Did you make the sale?

My first sales director always asked me this critical question. Never was the question more appropriate than with trade shows.

For visitors, trade shows are great. An opportunity to see what the market innovations might be, what the competition is up to, to be seen, and to catch up with old friends and colleagues over a drink, reflect on the old times and bitch about the present difficult state of the industry.

For exhibitors attending any trade show it is a wholly different issue. Is it worth the money? Yes you get exposure. The organisers might even include an opportunity to speak on a lecture programme. You can invite your existing clients to come for a drink or supper. You might even run a direct marketing programme to invite potential clients to visit you on the stand – but you know full well that the big fish are unlikely to accept and much prefer to wander around incognito. Despite the pressure to attend because the competition is exhibiting, you really have to ask how much business is actually transacted directly at the show or indirectly afterwards.

Unquestionably the London Wine Fair was losing its saliency and relevance. One major producer told me a while ago that in his opinion attending “was a complete waste of time and money”.

With the move back to Olympia and a complete refresh this year, have opinions changed? I think so. I suspect attendance will be up, and people seem likely to enjoy their visit. The organisers have certainly listened to their customers and made some improvements, and the event looks set to be much the better for it.

Critically the exhibitors seem to be happy, with some recent absentees coming back and others already thinking about returning next year.

However, once the post-show enthusiasm has passed, show enquiries will be followed up and the old sales director’s question will start to echo in the background. Did you make the sale?

I hope so. The organisers and exhibitors deserve a reward for all their hard work this year. However, as John Cleese used to say in the Video Arts training films about trade shows, “don’t stand with your hands behind your back”. Instead, think about how next year’s show can be even better.

ANDREW MARSDEN is a consultant and former president of the Marketing Society. He was also Britvic’s category controller, responsible for Pepsi and launched a range of innovations including J2O.

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