From our view, most industry mega-shows continue to thrive.

The slow death of expo revenue is not an indicator that meetings don’t mean business any more. Many of these conferences still have high deal-making value. Much like a Macy’s closing in a mall, the retail industry is healthy, but brick and mortar is on the decline.

Marketing: From Push to Pull

Marketing effectiveness has evolved from push to pull. Here are five evolving trends and stats in the B2B-buyer journey that are impacting expositions (with hat tip to Christopher Ryan’s post “The Evolving Journey of the B2B Buyer” on the Customer Think Blog):

  1. Ninety percent of B2B buyers don’t respond to cold outreach. This means that if you’re allowing exhibitors to send an e-blast to your entire registration list, nine out 10 of your paying attendees tune-out. Instead, exhibitors should be encouraged to make targeted outreach with customers/prospects they already know. They should also do campaigns that make new prospects curious about the solutions being showcased. Exhibitors who calculate ROI based on number of leads will be difficult to retain.
  2. Three out of four B2B buyers conduct the majority of their research before talking to a salesperson. “Kicking tires” happens much later in the process today. The online listings for your exhibitors should be rich (descriptions, links, images, and videos) and searchable. Product/service categories should be updated to match up with the queries of your profession’s buyers today.
  3. Seventy-four percent of B2B buyers choose the sales rep who was the first to add value and insight. This means that helping is valued over selling. Booth personnel should be consultative, not salesy. In-booth education, white papers, and solution-based demos will be valued greater than a chance to win Alexa. Exhibitors who don’t attend education sessions don’t get this one.
  4. B2B buying is a team sport — an average of 5.4 people are involved in the decision. This means that there are a lot more influencers walking around. Exhibitors are going to need to be careful to not disqualify prospects based on title or tenure. My favorite insight about influencers is that they can’t say yes, but they can say no.
  5. Seventy-five percent of B2B buyers rely on social proof for validation. Online reviews, peer recommendations, and ratings have never been more critical to the buying process. Nurturing existing customer relationships (and making them the hero) during conferences can help attract others like them.

Move to Solutions Center

If you have a conference with an expo that is in decline, consider shifting from an expo/trade show/marketplace to a solutions center, aimed at solving business problems that are pain points for your attendees. At a minimum, this shift can help slow down the decline.

Instead of forcing the expo experience with exclusive show hours, food & beverage, and giveaways as a lure, make it an irresistible learning destination that educates your participants and makes them smarter buyers.

Think micro-learning on the show floor (according to eLearningIndustry.com, micro-learning is “a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small, very specific bursts”). For expositions, this can be further interpreted to mean teaching, not selling; 15-minute sessions max—5–10 minutes even better; sharing content in a theater or an exhibitor’s booth; and keeping the focus to one primary learning objective.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2018

Have you started your journey of evolving your exhibit hall into a solutions center? How are you incorporating education into your show floor?

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