Tag: sales strategy

Are Trade Shows a Thing of the Past?

As small business owners, we are often tantalized by the promise of the trade show. Our guest blogger Frank McCabe shares his thoughts on the effectiveness of trade shows.
Frank McCabe is Vice President of Marketing & Communications at The Beacon Group – a Massachusetts-based construction, logistics and facility services firm

Trade Shows – a long time sales and marketing tool used in every industry. If you have not had the (insert chuckle) pleasure of attending a trade show, allow me to relay the experience. Basically, industry professionals cluster into a crowded exhibit hall or conference center to display their products and services – typically occupying 10’ x 10’ spaces all in a row. Picture endless aisles of booths and banners filled with overzealous sales people just dying to spray their victims with verbal garbage about whatever it is they are selling.

Years ago, trade shows made a lot of sense for business development. These events provided a venue where buyers could seek out a variety of products and services in one spot versus hours of research and endless sales people at their doors. For sellers, trade shows provided an audience of buyers in one location and the opportunity for lead generation far exceeding any week (if not month) of sales calls. It made sense and has been a part of nearly all businesses for a very long time.

OK, here is the bad news, and a reality – trade shows are reaching extinction. Like dinosaurs and quality sitcoms – they are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Seinfeld before them, trade shows are swiftly vanishing from existence. Sure, trade shows still take place every day in every city in every industry…but I would argue they have become an unnecessary business tool.

In today’s world, why do we need to spend money and time to travel to some random city to find a product or service we are in need of? You have heard of Google, right? In less than 5 seconds I can find 700 places to purchase second hand lawn mower wheels…why in the world would I need to travel to East Bumbleberry, Kansas to attend the International Association of Pre-Owned Lawn Mower Parts Distributors (IAPOMPD for you acronym freaks!) Annual Conference?

B to B (‘Business to Business’) Magazine reports budgets for trade show exhibiting are expected to decline 17% this year, while the number of trade shows that exhibitors are planning to participate in should drop by about the same amount, according to the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA).
According to TSEA’s newly released “2009 Exhibit Marketing Survey,” budgets for exhibiting will decrease to an average of $381,000 per company this year, down from last year’s $459,100. In addition, the average number of trade shows that companies expect to exhibit at this year is 25, down from 30 last year.
Those facts aside, let me make a confession – I have exhibited at many trade shows. I have been that pathetic soul trying to get your attention. If you have not lived a day in the life of a trade show exhibitor, it’s easy to explain. It feels like the you are the third string trombone player in the high school band, its 2 weeks before prom and you don’t have a date yet – your prospects are VERY limited and you will solicit anyone who will listen to you…even if it means begging or bribery.

And that’s why trade shows are becoming a thing of the past – no one needs to be harassed to find something they need. Head for the internet instead of the airport.

Take the time to carefully review your annual marketing spend and determine if your usual trade show schedule really makes sense? Look at the return on investment from the past 3 years’ trade shows? How many leads converted to actual business?

Look into more current (and oftentimes less costly) lead generation techniques such as search engine optimization services, website traffic tracking, and webinars – it may be time to make a change?

Selling is hard work, right?

My Microsoft buddy has had an interesting work career. He has worked in Pharma, sold videos for Disney during the VHS heyday, and had a stop at Yahoo before joining Microsoft’s XBOX team. He is a life-long “sales” guy. The fascinating aspect (and he shares this often) of this sales guy’s career is he has always represented products in high demand, to the point, that he had to tell potential “customers” that they couldn’t have them. Our mutual friend, who sells investment funds and other money products, feigns disgust that “XBOX” calls himself a sales guy. How could anyone who tells prospective buyers “no” be a sales person? We should all be so lucky! For most of us, the sales game is a tough one, a very tough one. A vast array of competitors, fickle customers, and our own discipline make life difficult for most sales people. And while there are many factors to running a business that make it successful, it all comes down to getting in front of a prospect with a compelling value proposition and asking for an order.

So, getting sales right is critical for any business. Let’s assume a company’s product is competitive and can be delivered effectively (even though many sales folks will tell you not to confuse selling with installing!), that organization MUST ensure it has the right people, with the right message, with the right processes, with the right guidance selling their products. A colleague of mine who has a career in sales engaged with a company whose sales had been stagnant at about $14M for years. The company produces a commodity product, has 14 salespeople and sells its product in North and South America. Over 8 months, my colleague modified the message for the salespeople, built new selling tools, focused their efforts in new verticals, implemented an activity tracking and forecasting process and stressed the importance of not only maintaining existing customers, but growing them. Additionally, and probably more importantly, he stressed the importance of listening for opportunity. It’s all about the customer and their business and, only after you really understand that, can you sell your products and services. The results: the company was tracking to a $20M revenue year with an enormous funnel.

This work isn’t easy. And while my friend has always represented products in high demand, he too is a master of the fundamentals I have shared above. He recognizes there is always a competitor lurking with the next hot product and, if you are not ready with a disciplined, focused and energetic sales organization, you will lose in the long run.

Steps to Developing Quality Value Propositions

Curtis Brooks, a principal with the magis group, a growth execution firm, contributed the blog below. The message is a good one for all business leaders to understand: Quality Value Propositions are critical and getting them right is hard work.

As a firm that advises organizations on selling & marketing effectiveness, we see our fair share of clients who attempt to define their “unique value proposition”.  They approach the task with two primary objectives; differentiate from competitors, and clearly outline the reasons anyone should invest in their product or service.  The exercises to produce these value propositions require significant investments in time and effort.  Many companies are disappointed with the outcomes because they attempt to define their unique value to a broad audience in a single concise statement.  In most cases, they overlook the benefits of taking a narrow & targeted approach to the market.  In this way they could articulate their unique message on a more granular level.

To accomplish this level of contextual messaging, world-class selling & marketing companies take full advantage of the intelligence available to them.  For example, they scour proxy statements of their publicly-traded prospects for important clues as to how they might position their capabilities.  The statements disclose executive compensation programs and bonus parameters.  They leverage the published insight to identify motivations of key officials and the results those officials require to maximize their compensation – then present their value accordingly. 

 To drive frequency in the approach they look for opportunities to (re)use the information for any prospect that fits the category.  The time invested in refining the value proposition for one prospect now pays off by being used for prospects in the same industry or with similar challenges. This illustrates why developing a competency for capturing key information is now considered a “best practice”.  Access to intelligence has become a major driver changing the game to develop a unique value proposition.

A first step for determining if your organization has taken the wrong path to value proposition development should be to examine whether you describe your value and differentiation in product terms that is not desirable if you want your message to be meaningful outside of your company.  This means you approach marketing & sales messaging from the inside-out (product perspective) vs. communicating your value and differentiation from the customer’s perspective (outside-in).  Adopting the customer perspective helps identify the intelligence that’s required to produce unique value statements.