In the ideal event world, event professionals could count on the same exhibitors returning each year. But as we know, churn has always been a reality for every business and lapsed exhibitors happen. In this environment of clear infinite choice, client retention has become even more critical for continued success.
The bottom line is that it is six times more expensive to win a new customer than to retain an existing one. Keep in mind that even if an exhibitor has lapsed, you still have a relationship with that exhibitor. Don’t ignore the fact that you’ve already laid the groundwork with them. What you need to do now is understand what issues caused the relationship to wane, address those issues, and remind the exhibitor of the things that attracted them to your organization in the first place.
This topic has been on our minds lately, and we assumed it is on our industry colleagues’ minds as well, so we reached out to them to hear their approaches to winning back lapsed exhibitors.
Understand Why They Lapsed
Joe Federbush, president and chief strategist of Evolio Marketing, recommends asking exhibitors why they stopped exhibiting and identifying their target audiences, their objectives, and how they define success. “When you’re armed with this info, you can curate a solutions-based sales approach that’s hard to refuse … or determine maybe your show isn’t a great fit for them after all, “says Federbush.
Carrie Morin, CEM, and director of Membership and Industry Engagement at the American Society of Human Genetics, also says it is essential to take the time to understand why they lapsed. You can address this question via a questionnaire that dives into the issues. She recommends keeping the questionnaire short but including exhibitors asking why they stopped exhibiting and where they are putting their marketing dollars. If it is going toward other shows, she recommends researching them and identify the gaps between their program and yours. “I like researching competitor shows in any case or shows that are in the space but don’t overlap,” Morin explains. “You never know what kinds of ideas they might inspire.”
With this valuable information on hand, you will be able to reengage lapsed exhibitors and do so on a very individual level. This knowledge will arm you with information about why they should become active again and encourage them to do so.
Define Their Target Audience
“Am I getting access to the decision-makers in my industry?” Every exhibitor that comes to your show wants to confidently answer yes to this question. They want to know that your event will generate valuable opportunities that can help grow their pipeline.
“The easiest way for a lapsed exhibitor to define their targets is to have them take a look at the attendee registration form and have them indicate the specific job roles, industries, and companies they’d like to connect with,” Federbush says.
This step helps exhibitions and trade shows create the ideal exhibitor experience and properly market it to their audience. Organizations need to ask themselves if they are properly communicating the return on objectives to their prospects.
Federbush goes on to say that sharing a list of previous attendees is helpful. “That way, once targets are defined, you can clearly quantify what percentage of the audience represents their sweet spot.”
Offer Personalized Incentives
Now that you know why your exhibitors have lapsed and their ideal targets, it is time to provide a highly personalized incentive.
A universal discount email won’t cut it. You need to leverage three things to make your offer go further: time sensitivity, exclusivity, and personalization. Lapsed exhibitors are more likely to take you up on an offer if it’s only for a limited time and only for them.
Morin explains that the more closely you work with your exhibitors, the more likely your incentives will succeed. One of her suggestions is to offer a booth-space discount at the next show—but with predetermined metrics, such as the number of leads. Compare former event leads and come together with a certain number.
Federbush says it is worth sharing previous years’ attendee surveys to align the exhibitor’s types of products and solutions with the attendees’ interest. “Layering attendee interests with demographic data is a bulletproof way to further quantify the exhibitor’s potential success in a show,” Federbush reiterates.
Another idea is to offer complimentary or discounted digital sponsorship opportunities or enhanced digital content. In our current event climate, the opportunity for exhibitors to leverage the digital space is bigger than ever. From personalized emails promoting their booth space to greater inclusion of video content, these opportunities can provide a wonderful benefit to exhibitors with little or no expense.
And don’t forget to ask them what they would like. A conversation with your exhibitors is often the catalyst needed to spark a unique sponsorship idea.
Keeping Your Lapsed Exhibitors
Winning your former exhibitors back is excellent news. Studies have shown that customers stay longer the second time around. “It may take some time to get some of these folks back, but the work you put into it can pay off in spades and also help deepen your relationships with other exhibitors,” says Morin. “If you invest in them, even just your time, they will likely invest back.”
However, getting the exhibitors back doesn’t mean you can stop working for their businesses. You need to continually manage engagement, build loyalty, and stay tuned into their needs.
When the event is over, reach out regularly. Continue to gather feedback and keep your exhibitors’ priorities at the forefront of all you do. One way to easily keep the dialogue going after the event is to invest in an event community.
“An events community is not just another occasion to connect with your membership, audience, or constituents, “says Rich Vallaster, director of Marketing and Tradeshow Wonk at Personify. “It is a way to stay in front of them year-round. And unlike traditional communities, these pay off with in-person meetings to share those desired experiences.”
Taking a consultative approach, leveraging current and past data, and offering highly personalized incentives can be the biggest tools in your arsenal for gaining back lapsed exhibitors. A great exhibitor experience is when all these things come together, creating a win-win situation across the board for everyone involved in your event, which is ultimately the gold standard.