Full package

The greatest entrepreneurs don’t sell a product. They sell an experience. Should organisers stop selling square metres, adapt their selling techniques and concentrate on the full package?

What does your brand stand for? Now, there’s a question. And here’s another. As organisers do you sell to your target market or do they buy from you? But what’s with the questions. I sat the other day and looked at the new Starbucks logo, reading about the coffee brand’s decision to remove its name from the branding. Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, said that the new look gave the brand the ability to go beyond coffee and offer new products without a single arabica bean in sight. And it could be said that the strategic move now allows the coffee giant to sell more than its original product.

Taking things back to basics, traditionalists would argue that you are selling a product, but today’s media savvy marketers would counterbalance that questioning just what experience does the product offer the target market? I read an interesting article the other week, which stated marketers should think hard about what a brand really stands for because it’s not always the product itself.

In that case, should exhibition organisers and also end users consider more than the small square metre price and concentrate on the full and bigger package as they contemplate their exhibition strategies over the next 12 months? After all it’s not simply a stand that needs to be sold but the exhibition itself.

Early Action Group’s 9EAG) group sales and marketing director, Paddy Power argues that showing exhibitors a package with simple stand designs, power and furniture has to be the way forward: “If we shy away from it because we’d rather show them £275 per square metre than £8,000 for a total package then the industry has no future. I think it’s especially important at the moment when so many decisions are marginal. We need to stop assuming that the people we call know the industry and can see the value. We call these people and expect them to understand what a square metre rate means but often they understandably don’t have a clue.”

EAG undertook some research that revealed over a third of people who have key responsibility for exhibitions within their organisation spend less than 10 per cent of their time specifically dedicated to exhibitions compared to other marketing mediums. And baring in mind these are exhibitors that’s a scary statistic.

Mark Ram, senior marketing manager of Emap’s BETT show, fully agrees with the notion that sales teams should concentrate on year-round solutions and packages and not just simply shell.

“It all comes down to selling technique,” he comments. “If exhibitors jump into an exhibition at the last minute then they are looking for a quick fix. But there are serious exhibitors out there who realise the financial investment required to be successful. And then there’s the percentage who don’t realise.”

BETT is currently working with its smaller exhibitors to help them fully appreciate what they can achieve before, during and after the show by outlining the options to sponsor features, be part of the show guide and to advertise on the show’s website to name a few.

Power says that it’s down to a sales team to make it happen – it requires a change of culture, approach and reward but if an organiser has recruited a team to sell square metres then it’s a big ask to get them to change.

“If you go into an organisers office and glance up at the sales chart on the wall what do you see? Do you see ‘number of full package solutions sold’ or do you see ‘square metres sold’?

“Read what the self-proclaimed sales experts have to say on the matter in the trade press and it generally reinforces the kind of late 1970’s – mid 1980’s approach to selling. All sorts of clever closes/negotiations – the alternative close, the assumptive close, the silent close, the puppy dog close, the Brooklyn optician, The Salami, blah blah blah. What we don’t do is encourage listening to, and understanding, the ‘prospect’. All too often we’re trying to close a deal that can’t be closed because we have our own view of what the potential benefits are rather than taking the opportunity to see it through the eyes of a potential exhibitor. If you have to use ‘clever’ closes you’ve already missed the point.”

Simon Naudi, managing director of Answers Training, has spent the last 25 years encouraging sales team to think bigger.

“Exhibitors do not buy square metres – they buy business contacts, better profit margins or prestige or competitive advantage or risk mitigation. The fact that they can achieve these things by using a few square metres on an exhibition floor is purely coincidental. From the customers’ viewpoint they also like to have a solution rather than having one sales person calling about square metres, another for sponsorship, a third for the pre-show catalogue advert and so on. Most customers hate to be sold to anyway, so find out what they want, let them know what is available and ‘let them buy it’. You can use your sales experience and your product knowledge to highlight what the best options and packages are certainly, but sell the whole package rather than a series of products. I have yet to see number of square metres listed in an exhibitor’s strategy document. But there are plenty of entries about market share, target audiences, key markets and revenue streams!”


According to Power, sales teams need to be resourceful, resilient and tenacious. But what if you asked questions instead of trying to ‘sell features and benefits’?

He continues: “If someone had to sell 200 square metres to reach a target and earn some commission with the show a couple of weeks away, does that person want to sell a solution? Do they want to provide a solution, which cements a relationship with a client who rebooks year after year? Or do they want to make 80 calls a day, sell as many square metres as possible, hit their target and get down the pub? I know where my money is and who can blame them.

“People refer to it as low hanging fruit. If you can reach up and get enough decent fruit to eat/sell that’s fine. The bigger, better, tastier and more valuable fruit is higher up but there are a couple of risks. You might fall and break your leg and while you’re up there the low hanging fruit can either drop off the tree or some other bugger comes along and grabs it.

“It takes a pretty special skill set to go for the big prize whilst ensuring you don’t miss out on the important smaller stuff. You also need to accept that in the real world probably 25-30 per cent of the team will really buy into it; 25-30 per cent will see the opportunity if it punches them square on the nose and the rest will carry on doing what they’re comfortable with.  The skill in management is recognising the diverse skill sets of your team and harnessing those skills to maximum effect. Split the responsibility so that certain parts of the team go for high volume square metre sales whilst others focus on solution selling.

“As a contractor we often put together packages which we think (from listening to organisers and exhibitors) will help the organisers’ sales force to sell more. Typically these are packages which sit somewhere between full custom and shell scheme. Suitable for big companies who are cutting spend but still need an impressive brand presence and for shell scheme users who aren’t prepared to make a big step up to a custom/system-build space only stand. The teams that buy into it have huge success. They get it. They listen to the customer and identify the key words that suggest this as a solution. They upsell smaller exhibitors. They prevent losses by providing bigger exhibitors with a mutually satisfactory fall back. We talk to the exhibition directors and the sales teams. They see it. They love it. They agree it’s a great idea but as a third party it’s hard for us to embed it; as contractors we need to be mindful of our place in the world.”