I remember a time when selling exhibits was a lot more fun. We worked hard to build relationships with trade show managers and marketing managers and sales executives in our prospective client’s companies. We did things to earn trust, build rapport and create friendships. The basic idea was that people wanted to work with people they liked to work with. People they knew. People they trusted.
Many times those supplier – client relationships lasted years, and sometimes they became friendships. Clients referred you to their business associates and friends in other companies and your circle of clients grew larger. But it was always based on your ability to perform and the trust you created.
Today it seems more and more we are relegated to the online procurement department RFP response. We seem to rarely have any face-to-face time with marketing and sales departments, much less an opportunity to really develop a strong relationship with the people that are actually going to manage the program.
When was the last time you presented your design and program live and in person to a group of marketing and sales executives, reached an agreement while you were there, and then shook hands and walked out with the deal done?
On a recent RFP we went through several levels of response, all submitted online in a format that limited the number of words in your response to their questions and prevented you from attaching images. We then went through an online negotiation of rates. Once we prevailed and were told we were selected, we received a 43-page legal contract to review, sign and return. This was not our standard terms & conditions document – this was their terms for us working with them. As a sales and marketing guy, digging into a 43-page legal document is akin to Chinese water torture. Thank goodness for our CFO.
Never once in this process did we ever meet with anyone in person from either their procurement group or their marketing team that was going to have to work with whomever the procurement folks selected. It almost felt like some sort of ancient ritual where the king was selecting a suitable knight for his daughter, the princess. The princess meets the knight for the first time at the altar.
I realize not all opportunities present themselves in this way, but it seems that working through procurement is becoming more and more prevalent in our world. The reality is that we need to figure out how to be successful in this business environment, just as we did in the past. I’m not sure it will require a lot of different skills, perhaps just a refocusing of our talents.
With marketing and sales teams, we were really trying to find their pain points, learn about their marketing and sales objectives and present a solution that solved their problems, showed a positive return on investment and made them successful. And along the way we developed strong relationships.
With the procurement teams we now are faced with, I suggest the approach is not that much different, it’s just a different group with a different set of problems and objectives, and different measurables. We still need to figure out who they are, what makes them tick, and what we need to show them to prevail.
You might respond that with procurement teams it is all about the dollar – and the fewer the better. But I’ll argue that there are always other motivators in addition to the lowest price. And like we did with their marketing and sales counterparts, it’s incumbent on us to figure it out for these folks.
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a Vice President at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at email@example.com.