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How to win back lost exhibitiors

by Stuart Wood

By Simon Naudi, CEO of Answers Training

What can you do to re-book an exhibitor if the relationship has soured in the past? 

We accept an amount of churn as part of our lives and most targets are adjusted to reflect an element of lapsed exhibitors and consequently a new business quota added on top.

This is sound for business planning and business continuity, but from an effort vs reward basis not always the most effective way to manage your sales.

A new piece of business requires a lot of research and planning, a relationship to build, objections to overcome and an element of risk mitigation especially if the prospect has never exhibited or at best never exhibited at your event.

Statistics abound about the cost of acquiring a new piece versus a repeat or existing customer. It is estimated at between seven and 12 times the cost. 

So financially it makes sense to see what can be done to work on a dissatisfied or lapsed exhibitor rather than just chalk it up to a fact of life and move on to new business.

Clearly the starting point in winning back any lapsed exhibitor is to truly understand the reason or reasons that they are no longer willing to participate in your event. The most common reasons are: 

  • A bad experience at either your or a rival event
  • They didn’t see, meet or do business with the right visitors
  • A shift in business focus or target markets

Clearly if they no longer targeting the audience you attract there is little that can be done to progress the relationship but, from experience, the majority of reasons for quitting an event are (1) and (2).

Whilst a ‘bad experience’ at your event or a rival event sounds similar, the way of addressing them should be very separate. In the case of a bad experience at your event, ask what happened and SHUT UP!

Don’t agree, empathise, interject or even make listening noises – allow them to unload completely and vent and detail what it was that happened that was so fundamental that they no longer wish to be part of your event. You will know when they have finished because they will stop talking.  

At that point empathise and reveal that if in fact those things had happened to you at an event, you would have felt the same way. Presumably then what you would have to do to attract them again is correct them and ensure they do not happen again.

The fact that you fully get it, and are taking extra precautions to ensure that doesn’t happen again, will neutralise the negatives and pave the way for you to both have a positive conversation about the possibility of moving forward.  

In the case of a bad experience at a rival event, really poke about and comment as they describe the terrible things that happened at the rival event. “Water? Actually dripping from the ceiling? All over your stock? Exploding plasma screen? OMG! Presumably you got a full refund? No? That’s terrible! No wonder you feel as you do. Let me tell you why that sort of thing cannot and will never happen at our event”.

In this way you have effectively (in their mind) associated the bad experience with the rival event and not with exhibiting in general.

In scenario (2) – i.e. they didn’t see, meet or do business with the right visitors – you need to understand the true objection, namely some sort of ROI (Return On Investment) issue. You need to explain the reasons why this happened rather than be defensive. It may be they exhibited badly, had insufficient staff or the wrong type of people on their stand.

Rather than criticise or deliver a post mortem, ask about their original intentions to exhibit – what did they hope to do and specifically who did they want to see? Then summarise and clarify their answer, “So what you are saying is you wanted to meet AB1 Bishops from Transylvania – is that right?” In this way you can introduce facts rather than opinions.

“The interesting thing is that we had over 970 AB1 Bishops at our event and 575 were in fact from Transylvania. What I am hearing you tell me is that while they attended our event they didn’t, for whatever reason, interact with your staff – is that right?” In this way they will realise the target audience did in fact attend, but they (for whatever reason) didn’t meet or sell to them. 

Now you have something to work with and you can introduce pre-show marketing, stand staff training and other on-site activities they can utilise in order to meet and so business with people that are known to attend your event.

My advice is don’t shy away from hearing negatives from the client and remember if they are bothered enough to unload they care enough to want to be heard. 

If they genuinely don’t want anything to do with you they would probably not even take your call. So, recognise that as a positive and use your creativity to possibly split their budget so that, rather than spending it all on floral displays, fancy graphics or expensive furniture and literature racks, they invest in attracting and then interacting with the people you now both know attend your event!

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