I’m not sure who said it, but somewhere in the last year I read the following quote: “You can’t save your way out of a recession. At some point, you have to get out and sell something.”
In the last several years, I suspect every one of us has at some point been in survival mode – that point where you must look internally and start cutting back; start getting back to just living by basic needs – whether that is in your business or personal situation.
For our company, that meant reducing expenses absolutely everywhere we could, including personnel. It meant examining every expense and weighing it against our ability to keep the business viable. I know lots of people that went through that same exercise in both their business and personal lives.
Cutting back would seem to be the natural first response to impending recession. Unfortunately for our industry – an industry that relies on corporate marketing dollars for survival – it meant an early entry into the recession. Companies cut marketing budgets first.
The reality, however, is that cutting expenses will only help so much. You can cut and cut until there is nothing left to cut – and nothing left of the organization. Too much cutting can be damaging, leaving a shell of a company without the ability to perform basic requirements for its customers. At some point, you just need more revenue. At some point, you have to sell something.
I am not an economist and don’t claim to have any special skills in that area, but I believe that now is the time for us to focus on selling. From everyone I talked with at EDPA in December, and from conversations with my clients and prospective clients, there seems to be a sense that businesses are starting to return to marketing their companies. Companies that have lived through the last few years are realizing that they cannot ignore marketing indefinitely. At some point, you have to get back to marketing and selling. It’s time for us to help our clients do just that.
The catch, however, is that I don’t think we can use the same tactics and same selling propositions that succeeded in the past. This is a different economy, and we are dealing with clients that have just come through a very rough period. While they may be starting to spend again, I think it will be a different kind of spend – a smarter, more cautious, more deliberate spend.
For some of us, that is music to our ears. I want a client that is intelligent about what they are buying, a client who carefully evaluates their options before they spend; a client that appreciates the intellectual capital that I bring to them. I think we need to be able to show our clients why spending their marketing dollars on face-to-face opportunities is the best return on their money.
No longer is this about building exhibits and managing programs (yes, that will all come); to me, this is now about helping our clients increase their revenue through the use of tradeshows and events. We need to be able to prove to our clients that when they are spending money on these activities, it will contribute to their bottom line.
Of course, this means we will need to be smart face-to-face marketers. We can’t just be pitching pop-ups and plywood. We need to understand what our clients face as they venture back into the marketing waters. We need to be partners with them, suggesting and recommending ways to address their marketing concerns.
I think we should all be shifting our focus from internal cost cutting to external sales strategy. How we sell now will be greatly changed from how we sold five years ago. We need to examine our current sales processes, evaluate our individual sales people to improve their selling skills, and establish new methods of reaching out to our prospects and creating relationships that are built on our expertise and intellect.
A sales force that understands this new sales environment, and is trained and equipped to help their clients in ways they may not have before, will succeed in growing their books of business, and in growing their companies. The smart guys will prevail.
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.