Selling exhibit space and sponsorships for trade shows has changed. While the work flow—send an email, place a follow up call, send out information, close the deal—remains relatively the same in many organizations, the buying process, tools, practices, and required skill sets have change dramatically. Selling for events today is a whole new ball game.

How Customers Buy

According to consulting firm McKinsey and company the dynamics of B2B sales is changing. “...Business-to-business selling has become less linear as customers research, evaluate, select, and share experiences about products. More people within (and, thanks to digital engagement, even outside) the organization are playing pivotal roles in sizing up offerings, so the path to closing sales has become more complicated.”[i]

Prospective exhibitors and sponsors follow a nonlinear path as well. They are researching shows online, looking for comments in social media, asking for recommendations from industry peers in online forums or association networks, and following media reports. They also convene internal meetings attended by members of the marketing, procurement, and sales teams to select specific shows in which to participate.

Tools of the Trade

The exhibit and sponsorship sales teams have moved far beyond a telephone, file folders, and Excel spreadsheets. Plenty are using some level of automation. The most organized groups place customer relationship management (CRM) software at the center of their sales efforts and integrate marketing automation software, mobile apps, and web-based lead forms into the “system” as well.

Best Practices

Many of the rules of thumb and best practices of exhibit sales have evolved. Rules such as following up with a prospect within 24 hours or the well-worn advice to “under promise and over deliver,” are becoming antiquated as the demand for an instant response has grown stronger and over delivering has become a given. In fact, sales automation platforms have hastened the demise of some generally accepted practices by making the sales process more efficient.

Soft Skills

Concepts like consultative and collaborative selling have been in use for some years and are still valuable, but a growing area of interest is data-driven selling. CRMs enable sales managers and sales team members to collect and extract valuable data—patterns, histories, milestones, and metrics—that allow them to adjust goals, target specific exhibitor and sponsor segments, fill the sales pipeline, and, ultimately, sell more. But to do that, team members have to know how to use CRM software.

Every aspect of business is changing, not the least of which is sales. There is no doubt that a talented, energetic, motivated salesperson is worth his or her weight in gold, but selling exhibit space and sponsorships in today’s changing business environment requires more that that. It requires a mastery of the platforms, processes, and information that underpin the sales ecosystem starting with the CRM.


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