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editorial





 
t doesn't take a statistician to tell that trade show attendance is down. Whereas in past years, exhibitors seemed to get up in arms if a show didn't post record-breaking growth, we now consider anything less than a 15-percent dip in attendance a major coup. And if show organizers can maintain the previous year's attendance levels, well, that practically qualifies them for sainthood.

Aside from fewer attendees in the aisles, we have fewer dollars in our marketing coffers, and many companies have fewer bodies in their corporate cube farms. Everyone is being tasked with doing more - or at least the same - with less.

Yet, despite a lack of time and resources, exhibitors tend to find an awful lot of available energy to devote toward worrying about attendance levels. And that's a frustratingly futile waste. There's little you as an exhibit manager can do to boost attendance at a show - that part of the equation is essentially out of your hands.

What should replace "worry about attendance" on the top of your to-do list? A little thing called Staff Interaction Rate. SIR is the percentage of your booth visitors who actually interact with a member of your staff. In other words, if 50 out of 100 visitors to a company's booth interact with a representative during their visit, that company would score a 50-percent SIR.

SIR is an uber-critical - and often undervalued - metric. For one thing, face-to-face marketing is all about making connections. If your booth scores an embarrassingly low SIR, it indicates that despite being in the same convention center as the attendees you're trying to attract, you're not actually connecting with the ones that take the time to enter your booth. And while there's still some value, in terms of branding and awareness, to having people walk past or through your space, you've done very little in terms of collecting leads, qualifying prospects, moving them along the sales cycle, or fostering stronger relationships. As far as I'm concerned, unless your SIR score is a whopping 100 percent, you have no business bemoaning attendance levels.

Increasing your exhibit's SIR score is relatively simple. For starters, all you really need to do is train your staff to - I know this sounds crazy - actually interact with attendees. Waiting for them to approach your reception desk isn't sufficient. How many times have you walked into an exhibit (or a store, for that matter) with the intention of making a purchase only to realize that there are no staffers to be found, or the staffers who are available are either engaged in other tasks or just appear uninterested in assisting you? How did that experience make you feel? And do you want attendees to leave your booth with similar feelings toward your company?

Granted, it's human nature to complain, and diminishing show attendance is frustrating and disappointing. But if even a single client or prospect walks into and out of your booth without a staffer taking the time to ask an approach question, there is still untapped potential, despite any drop in attendance.

According to research firm Exhibit Surveys Inc., a company's SIR almost always has a direct correlation to the number and quality of leads it generates - exhibitors whose staff interacts face-to-face with a high percentage of visitors typically reap a greater number of qualified leads. And the best part of SIR is that it's free. It doesn't cost you a dime more than you've already spent to interact with the attendees who visit your exhibit.

So if all you and your staffers plan to do at a show is sit and watch attendees walk by, forget the booth space and rent a billboard. Or better yet, stay home. If, on the other hand, you're looking to make the most of your next show, worry less about how many people are going to be there and a little more about what you're going to do once they arrive. e

Travis Stanton, editor;
tstanton@exhibitormagazine.com

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