By Len Monheit
As much of the industry anticipates the annual trek to Anaheim for Natural Products Expo West, SupplyExpo and Nutracon, it's a perfect time to go back to baseline planning for industry events. And since many companies straddle multiple industries or channels, their event selection is not only the five to six core industry events, they've got conferences and shows which range from Chain Drug Store events to Anti-Aging Medicine to sports nutrition to consider.
We're also seeing interest and reasonable success in smaller and more intimate events - typically attracting c-level executives for networking, social and business issue discussions. The Internet is having an impact on the event mix, and we can expect to see an increase in Web seminars to complement face to face activities and bring the learning opportunity into the office where more of the staff can participate, rather than those few who might typically attend a trade show.
So each event must be recognized and appreciated for its unique value. Expo West as a time for sales, vendor and supplier face to face meetings is extremely valuable and with a decent scope of international representation, a good opportunity to expand those international relationships. Level of participation is another issue entirely, although, if like many, you've planned a product launch or major announcement, you need the visibility and business opportunity the venue presents.
It seems that I touch on a few of these ideas every year, but it seems that this year especially, our industry environment demands that leaders be creative, aggressive, well-networked, thinking channels of distribution, strategic alliances and combination products, and capable of re-evaluating opportunities based on external events. So whether the upcoming show is a catalyst or an end result, it should represent intelligence gathering for all who participate.
Here are some thoughts:
Plan your event
We will always see organizations that make event investments, yet once they arrive, they seem to have no objectives, no energy, and almost no interest. It's easy to identify those who go through event choreography as focused, motivated, interested and aware - incidentally, a strong correlation with their ultimate results.
Identify targets well in advance
Developing a hit list of both individual targets and prospect types is often a useful exercise. It's obvious that making contact before the event and scheduling key meetings is a critical success factor. In addition though, if you've gone through the exercise of identifying target 'types' as well, your entire delegation can act quickly and appropriately and 'capture' the prospect, even if it's an unscheduled or unanticipated drop-by.
'Because we always do' isn't good enough
Having a booth, draw, suite or activity, or even attending 'just because' doesn't give you maximum mileage. You need some form of objective otherwise you'll likely join the thousands of other event 'wanderers'.
Shake up the mix
With thousands of exhibitors and many thousands of attendees, unless you're looking for those single digit high quality interactions, you've got to stand out. And even if you're only looking for four or five key contacts to justify your investment, you've still got to reach them. Many of your prospects on the show floor are 'difference-seekers', that is, they are looking for the new and extra-ordinary. Even if what you've got is solid, traditional, proven, respected and even absolutely unchanged, you might need to reconsider your positioning options so that 'no news becomes new news'.
'Get intimate' - seek out those opportunities where a small number of high level people are likely to be involved
The recent success of executive symposia and small format networking events indicates that getting away from the show floor crush, and getting peer-to-peer level discussion time is absolutely critical. Actively seeking out these opportunities can become a critical factor in your planning for events. "Is there a luncheon where key contacts might congregate?"
Anticipate your follow up before your meetings
It never fails to amaze me how many times a company will go through both event investment and participation, only to fall dismally short on follow-up. The most successful organizations have already planned follow up programs as part of the event planning process itself. They know their objectives and they have an idea of the steps following event interactions. The can then also jump on opportunities to begin follow up at the event itself.
Use technology to support your efforts - Web-based, e-mail, community building strategies
More and more, we're seeing companies use technology to support communications efforts, especially through the use of e-mail and mail-lists. We still do not see companies' websites reflect their most recent offerings and events, and web seminars involving interested leads are not yet a part of standard event follow up (on a huge scale- at least in this industry). Few organizations have yet realized that both their customer base and their prospect base are both unique and proprietary communities that can be cultivated, engaged and communicated with on an ongoing basis as a support to the sales development effort. "The secret to owning the category is ‘owning the community’."
Consider how to sustain momentum - between events -- and put many of the observations above into context.