Fadi Sabbagha, founder of EasyCat, discusses why he still goes to exhibitions and how they remain vital for the industry

 

Take a moment to think about the last exhibition you visited for work. Maybe your business was exhibiting, or perhaps you were visiting to see what the competition was up to, fulfilling strategic meetings or to prospect for new business.

If you were exhibiting, your company probably spent considerable budget on stand space as well as dressing and manning that stand. If you attended as a visitor, chances are you had drunk a lot of coffee and exited the hall with a very heavy bag full of brochures and business cards.

What were your return on investment KPIs – new business revenue, new leads or database contacts? Did you meet them, and have you followed through the opportunities and contacts generated and delivered the desired results? If you did, you may now be thinking about how you can replicate that success at other similar exhibitions in the future, and if you didn’t perhaps there has been a management meeting to discuss what could be improved next time, or even if the strategy of exhibiting is right for the business just now. Or maybe that heavy bag from the exhibition is still sitting untouched under your desk.

The point we are making is that a lot of us attend a lot of exhibitions for work. Sometimes these are successful whilst other times they are not, but we continue going to exhibitions anyway. Our question, in light of how well connected we all are these days – through LinkedIn, Google search, CRM and industry databases – is why are we still going to exhibitions?

As an integrated digital technology specialist I continue to find exhibitions crucial for my business, not to mention the fact that they generated one of my best business ideas to date. My approach is not to simply do what has always been done or attend “just to be seen”, but rather focus on the exhibitions that will most benefit my business. I do this by:

  • Asking the organisers of events I am considering for the granular data around how the exhibition has evolved in terms of number of attendees and the specifics of the target audience. If this doesn’t match my audience, I won’t go.
  • Trying to find out as much as possible about who else is attending. If my competitors are exhibiting I want to know where they will be positioned in the hall, how big their stand is and if they are filling their spaces with ‘robots and a photo-booth’ to pull in the crowds.
  • Ensuring that I have everything I need to make the event run smoothly and give us the best chance of reaching our KPIs; from recruiting the right staff to having the most efficient technology for following up leads.
  • Speaking to my peers about the exhibitions they attend and which they rate. Word of mouth insight from people you trust is hugely valuable especially regarding new exhibitions in other countries. This is how I heard about Web Summit in Portugal and SLUSH in Finland in their first years for example.
  • Analysing our internal data. If we’ve attended the event before, did we generate significantly more than we spent?
  • Helping determine if I will give an exhibition repeat business, I poll the contacts I met there for their impression and ask if they are planning to attend again the following year.

Beyond the obvious of using exhibitions to build my professional network, I find exhibitions invaluable for:

  • Catching up with key stakeholders such as senior members of the trade bodies we belong to, suppliers and potential strategic partners.
  • Sussing out what our competitors are up to.
  • Finding potential new employees.
  • Demonstrating our products in person.
  • The show guides which are a great source of contact details for multiple businesses within a single industry.