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Software as a service to grow the exhibition industry!


Ton Otten, director international at Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, sent us the following article with a few thoughts on the future of the exhibition business.

Today’s customers are very clear about their needs: more marketing channels, more convenience, more relevance and a more personalized experience. They want the right mix of in-person interactions, remote contact and e-commerce self-service across the purchasing journey. To meet these expectations we need to digitize all our processes and add new online offerings to our customers. Offering services via "software as a service" (saas) is the stepping stone to position the exhibition industry as a need-to-have in the marketing mix of our customers.

“The future of B2B sales is hybrid! Since B2B buyers are using more channels, B2B sellers must, too” {McKinsey April 2022 [1]. Hybrid utilizes a combination of channels, including in-person, remote and e-commerce, to serve customers where and when they prefer. The shift toward more digital marketing & sales with a personal, or individual, touch was already quite prevalent, during the pre-pandemic period as a McKinsey’s research reflected in 2018.

“B2B customers not only intend to continue engaging remotely, as two-thirds prefer it to in-person interactions at many purchasing stages” {McKinsey April 2022}. In-person engagement doesn’t go away, but it is reserved for specific accounts and moments that matter, such as customers with complex needs, or for important opportunities, like buying a new product or solution. “Forty percent of B2B customers using a new supplier prefer to buy only if they’ve met the sales rep in person” {McKinsey April 2022). 

The McKinsey research sounds pleasant for the producers of live-events and venue operators, who are facing a post-pandemic slow-start with an overall 60-70% occupancy level compared with the pre-pandemic figures. The supply-problems, China’s zero Covid strategy, the Ukraine war, the inflation, labor shortages etc. are some of the arguments used to explain the actual gap. And it must be said that is partly true. But there is more to explain like the ongoing disruption of our business and the lack of digital services. 

The market share of providers of digital marketing & sales services across the customer journey, including remote and e-commerce providers, keeps on growing. But most of the leading shows weren’t affected as a result of the increasing global trade. Exhibitions continued their growth with exhibitors from the China/Asia region. There was no reason to invest heavily in digital technology to add value to the customer journey’s touchpoints. Similar to the car industry the upgrade of our products was enough to safeguard the income and high margins. 

The pandemic has forced nearly every serious company to produce virtual event platforms. This experience has made business more receptive to its potential advantages like new audiences and new suppliers through that digital experience. The in-person experience is still seen as primary but it’s questionable if we will return to the pre-pandemic figures. 

McKinsey researched that in-person meetings will continue but B2B suppliers and customers are going to be more selective. The value of offerings are increasing by customizing, individualizing and personalizing our services. So we need to integrate the in-person experience and virtual engagement features.

Buyers decide to attend a trade show principally to find out the latest trends, identify industry innovations, and seek new ideas (Diego Rinallo, 2017). Buyers want to develop relationships, share ideas, and experiment with products (Diego Rinallo, 2006). If you want to respond to this need an individual and more personalized approach is a necessity.
The pandemic period has proved that the personal contact and a remote meeting are not interchangeable. Customers expect that we demonstrate we know them on a more personal level when we communicate with them. This forces us to organize our processes in a way that the timing of communication, the offers and the content are relevant.

“To create the right analytics and insights along the entire customer journey, we need to be able to integrate consistent data into our data lake and blend it with data from other marketing and communication channels” {Stephen Rose, head of global communication services, Siemens}. 

It’s not anymore questionable if there is a need for a personalized approach but there is a huge demand for it. Fortune 500 companies like Siemens are far ahead and their marketing and sales systems are ready for tailored messaging to the customers’ needs, offering relevant targeted promotion, sending timely communication tied to key moments, sending trigger based offers on the customers behavior, engaging and onboarding first time customers, show-up to their target group in the frequently visited websites/apps, celebrate customers milestones, etc. 

We need to deliver at least the same opportunities to our key-target group and these are the Small and Medium Enterprises who are responsible for most of our revenue. We need to turn our collective marketing events into a personalized marketing journey, bottom-up instead of top-down! 

From the perspective of our customers the exhibition was always one of many marketing instruments they used. But they were the passengers in our bus who picked people up once a year for a 2-5 day journey! Customers expect that we “Uberize”, and give them the opportunity to “rent a car” to ride their own journey. Of course they are welcome to use our common facility, the exhibition. But it isn’t necessary, many will do and many others won’t!

Our clients will be able to monitor and optimize the customer journey of their own events. The exhibitions we offer are maybe one out of many events they do each year. For all of this SME customers need professional tools. We are able to offer these tools without being our own disrupter. It’s the opposite as we are “accelerating trade” and by doing this staying

[1] The future of B2B sales is hybrid by Lisa Donchak, Julia McClatchy, and Jennifer Stanley. McKinsey April 2022.


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