ne of the first things I learned about trade shows is that marketers and salespeople don't always get along. Their wants, needs, and expectations tend to differ. For one reason or another, most companies try to fuse their priorities together through a mix of Kumbaya and "Come-to-Jesus" moments. But I've begun to wonder if that's really the best approach.
Generally speaking, exhibiting falls under the marketing team's umbrella, yet most booths are staffed primarily by salespeople. And while we instinctively know this method has its flaws, exhibit marketers continue to entrust the viability of their best laid plans to these often ill-suited staffers.
Similarly, most exhibits employ traditional marketing tools to drive awareness and generate leads, yet the success of those efforts is gauged via sales-related metrics. This seems paradoxically incongruous given the fact that exhibits are not typically designed with at-show sales in mind – and most exhibit managers would tell you that closing a deal in the booth is neither a likely outcome nor a primary exhibiting objective.
Sales and marketing experts alike often preach that the best approach is to work together and create compromise between these departments. But if that approach was easy or effective, everyone would already be doing it, and the great divide between sellers and marketers would have been bridged eons ago. Rather, I wonder if exhibiting companies would be better served if they adopted a more compartmentalized approach that provided one department or the other with more ownership of exhibit-marketing efforts.
For example, if the focus is on sales, the exhibit needs to be designed to facilitate one-on-one discussions. At-show discounts should take priority over in-booth activities and giveaways, and the entire strategy ought to be aimed at attracting prequalified prospects and persuading them to sign on the dotted line. Finally, the metrics used to evaluate the exhibit's success or failure should be tethered exclusively to the number and value of contracts signed.
Conversely, if the goal is positioning or awareness, then the marketing team needs to take the reins. Booths should be staffed primarily by marketers, pre- and at-show promotions ought to focus more on branding than products specs, and the barometer with which success is measured should be calibrated to track marketing-related goals such as message retention, lead generation, and awareness.
At its most basic level, marketing employs a "pull" strategy, whereas salespeople use more of a "push" approach. But if you're pulling and pushing at the same time, your efforts are unfocused, and it's unlikely you'll move anyone toward a sale.
So should marketing trump sales when it comes to trade shows? Or is sales the internal client that must be served by the marketing team? There's no right or wrong approach, as exhibits can serve both masters. But I'm not convinced a booth can serve them both at the same time without sacrificing effectiveness.
I'm not proposing that companies ban sales reps from traveling to trade shows. And I'm also not suggesting that sales teams alone should be responsible for planning and executing their companies' exhibits. But compromises don't often satisfy either party, and exhibit-marketing campaigns built upon such compromises shouldn't be expected to either. All I'm suggesting is that exhibit managers revisit their goals, identify whether they are primarily sales or marketing related, and build their internal teams accordingly. If the Kumbaya strategy is working for you, by all means keep singing 'round that campfire. But if, in the end, everyone ends up getting burned, grab an extinguisher and try a