In these recessionary times more and more people are sitting down in front of spreadsheets doing ‘cost-per-lead’ calculations. Which shows to attend and which ones give a return on the investment. There can be several instances where this cost-per-lead approach can be hugely misleading – exhibition results for example, as it is linked with your knowledge of your visitors. The better you know them the more equipped you will be to predict and therefore influence their behaviour.

When you exhibit, do your objectives focus simply on numbers or on the demographics of visitors expected at the event? If your strategy is to generate a plentiful supply of leads chances are, if successful, you will manage to drive down your cost-per-lead. The inherent problem associated with this strategy however, is that in your quest for volume, often quality will be sacrificed. Consequently whilst your cost-per-lead may be lower, it is not uncommon to find that your conversion rate suffers accordingly, which, let’s face it, in a recession is wholly more important.

If your strategy is largely focused towards the more likely or financially lucrative prospects visiting an event, you may end up gathering fewer leads, thus driving up your cost-per-lead. However this population would be more likely to buy from you and so your conversion rate should be accordingly higher. Here we have a situation where less is definitely more. The better you know your visitor, the easier it is to attract them. A successful formula is to not only attract visitors you want but also to combine it with a model to repel those you do not want – a filtering system if you like. Design your stand to be appealing to your key prospects and relatively unwelcoming for the rest.

A few years ago we were involved with a large fast food outlet considering exhibiting at a franchising event. At that time the military, in this country, had just downsized producing a recently ‘demobbed’ population each with a five figure sum to help them on their way in civilian life. The fast food giant was reluctant to exhibit as they had visions of being swamped by this audience each vying for a franchise when the required start up capital was in excess of a quarter of a million pounds. Cutting a lengthy story short, they designed a stand with messaging that effectively announced unless you have a quarter of a million pounds go elsewhere!

The consequence was that their stand was fairly quiet for the days of the show, precluding the five figure summed brigade; however every visitor who did wander onto their stand was exactly right for them. In this case study also, the cost per lead was relatively high when compared with the results they could have achieved with a different strategy, but the resultant conversion rate was significantly higher.


It is a staggering fact that somewhere in excess of 71% of exhibiting companies admit to failing to follow up their leads effectively. This ranges presumably from failing to be effective, to failing to follow up in a timely manner to ultimately failing to follow up at all. It is the equivalent of walking into a retail store, paying for your goods and walking out without your purchase. Or booking your holiday and failing to show up for your plane. Contractors often tell tales of how during the breakdown of an event they stumble across a rattling box, which once opened, reveal a pile of business cards collected and yet forgotten on the stand.

Think about your visitors and what they are used to. Would it be better to hire a light-pen or scanner and scan their badges or use a laptop or palm held device to capture their details? As with many consumer events, visitors do not have badges not even business cards, so a manual system may suit best. Remember the quicker and easier it is to fill in your form, the smoother and more pleasant it will be for your visitor. Record also any special details and timescales, who else they are considering and make a note of buying cycles or budgets. Amongst the best systems I have seen are those which additionally categorise their leads into some sort of urgency list (say a scale from one to ten for example). In this way when the leads are being followed up (and let’s face it, it is not always the stand personnel who subsequently follow up) the salespeople know whom to contact first. A good tip is to ensure everyone involved understands and adheres to the same rating system.

Exhibitors who are more on the ball than most also follow up their leads whilst the show is happening rather than waiting until the dust settles afterwards. All you need do is prepare a standard letter in advance of the event, which suits most enquiries, thanking them for visiting your stand that day and promising that Scroggins will contact them within the agreed timescale. These letters could be sent out each day to each of your visitors (be they faxed, posted or e-mailed). If you wish to enhance your green credentials you can also use this opportunity to direct them to your web-site or e-mail a brochure in the appropriate format for them to look at rather than sort through their over stuffed carrier bags for your literature.

Once the show is over, by all means copy and analyse and input your data, but you should also ensure a copy goes straight to the sales team. Some of the leads may be so hot that a more switched on competitor (or less analytic) could steal a march on you whilst you are still debriefing and sorting your prized leads!


This month I intend focusing on an aspect of exhibiting behaviour that often goes largely unnoticed and yet can have such a significant effect upon your success at a show. Consider if you will a retail example, one we have probably all at some point experienced first hand. What is it about a queue outside a shop that makes you feel compelled to join it also? It’s probably connected with not wanting to miss out on something. The opposite effect happens with an empty shop. Imagine walking into a shop that is devoid of customers and the side walls are lined with eager, hovering sales assistants. Rather than relish the thought that you could get lots of personal attention all to yourself, you are more likely to perform an about-face and wander into a neighbouring shop instead. The exact same syndrome is paralleled in the exhibition hall. Busy stands appear to attract more visitors than quiet or empty stands. Worse still are quiet or empty stands populated with lots of staring and hovering stand personnel.

There is however a big proviso; there is a huge difference between being busy and being ‘engaged’ or occupied. The positive one is the sort of busy we want to encourage whereas engaged or occupied sends out signals that we are unavailable or otherwise unapproachable. Engaged suggests that we would rather be indulging in the activity in question than be interacting with visitors. Examples of occupied could include using a mobile or laptop, reading a newspaper, eating a sandwich or having a ‘meeting’ with a colleague on the same stand. All these activities suggest that an interruption would be unwelcome. There is also the aspect that the visitor may empathetically decide not to interrupt your lunch beak or meting and call back later. The problem, as we all know, is that either the visitor doesn’t make it back to your stand or they get intercepted by a competitor en route.

What we do need to do therefore is to find activities that signal approachable behaviour, such as re-stocking literature racks or useful housekeeping activities. These activities appear inconsequential (or even a relief) if interrupted and so visitors know that it is OK to interact. A good tip which works for me is to invite friends onto your stand and make it clear to them that you will beak off at any time if a bona fide visitor walks onto your stand. It doesn’t have to be friends – you can also be radical and try inviting tame existing clients onto your stand. As long as they realise that you will temporarily leave them to tend to the needs of a visitor should it happen then most are fine with this. The next time you are at a show, have a good look at the stand around you and watch for examples of approachable and engaged – you will recognise the symptoms immediately.


The trend amongst exhibitors and organisers alike seems to have been an obsession about measuring your ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) – and why not? Exhibition organisers have realised that for our medium to be taken seriously and to deserve a decent slice of marketing budget, some tangible return must be demonstrable. Historically when evaluating an event, exhibitors would consider such factors as numbers of visitors and . . . well that’s it really. Often it was a ‘cost-per-thousand’ justification. X thousand visitors over Y days generated a number that was used to wave under the financial director’s nose by way of justification for the same or slightly larger budget the following year. Their more enlightened colleagues would even consider such matters as the number of business cards collected, sometimes the number of brochures dispensed (ouch!) and the overall ‘gut-feel’ of the personnel manning the stand. They might have factored in the list of competitors also exhibiting and the amount of column inches the event generated in their trade publications or other media.

It stands to reason that using the above metrics, exhibitors with high value goods and services would often find the exercise rewarding whereas those selling a low cost item or service would rarely be able to ‘justify’ their attendance using such evaluation measures. People exhibit for a whole raft of reasons and therefore their criteria for measuring success should vary to a similar degree. Go back to your original objectives for attending the show. What were you trying to achieve? If your intention was to generate a set number of new leads and see a certain number of your existing customers and make contact with a dozen overseas buyers you suddenly have your criteria for measuring your success – Return on Objectives (ROO).

As we have discussed earlier, focussing on the overall number of visitors is usually a waste of time. If you got to meet the people you planned to see you were successful. It doesn’t matter whether the one hundred leads came from an audience of one thousand or ten thousand – you still have one hundred leads! You can make your evaluation as complex or as simple as you like – the important thing is that you have some way of knowing that the event you attended was worth repeating or best avoided. Most good organisers will also go some way to helping you as it is as much in their interest as it is yours. Remember, a happy exhibitor is a re-booked exhibitor and ornagisers are quite partial to those!


With the exception of one ‘flip-flop’ wearing exhibitor I encountered recently, have you noticed how similar visitors and exhibitors are, and yet they do not always appear to behave similarly at the same event? Logically it makes sense – they are both in a neutral venue looking for something. For exhibitors it can be new business, leads, sales, orders, converts or old faces. Visitors attend seeking suppliers, ideas and education. They behave the same way because in many cases they are in fact the same people – exhibitors have probably visited many shows and a good number of visitors have at some time been an exhibitor.

Why then does wearing a visitor’s badge apparently widen the behavioural gulf from those who put on the exhibitor badge and how can we narrow the chasm? The answer it seems, lies with behavioural psychology – or more specifically one branch within it; namely mirroring behaviours. From research we know that we are more likely to buy from and do business with someone we like and trust. At a typical three day event the visitor will not get to know anyone well enough and yet, they find themselves inexorably ‘attracted’ to similar, likeable and hopefully trustworthy people. Some exhibitors seem to have a knack of putting visitors at ease and talking with them like they’ve been friends for years.

In the confines of this column, (and not wishing to embark on a disquisition about Neuro Linguistic Programming) we can argue that there are three simple areas within which we can make a difference: Rate of Speech, Vocabulary and Body Language. Addressing these in order then, given that the average rate of speech is calculated to be about 140 words per minute, speaking too quickly or too slowly widens the gap between you and your visitor. Assuming you reflect the norm in terms of rate of speech, if your visitor speaks quickly the advice is to speed up slightly and they will slow down to meet you. Conversely if they speak slowly, slow down your rate of speech and they will speed up towards your rate. In terms of vocabulary listen for the level of diction and vocabulary they use and reflect this. You are easily capable of deciding whether to “impart some information”, “share some thoughts” or “dish the dirt”. Finally with experts alleging that body language accounts for some 80 – 85 percent of our communication, ensure you maintain open and positive mannerisms throughout your interchange.

Remember other than a badge signifying one party is a ‘buyer’ and the other a ‘seller’ we are probably the same as they are. We laugh at the same things and cringe at the same things. Use your own experience as a visitor at other events to formulate how your visitor prefers to be treated. Next time you look in a mirror, try to see the visitor looking back at you smiling – but hopefully not wearing flip-flops!


Whilst at a logical level, the majority of people can easily see the positive benefits that are derived from attending the right show; it can still present a dilemma for some. A few years ago I was working with a successful organiser of a quarterly event aimed at parents of small children and young children. One exhibitor manufactured beautiful hand carved, wooden rocking horses, which took him a month to finish. He worked alone and had no apprentices or any other way of sharing the workload. His attendance was so successful he secured five orders.

As the next event was three months away and he felt unable to attend because he would be turning orders away or have such a long waiting list that prospective buyers would not want to wait. In addition he felt he would get behind with his workload and lose a minimum of five working days, which he really couldn’t make up. Working closely with the organisers, he took a stand that was a replica of his workshop and he sat in the middle of an island site, working through his orders, wood chippings flying into the aisles, turning out masterpieces in wood. He placed a sign indicating the current waiting list and the suggestion that for a premium, new buyers could jump the queue. He contacted his customers who had previously placed orders and if they agreed to a later delivery time, he offered to split the ‘premium’ with them. He took three ‘premium’ priced orders and one for a customer who was prepared to wait six months!

Often a creative solution can result in having your cake and eating it. Sole traders and smaller companies can equally face this sort of dilemma. A common rationale offered for not participating is the fact that an organisation is so small that the owner cannot be in two places at once – for example in the shop as well as at the show. Most organisers have lists of professional stand personnel who can be hired by the day to staff your stand. This is very useful if you need demonstrators or data collection on a scale that you cannot normally resource. In some circumstances this solution may not be ideal due to the technical nature of potential enquiries or where only the owner can handle such technical enquiries.

In this case reverse the destination of the temporary staff, and engage the services of a temp to staff the shop or office and any enquiries that are urgent can be faxed or telephoned through to the owner on the stand. In order to maximise the opportunity it would be prudent to invite your existing client base to visit you at the show and make them aware of the temporary cover for the duration of the event.

Most organisers are sympathetic to logistical issues and are flexible enough to develop a solution that will meet most eventualities. I guess the old adage is true – where there’s a will to exhibit, there’s a way to exhibit!


Consider the scenario of the typical corporate exhibitor – specifically that of the corporate marketing manager. You know the sort; marketing trained, intelligent, qualified and understaffed. They have booked their company into an event and now realise they need bodies to populate their stand. All marketing personnel are readily enlisted, then a quick call to sales and ops, possibly one to logistics and technical and, “Hey Presto!” the stand manning problem solved.

Well no, actually. Problem created rather than solved. As can be seen on the latest AEO DVD; ‘Make a Stand – The Secrets of Successful Exhibiting’ some people are just not cut out to man the stand. One of the pre-requisites of an effective stand person is the desire to be there in the first place. What you have essentially is a three way split between Knowledge, Skill and Attitude. Knowledge can be imparted and skills can be practiced and learned, but attitude is considerably harder to influence.

There are typically two models of ineffective stand personnel. The first, at face value at least, appears to have the right attitude – i.e. they ‘want’ to be there. Their problem is that they want to be at the show for the wrong reasons – because it’s fun, so they get a night or two away from home, to look for a new job and a whole raft of other possible reasons. Sometimes their eagerness is less contrived – they just do not know better. This is usually fixable through training. The other model is the person that doesn’t want to be there, and would rather, to quote Jack Dee, “cover their tongue in paper cuts and suck lemons” than be interacting with strangers.

Our marketing manager would be well advised to remember that there are four categories of staff: Contributors, Commuters, Complainants and Captives.

Contributors are your best recruit for manning the stand. They want to be there and they will behave appropriately to ensure you achieve your objectives. They will smile; and look genuinely pleased to meet new prospects and clients alike. They are well versed and knowledgeable – in other words professional.

Commuters, as their collective name suggests, are just along for the ride. They are there for the crack and not too serious about objectives and all things considered, it is better than a day stuck in their office.

Complainants are harder to identify. They are glad to be at the show but often have a hidden agenda. They potentially could sabotage the best laid plans in the quest of their own objectives.

Finally the Captives – they are there under duress and do not mind who knows it and are indiscriminate in whether it is the company or the visitor who bears the brunt of their inappropriate behaviour.

I am a realist and understand that at times we have to work with resources that are available. I also believe that rather than populate your stand with Complainants or Captives it is more cost effective to hire in, albeit on a temporary basis, agency staff who can work with your best people to make a success of your participation at an event.


Where does one start when faced with a semeingly endless range of options that are now available for stand designs as a first time exhibitor? Terms like ‘space only’ (where you rent the floor space and that’s it), ‘shell scheme’ (fascia boards and usually white panels), modular or ‘pop-ups’ are all used in a fiendishly knowing way. As a general rule of thumb, smaller budgets allow shell schemes, as budgets increase one can use modular or pop-ups and semi-custom builds and larger budgets can often accommodate custom built stands. Life is never so simple as other factors (like the number of shows you attend) also affect your choice.

With a generous budget all things are possible. A good stand builder / designer will incorporate your objectives, themes, demonstration and hospitality areas and produce a masterpiece that facilitates your interaction with the visitor. However, just because you may have a smaller budget doesn’t mean you have to be burdened with a stand that looks the same as all the other shell schemes. Some of the most successful and award winning stands use the basic shell scheme as their foundation. As an exhibitor myself, I have managed budgets from one to over ten thousand pounds and I have to say that larger budgets give you more options but they shouldn’t affect your success. Your only limit should be your imagination and knowing where to go to get what you want.

I suppose the analogy I will use is similar to buying a car. You start with the basic model and then raid the options list to personalise a car that suits your requirements. You add the options you want and leave those that do not enhance your driving pleasure. Each of us has our own priorities when buying a car – the same can be said with your stand. Imagine starting out with a basic shell scheme. Initially you get the fascia boards with your company name and white metre wide panels, with aluminium joins – oh, and some carpet. Unfortunately so does every other shell scheme exhibitor at that event. You, on the other hand, want to stand out and want your stand to reflect your corporate image, rather than the stand builders’ brief.

Well, you can start by realising that you can change the colours of the carpets and the panels and pay for clear or Perspex panels so you can segregate areas on your stand. You can get plinths and display cabinets and get graphics panels that cover the entire width and height of your panels. Most organiser manuals have the names and addresses of shell scheme suppliers and they often list a range of non-stock items you can use. Increasingly stand contractors are increasing their range of ‘stock panels’ to include colours, plexi-glass and textured wall coatings. Using muslin for ceiling effects and a selection of floral displays can make your stand more inviting. These are just the physical aspects. Remember the clever use of lighting can also transform a stand. Finally think about the practicalities of being on a stand for three days – storage and security need to be also factored in.

With great thought and a little budget you can stand out and reap the rewards to be had.


What relevance has the credit crunch got to do with exhibiting? Well for one thing if you have decided to participate in an event why wait? The main motivation seems to be caution, the ‘just-in-case’ delay and deposits. The quicker you book in the sooner a deposit is due for most events. The fiscal argument therefore is what do I get for early payment versus waiting until later? Let’s see. . .[1] choice of location [2] hyperlinks to the organiser web site and the traffic that it can generate prior to an event [3] name and logo associated with the considerable pre-show marketing activity undertaken usually without cost to you [4] extra planning and briefing time [5] less hassle and if you need any more reasons, [6] cost savings.

Think about it from the organiser’s point of view. Early in their show cycle they want to generate as much publicity and interest as possible. They would be delighted to publish and re-publish your company name and details as an exhibitor. Then they will send invitations and mail shots (paper and electronic) which no doubt will contain your logo or details as well. Their floor plans will have you proudly outlined on stand number x. Your entries in the show guide and catalogue will be entered and PR agents hungry for news stories will have less to sift through in the early stages of a campaign. I know clients who have picked up considerable contracts in advance of the show via web enquiries from a smaller pot than at show time.

On top of all this positive stuff, the often dreaded exhibitor manual will contain deadlines for ordering everything from your electrics through to your floral and furniture requirements. Depending upon the type of show there may be a range of furniture (say) that becomes increasingly popular and most contractors understandably have limited stock. You get your preferred choice and someone else has to worry about lack of availability. Additionally most contractors are quite rigid with their deadlines and therefore if your order arrives after their cut-off date, they incur additional costs which are typically passed on to the exhibitor directly via surcharges. Whilst there are rarely ‘discounts’ to be had for booking early, there are most certainly penalties for booking late.

The other argument that I have heard for delaying booking a stand is one borne from the ‘advertising habit’. All too frequently the publishing world tends to reward late bookers with discounts. Rather than go to press with yet another filler advert, their page yield can increase even with substantial discounts. As I media buyer I know that if I book late I usually negotiate some favourable rate. Sadly with more and more organisers this strategy just doesn’t work. Increasingly if they are in a position with a few unsold stands, they widen the aisles or incorporate a feature area. So there you have it. Get in there quick – you know it makes sense.


I really wanted to depart from my typical column this month and have a colossal rant about something. You see, I have recently returned from an exhibition where I was a visitor. There were hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors. On one of the days I happened to walk from my appointment at one end of the venue to an exhibitor I wanted to see at the opposite end of the hall. Being a few minutes early, I took a more scenic route, leisurely walking up and down several aisles until I reached my destination. It was ‘interesting’ that I managed the exaggerated journey without being engaged by a single exhibitor.

With this experience fresh in my mind, once I had concluded my meeting, I walked back this time tracing a different, but as elaborate route back to my original location. Again, I was not spoken to or engaged with by a single exhibitor, although I did warrant three smiles en route. On the last day of the event, I planned to walk slowly and leisurely up and down every single aisle – a task which took nearly twenty minutes. With the exception of a handful of exhibitors who recognised me, I was only spoken to by one exhibitor, had a leaflet thrust into my hands by two and sweetly smiled at by several more. Surely Mr Naudi is not that scary or unapproachable?

Now I fully acknowledge that I caution stand personnel against the dangers of pouncing on visitors, or saying, “Can I help you?” but I failed to fully appreciate the consequence of inaction. There is a full blown world-wide recession out there for Heaven’s sake. Whilst I applaud their decision to exhibit and try to compete, I feel like crying at the sheer waste. It’s like owning a Ferrari and never driving it. You need leads now more than ever and visitors are still spending money with someone. Please all you exhibitors out there do something to engage with your visitors. If you do not have a mechanism for attracting people to your stand think about the mix of staff you put on show and their roles and skill sets. I fully accept the fact that not everyone is able or motivated to engage with visitors, but surely some thought about how you will achieve this important task should be attempted? There are organisations that provide people who are skilled and trained at hooking visitors and introducing them to the more reserved employees.

Better still, give your people some basic training and help them help you. It seems incredulous in these times where we need to justify every marketing decision that opportunities like these are still being squandered. Using a combination of open body language and a smile together with a few well chosen open questions anybody can engage with a visitor. Even a simple; “Hi! How’s it going?” would do. A couple of minutes in advance thinking up some cheeky or creative questions would pay huge dividends. Visitors can be overwhelmed by the experience as it is, so make it easy for them to find a friendly face. You never know, they may even have that secret and rare commodity – a budget!