It’s the end of the world apparently. Mayan prophesies include a reversal of polarity, solar storms and possibly some of those horsemen. All we need is a rash of plagues – not locusts or fire storms, but customers delaying a decision until the very last minute. Oh, wait – it has already started!

So with this pressure what can we do to get earlier commitment? First I think we need to understand why they are delaying and then implement measures to incentivise their action. Historically a delay was seen as part of the sales process. A sale is only made when the buyer’s desire to spend outweighed their inclination to retain their budget. First point: are we giving our exhibitors enough ‘desire’?  Just because we have ‘another channel’ to market doesn’t mean it is enough.  We know events work, we may even know ‘our’ events work – does the prospect?  Furthermore, thanks to the longest running recession in history, buyers have had several rounds of budget cuts and freezes and forced to find savings. This means that they are on high alert, anticipating (and expecting) the next round of, “Oh my God we need to cut back on spending!” again.  Consequently they are reluctant to commit even when they do have that ‘desire’ earlier mentioned.

In some cases it is also compounded by the advertising habit that reinforces late decisions. If you wait until copy deadline you probably get a better deal because the publication in question would rather run a low yield advert rather than paginate using a filler ad. Next tip: stress the benefits of acting now rather than caution against the consequences of delaying. In a battle between the carrot and the stick, the carrot (for early commitment) works better than the ‘stick’ of delay. Look at your pricing models – is there an incentive or are there benefits of getting their name on your floor plan today rather than in a month or three? Are you maximising on your stock of carrots?

Remember the lemming effect. You know the effect that key names and brands have upon the buying behaviours of their competitors. Creatively rethink what you can do to attract a few ‘sexy’ names early on in your sales cycle. Set up a steering committee, have foundation partner status, offer incentives – do something special for the key accounts.  Move heaven and earth to accommodate the bellwethers and prepare for the onslaught of also-rans. Do not underestimate the confidence and reassurance that it provides for small to medium sized buyers who can see a strong exhibitor list when being asked to commit early.

Finally remind them that visitors are still spending – whether they sign up or not, there will be visitors to your event and they will be spending their budget with someone. The quicker they get their names on that floor plan, the more publicity and marketing they will enjoy.  They will have the luxury of time to attract and invite the visitors they wish to do business with. A good stand, in a decent location with properly focussed and trained staff will pay for their investment several times over. You know this – just make sure they do, before the 21st of December 2012. . . .


Allow me to introduce this month’s column with a recent ‘fresh’ experience of customer care. My 17 year old daughter has just passed her driving test and whilst legally entitled to drive, is still in need of practice. Recently she has been driving with one of her parents in the car effectively adopting the role of chauffeuse!  She drove my wife to an ASDA supermarket in Brighton Hill and whilst there they stopped and decided to try getting the weeks’ worth of groceries. Having filled the trolley with the week’s requirements and queued up at the manned checkout the now familiar bleeping of bar code scanning was in full swing. Once the perishables and fragile items were scanned, the heavier frozen and bottled items followed until the checkout person encountered a box of wine. The checkout person asked my daughter how old she was and on the grounds that she was under 18 refused to sell ‘her’ the wine. My wife explained that it wasn’t for her and that my daughter was just accompanying her (as she has done since birth). Long story short, the manager was summoned who recited the Licencing Act 2003 and seemed unable or incapable of differentiating between who was buying the alcohol. ‘Debate’ ensued but the manager was not going to back down and seemed upset when my wife refused to proceed with her purchase if the offending wine was not included.

Well there you have it – justifiable enforcement of rules or another example of the nanny state regulations being implemented ridiculously? It made me think about some of the Health and Safety Regulations we are required to comply with during an event and the hordes of parking attendants up and down the country who patrol our venues. Most of us cannot escape either, but it seems how these interactions are handled is much more salient than what the specific ‘rule’ happens to be. If we religiously enforced every rule, regulation and guideline I suspect we could actually prevent any show from ever opening or any exhibitor from successfully complying, not to mention any car driver from emerging unscathed from our car parks! I know from personal experience that most event directors and senior managers are only aware of specific health and safety issues if they are escalated and for much of the time are blissfully unconcerned by the convoluted regulations that can make life hellish for exhibitors.  The guidelines are the same for all of us in the industry, but it appears that how they are enforced and managed that makes exhibiting with some organisers an altogether more painless experience than with others. When is the last time a review was carried out to ensure the exhibitor journey was as easy as possible? In these times we cannot afford to create barriers to participation at our events. I recall a few years ago speaking with the enlightened CEO of a Midlands based venue who claimed he wanted to improve the image and visitor experience of the venue. I mentioned that the start of the visitor journey was negatively influencing their mood, citing that written directions for exhibitors and visitors were to “report to Control Point A” rather than “please proceed to Gate A” as it is now. . . .


At the time of writing we are eagerly anticipating the Olympics – by the time of publication, we should be basking in the glory of well won medals, the focus of the world easing, transport links returning to normality and ever closer to financial recovery. It seems there are many lessons we can learn from our athletic colleagues.

The point of this article was inspired by a recent business trip to the Hong Kong and specifically one training session that was on negotiating. My target audience were almost exclusively oriental and well-practiced and skilled at negotiating. Before we set them a case study we asked them to define good and bad behaviours, and they duly produced a comprehensive list of salient points. They were then unleashed to negotiate with each other and few of the behaviours were evident in practice. How can a group of people, who clearly KNOW how to do something, fail so spectacularly in delivering those behaviours in practice?

It made me think about our Olympians. Each of the national athletes would have access to all the theory and training available to that country. They would have had in many cases years of practice and discipline. Then on the day who emerges victorious? Not the best athlete, but the one who delivered on the day.

How alike to our work life is this parallel?  We all have salespeople who know what to do, have been on training courses have delivered results consistently and yet fail to close that important deal. Was it that they were outsold by a competitor or did they fail to maximise on all their experience, thereby ‘giving’ the sale to the competitor?  It might be time to look at what we are doing with training and the impact that has on results. After all our clients are constantly banging on about ROI and ROO (Return on Objectives) so why do we not insist on the same standards for our own development?

Delegates are sent on training courses often for the wrong reasons. Either because it costs the same to send three as it does ten, or because HR decides it has been x years since the last ‘immunisation’ or because little Johnny thinks the course title is appealing or worthy of attendance. How often have you found yourself on a course as a ‘volunteer’ as opposed to that time you really wanted to change or challenge your behaviours / skill sets?

We need to think more intelligently. The world is changing and just because you had , for example, Presentation Skills training in 2008 doesn’t mean you can acquit yourself professionally in 2012. Death by PowerPoint has put paid to endless narrative on countless slides and pictures have mercifully taken over. Less is definitely more in 2012.  That “Art of Successful Selling” course you found so good and attended in 2006 is now outdated. Selling is now generally considered to be more of a science and simply avoiding bad habits and employing good ones will, fact, improve your conversion rate. It is tangible and measurable!

Best practice continues evolving and we all know that refreshing feeling where we attend a conference and emerge with a few gems, a few tactics or strategies that we know will have an impact on our bottom line. We need to take stock of our performance levels and find ways to deliver better results with the same amount of time. The difference between medals or not is measured often in milliseconds – in sales tiny adjustments will deliver huge dividends to our bottom line.


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