Too many marketers are playing fast and loose with their programs, entrusting the fate of their careers to ill-prepared staffers.
Twenty-five years ago, the National Broadcasting Co. debuted a series of award-winning public service announcements. As a child of the '80s, I grew up watching these commercials peppered in among my Saturday morning cartoons and after-school specials. The occasionally cheesy and often parodied PSAs all had a common goal: encourage life-long learning. But according to the results of our 2015 Sales Lead Survey, the exhibition industry might need its own version of the iconic "The More You Know" commercials.
The data, which is based on responses from face-to-face marketers representing nearly 150 different organizations, indicates that 67 percent of exhibitors train their booth staffers how to collect and qualify leads at a trade show. Not bad, right? Well, it's certainly not good when you consider that five years ago, 82 percent were doing it. That means the people on the
front lines of your exhibit-marketing program — the faces of your respective brands — are likely dumber than they were in 2010, despite the fact that most organizations also report a heightened scrutiny of their exhibit-marketing spend.
It's somewhat paradoxical when you think about it. Earlier this year, a study by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reported that lead acquisition is the most important objective for companies investing in exhibit marketing. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist — or even a rocket salesman — to know the quantity and quality of sales leads you generate at trade shows is going to directly impact the amount of revenue attributable to your program. Still, it appears that corporate America is increasingly less willing to invest the nominal amount of time and money it takes to ratchet up staffers' ability to effectively and efficiently suss out the high-quality leads from the swag-collecting "looky-loos."
Matt Hill of The Hill Group states that in his 25 years of experience, clients who incorporate staff training routinely see increases of 50 percent to as much as 100 percent in their number of qualified leads. And according to Exhibit Surveys Inc., there's a strong correlation between staff training and overall exhibiting results. Companies that train their staffers are more likely to see increased returns than those who do not. But despite that common-sense correlation, far too many marketers are playing fast and loose with their face-to-face marketing programs, entrusting the fate of their careers to ill-prepared staffers without any ownership of the exhibit and with little to no skin in the game.
If you don't have a budget for staff training, or if upper management doesn't support the idea, that's no reason to roll over and give up. Whether you're able to scrounge up the money to pay for a one-time staff-training session from a professional trainer, or wrangle even a fraction of your staffers together for a 20-minute training session that you personally lead, that's better than no training whatsoever. Then track the results of those efforts against established benchmarks and use any upticks to make your case for why your budget should include allocations for training — and why it should be mandatory for all client-facing company reps attending shows.
Despite all your efforts to successfully market your offerings via exhibits, you're not guaranteed remarkable results. The wild card, which can throw a mammoth-sized monkey wrench into the equation, is the team of individuals staffing your booth. But training those staffers significantly diminishes the impact that uneducated and/or apathetic employees can have on your program's output. Bottom line: The more you know — and the more they know — the better your chances are of maintaining a marketing program that everyone in your organization feels is well worth the investment. E