At the end of 2014 Richardson Training ran a research survey to find out what some of the top challenges were that B2B sales teams expected to face this year. They covered the fundamental areas that effect sales people at all levels from internal to external, entry level to executive; prospecting, uncovering needs, managing accounts, negotiation and closing.
The research threw up some interesting numbers and some age old areas of concern for sales professionals, if you want to look at the full report for free click here.
In this post I'm going to look at how exhibitions and live events can help to overcome some of these challenges to help your sales team get better results.
Biggest Challenges: Getting Appointments 18.59%
Finding Buying Triggers 16.23%
Creating Prospecting Strategy 15.45%
Prospecting is one of the biggest issues facing B2B sales people today, that's only natural really as it is the start of the process, at the end of the day if your prospecting falls down then so does the rest of your income. Prospecting is also the area that exhibitions, conferences and other trade events can help the most.
How Events Can Help
Now I'm not saying that going to an event magically gives you access to a whole number of people who are ready to buy your product or service right now, but, if you research and select the right show, they do give you access to a large number of people who could use you at some point.
Let's look at the problem areas. Firstly, getting appointments, technically that is every interaction that you have with potential prospects on your stand. Sure it might only be a 5 minute chat but you have the opportunity to see hundreds if not thousands of people face to face while they are in the mode to meet new people and discover new things, imagine how powerful that can be when getting a follow up meeting if you have already met.
What about buying triggers? Like I said not everyone is going to be in a place to buy now, but in your interactions on the stand you have the opportunity to ask a few well-crafted questions to determine whether they will ever be interested in buying from you, and maybe see if they are moving towards the decision now. You can also use your display to help, if you get the right message or question on your display people will want to speak to you to help answer that problem. Find out what the common triggers are and craft a display that identifies that issue in the people attending.
Creating strategy; with time management being an issue for most sales people setting the time to craft their own strategy for prospecting can be tough. However if sales and marketing work together on the strategy for your events then you can have something that a salesperson can take away and slot into what strategy they do have. Agreeing this ahead of time also allows them to dedicate time to the follow up process and work through prospects identified in a focused manner.
Uncovering and Exploring Needs
Biggest Challenges: Uncovering the Decision Making Process 30.37%
Creating Value and Insight in Conversations 23.04%
Exploring Customer Issues to Define the Impact of the Solution 17.80%
As mentioned above, the main use for the exhibition is as a prospecting tool, so how can it help with the exploration of the client’s needs? You rarely get a chance for a full on meeting at a live event so what can you get out of it?
How Events Can Help
For me there are several key factors that help overcome the issues. In years gone by you might well have seen whole groups of employees attending, often they were all involved in the buying process, and while that happens less frequently now you do still see it from time to time. Even when you don't if a company is in the process of looking to buy something they will often send a key stakeholder to check things out. Research is your friend again here; find the demographics of the attendees going to a show to determine if your ideal contact will make up a good % of the audience.
You also have the chance to offer people something really valuable in terms of information or advice that can help them in their day to day lives. Create some content that you can give away, advertise it before you go to help drive appointments to be set in advance. You can also define the impact of what you do here, ask the right questions of attendees and use the display equipment to show some headline results, then back it up with data or case studies that prove what you are saying.
Biggest Challenges: Adding Value to Various Stakeholders 25.80%
Balancing Sales and Relationship Management 22.87%
Managing accounts can be another key area where your exhibition stand can help you out, in fact some exhibitors focus solely on existing relationships rather than look at new prospects for their events. The reason it helps probably seems obvious, if it is an industry show that your clients attend there will be a lot of opportunities to meet up with them there and build that relationship face to face.
How Events Can Help
Try offering something different to existing customers, maybe some kind of memento or giveaway that is exclusive to them. You still have to make it something that brings them value but maybe you could make it quirky or funny too. These people already "get you" and allowing that company identity to come across will add value in their eyes as it reminds them of what they identify with. It also gives you the opportunity to remind existing clients of all the problems you solve, too often people will pigeon hole you as the company that provides the service that you once did when there might be any number of other associated issues you can help with. Finally, if it is a long conference or event you might even be able to sort out meetings outside of the conference halls and times, building the relationship that you have with them on a more personal level.
Biggest Challenges: Providing Insights and Challenging Clients 30.11%
Becoming a Trusted Advisor 20.97%
Getting Internal Referrals 20.16%
This section might sound similar to the last but it is importantly different and an area that a lot of B2B sales people struggle with. The relationship you have with a contact at a client doesn’t have to be the only relationship that you have there. In fact if you are dealing with larger organisations there are probably a myriad of people that you could help with associated problems, the tough part is getting to speak to them all.
How Events Can Help
Conferences and trade shows give you a massive opportunity to communicate new information to existing clients, perhaps a change in legislation that will affect everyone that you deal with, maybe a new capability that you have implemented in the last 12 months to expand what you can assist them with. The face to face interaction builds the trust and the information enforces it. You could also find that other people from within the organisation will be attending, perhaps you will see it in a LinkedIn group or under a Twitter hashtag, maybe just by speaking to your contact - they may well travel together. Remember though that they might not walk the show together, do the work ahead of the event to get an opportunity to speak to a new face.
Negotiation challenges: Gaining Higher Prices 20.11%
Customers who Reopen Negotiations 19.84%
Maintaining Profitability 18.52%
Closing Challenges: Competing Against a Low Cost Provider 30.61%
Creating a Compelling Reason for Change 16.89%
Positioning a Competing Value Proposition 11.87%
By these stages most of the challenge is in the hands of the sales person for them to deal with, although good work up front at the start of the process can alleviate all of these. There is though some scope to invite prospects that are at these stages to meet on the stand and continue discussions, it might just be the thing that swings it in your favour.
One of the other challenges mentioned was the alignment of sales and marketing with the age old talk of "Quality of Leads" reflecting the us vs them perception that can occur between the two teams. The key to solving this is literally getting the teams aligned. As it pertains to exhibitions this means getting both teams involved in the planning stages, discovering the challenges that your sales people face specifically with leads from a show, finding out what could be done differently to help the team get a better return and discovering what information customers find most valuable.
In conclusion, exhibitions are a great way to solve a lot of the challenges that your sales people face on a day to day basis, the key to achieving that outcome though is going to be working together and getting their buy in by demonstrating how the event can benefit them. Feel free to share this with them if that helps.