If you're pulling and pushing at the same time, you're essentially playing a game of tug of war with yourself.
One 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, especially when it comes to exhibit marketing. Most companies try to fuse their disparate priorities through a mix of Kumbaya and "Come-to-Jesus" moments. But I've been wondering if that's really the best approach.
Generally speaking, exhibiting falls under the purview of an organization's marketing team, 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 incongruous given the fact that exhibits are rarely 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 for these two departments to reach a compromise. But if that solution was easy or effective, the great divide between sellers and marketers would have been bridged eons ago. Rather, I wonder if exhibiting companies would be better served by adopting a more compartmentalized approach that provides one department or the other with primary ownership of the organizations' exhibit-marketing efforts.
For example, if the focus is on sales, the exhibit needs to be staffed by sales reps and designed to foster substantive one-on-one discussions. As such, square footage previously devoted to traffic-building tactics should give way to in-booth meeting spaces, and at-show discounts should take priority over giveaways. In other words, 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 booth should be staffed primarily by marketers and brand ambassadors, promotions ought to focus more on benefit statements than products specs, and success should be tethered to marketing-related goals such as message retention, lead generation, and brand recognition.
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, you're essentially playing a game of tug of war with yourself – and inadvertently undermining your program's effectiveness in the process.
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 efficacy.
I'm not proposing that companies ban sales reps from traveling to trade shows, nor am I suggesting that sales teams alone should be responsible for planning and executing their companies' exhibits. But compromises never fully 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 everyone is getting burned, grab an extinguisher and try a different approach. E