01 Dec 2013
New Ideas to Improve Your Exhibit Sales and Sponsorship Revenue
By Sam Lippman
Increasing non-dues revenue from exhibit space and sponsorship sales is among the most important — and most difficult — tasks facing associations today. Because most associations serve as the connection between buyers and suppliers, the association’s sales team is armed with the enormous advantages of access and credibility. Even so, it takes constant innovation and vigilance to maintain energetic sales efforts and to keep offerings relevant. The Exhibit Sales Roundtable Resource Book, assembled by Lippman Connects, contains exhibit and sponsorship sales best practices and success strategies contributed by leading industry experts. Sometimes only one good idea will turn a good year into a record-buster.
Elements of Success
Managing the exhibit sales and sponsorship programs of today’s convention or exhibition requires a new strategic understanding of your event. “Adopt, adapt and be adept” is the advice of market research provider Exhibit Surveys, based in Red Bank, N.J. Because the horizontal nature of many events often obscures their shifting vertical subsectors, postevent qualitative research is essential to keep pace with emerging trends. For example, an event for the beverage industry may discover through research that there is a growing interest among attendees for sweet-flavored beer; your sales team can use that data to bring in new exhibitors who produce these products. Conducted on a regular basis, strategic research serves multiple needs:
- Fit assessment. Are your exhibitors and attendees truly a good match? If there are gaps, where do they exist? Only when you have the facts can you intelligently align your attendee promotion and exhibitor/sponsor recruitment priorities.
- Focus groups. Conducted at your event, focus groups can reveal otherwise hidden perceptions about your brand and event relevancy. Focus groups of attendees can also reveal unmet needs that may inspire new sales initiatives.
- In-depth interviews. For a “futurebased perspective” of your industry and exhibition, conduct intensive interviews with industry experts unaffiliated with the association or its event management.
- Industry needs analysis. Needed only once every two to three years, this type of research is based on extensive interviewing and mapping of industry forecasts.
Selling Space On Site
Given the natural advantage provided by an association’s relationship with prospective exhibitors, your sales team should be successful with the right tools and processes. Here are seven powerful tips for getting off to a fast start with onsite exhibit sales:
- When and how do exhibitors buy? Find out what makes the most sense for your exhibitors. Do they prefer face-to-face interaction or online transactions? Always show your exhibitors a complete and up-to-date floor plan. Find out if they prefer a paper or electronic contract.
- What tools will make the system work? Can you connect your floor plan directly to your financial systems to handle deposits? If not, have someone from your accounting team available. If you use a priority-point system, explain to your exhibitors how it works.
- What can be automated? According to a2z, a provider of exhibit sales software, invoicing time can be cut 96 percent through the use of technology. Processes you should consider automating include booth selection and assignments, exhibitor up-sell opportunities and promotions, invoicing and payments, reporting and exhibitor listings.
- Train your staff. Quality service requires that your sales staff knows how to fully use the tools and processes in place. Also, make sure they know which exhibitors should be adjacent or far from other exhibitors. Your salespeople should be fluent when discussing audience demographics and how they relate to each exhibitor.
- What are the best add-ons? Research by a2z shows that more than 80 percent of space sales add-ons are purchased at the same time as the exhibit space. That means the sales team needs to have pricing options and packages determined before the onsite selling begins in order to make selling upgrades, premiums and add-ons simple.
- Schedule appointments. Schedule appointments in advance, making sure both parties know where to meet and the deposit requirements. Go to exhibitors’ booths for that extra level of service.
- Proxy form for exhibitors who can’t appear in person. EXPOCAD, a provider of exhibit sales software, recommends providing a proxy form available online and on site so exhibitors who can’t appear in person can still select booth space.
Top Sponsorship Ideas
Every year innovative associations and industry suppliers develop creative, new opportunities for capturing additional sponsorship investments. Freeman, a provider of services to hundreds of exhibitions each year, provides several interesting sponsorship suggestions:
- Wayfinding tool. An interactive touchscreen wayfinding system offers a wide array of sponsorships, including a main sponsorship with a logo featured on every screen; quick-find links with logos across the bottom of the homepage; a sponsorship for every product category; and enhanced exhibitor listings with highlighted booths on the floor plan, and detailed product information.
- Mobile apps. More events are launching mobile apps. Often there is just one exclusive sponsor. Other sponsorship opportunities are on the splash page, banners across the bottom of the screen, enhanced exhibitor listings and alerts.
- Digital signage. Attendees notice bright flashing objects such as digital signage, which enables one screen to run multiple messages. Sponsorship messages can be interspersed with other content, or they can share the screen.
- Countdown newsletter. A weekly newsletter starting four to six weeks in advance of your event can supplement your attendee marketing. Deliver them to your attendee prospect database and current registrants through email and partner marketing. To make the newsletters more relevant to prospective attendees, encourage sponsors to publicize new products.
- Games. Accompanying the rising importance of social media has been the increased adoption of gamification. Attendees play games at terminals on the show floor, on your mobile app, on your Facebook page, and on your website. Sell exposure on these games to one sponsor or many. Allow users to share their score on social media, delivering extra exposure for both the sponsor and your event.
- Interactive content area. The most significant technologies and trends in your industry can be featured in an interactive demonstration area on your exhibit floor. You will retain control of the content, while selling sponsorships to exhibitors connected to the subject matter.
- Passport program. The passport program — having attendees get a passport stamped by a list of sponsoring exhibitors to win a prize — is being revived and revised. The new twists involve using technology to make the passport electronic or adding games. There is always a demand for low-priced sponsorships, and passport programs tap into that revenue stream.
- eDocuments. There are several methods of distributing exhibitor brochures digitally. Generally, the exhibitor pays a fee to upload materials. The attendee downloads from the mobile app, the wayfinder tool, or from their personal portal created by your registration company. You and the exhibitor can track who downloads what.
- New product showcase and new product theater. New products are always a top draw for attendees, so offer your exhibitors the opportunity to present their new products in a “Showcase” or “Theater.” Every participating exhibitor is charged. To receive information, attendees scan the products of interest. Use your event’s mobile app to give information to attendees and provide leads to your exhibitors. You can also charge exhibitors a fee to talk about their new products in a New Products Theater.
- Entertainment. Liven up your lobby area with a music group, DJ, or flash mob dance routine. The sponsor gets a small banner and the opportunity to hand out literature.
- Virtual extensions. Capture as much content as possible on-site and make it available online after the event. Typical sponsorships are a banner ad or a short video before a session.
- Semi-endemic sponsorships. Your attendees may be doctors or scientists, but many are also business owners. In that case, a sponsorship by a financial services company may make sense. There are many other possibilities that can be tailored to the specifics of your event.
Properly implemented, these ideas for market research, exhibit sales and innovative sponsorships, will better prepare your sales team for record sales in 2014. Need even more ideas? For a limited time, Association Forum members can receive a complimentary copy of the entire Exhibit Sales Roundtable Resource Book by going to www.lippmanconnects.com/forumoffer. The Exhibit Sales Roundtable Resource Book also addresses marketing, sales management plans, exhibit space assignment processes, themed pavilions, and avoiding the most common exhibit sales mistakes. All requests must be received by Jan. 31.
For the second consecutive year, Association Forum will sponsor and host the Attendee Acquisition Roundtable on June 26, 2014 and the Exhibit Sales Roundtable on July 24, 2014, both produced by Lippman Connects, at the Association Forum office in Chicago. The Attendee Acquisition Roundtable serves event marketers responsible for finding, attracting and retaining attendees (see “Increase the Quality and Quantity of Attendees at Your Next Event” in the August 2013 issue of FORUM). The Exhibit Sales Roundtable brings together exhibit and sponsorship sales and service professionals to share best practices and generate breakthrough sales strategies. Both meetings offer a customized agenda based on the attendees, their events and their learning expectations. Registration will open in December, so stay tuned for more details and registration information at lippmanconnects.com/esr and associationforum.org.
Sam Lippman is president of Lippman Connects and has more than 36 years of experience serving as show manager, education trainer, and executive-level consultant. He also is producer of the annual Exhibition and Conference Executives Forum in Washington, D.C., as well as the Attendee Acquisition Roundtable and Exhibit Sales Roundtable events. He may be reached at email@example.com.