Trade Shows Will Regain Importance After The COVID-19 Pandemic

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2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images) AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trade shows and conventions pretty much stopped with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations tried virtual meetings, but attendee engagement was generally inferior compared to the old live events. Yet reports are coming in that many companies’ sales were unaffected by their absence from trade shows. The companies saved the money that previously had been spent on sponsorships, booths, collateral material, travel, and hotels. Does this experience mean that trade shows will die off once the pandemic is over? (Thanks to Edward Leigh of the Center for Healthcare Communication for raising this question.)

Companies, like bicyclists, can coast now and then, especially if they have good momentum and especially if their competition also coasts. However, when competitors start pedaling again (or peddling), companies that ignore trade shows will fall behind. The benefits of exhibiting will help trade shows and conventions to resume, though with some changes.

Trade show participation drives sales in three ways: continued sales to existing customers, sales to new buyers dissatisfied with their current providers, and buyers attracted to a new offering. (Consumer-focused shows are different, as discussed below.)

For many good sales programs, the booth on the trade show floor is minor compared to the one-on-one appointments made to existing customers who attend the show. Zoom calls work best when complemented by periodic face-to-face meetings. The industry convention is a great place to set up multiple client meetings. Travel, hotel, and entertainment is fairly cheap when a large number of meetings are held in a short time span. Companies may dial down attendance and sponsorship at conventions that are less important to them, but the trade shows with significant numbers of clients will still be valuable.

A small number of the people walking through the trade shows will be dissatisfied with their current suppliers. In fact, that may be a reason for attendance. A potential new provider won’t even notice they didn’t get the business because they did not show up at the trade show. Over time, however, picking up a new business is vital, as a loss of some existing clients is inevitable.

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