Many companies have to reckon with a sharp drop in sales due to cancelled trade fairs. Bjoern Sjut explains in a guest article on meedia which digital solutions organizers and exhibitors can use to prepare themselves for this.

From the Geneva Motor Show to the OMR, from the Screenforce Days to the Hanover Fair – hardly any industry will be spared the cancellation of relevant trade fairs or events this year. This is a difficult situation not only for organizers but also for exhibitors. After all, many of them initiate most of their annual business at trade fairs. Digital alternatives can help to overcome the crisis.

First: Customer Relationship Management

In the past, many companies have relied on trade fairs as their most important channel – and have rarely linked it to other, mainly digital, channels for customer retention. This should now change because product innovations and offers can also reach the customer in different ways. A lean but digital Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the basis for this: customer data is consolidated, including the corresponding declarations of consent. Based on this, websites, newsletters and Paid Media CRM can present tailor-made offers – just like the employee at the exhibition stand.

It is important not to see CRM as a purely technical challenge. Many companies invest so much in systems that, in the end, they have no resources left to use the expensively collected and sorted data. It is usually better to let technical systems develop in parallel with actual project requirements, not before them. As a rule of thumb during the first 18 months of a CRM project for every euro of license cost, you should plan on around six euros for people who breathe life into the systems. These can be salary costs for employees or external support for topics such as customer journey setups, template setup, segmentation, reports, and API connections.

Second: Social Media

Of course, as well as nurturing current relationships, companies also meet new customers at trade fairs. In addition to CRM, social media is an essential tool to help compensate for the disappearance of trade fair business. Which network is best used can depend on the target group: People with an affinity for digital media can be reached via LinkedIn, more conservative industries also via Xing and some special target groups, such as restaurateurs, are best reached via Facebook.

The digital equivalent of a contact in the exhibition hall is the generation of qualified leads via contact forms on your company website. If you use “Lead Ads” or the new LinkedIn “Conversation Ads” you can even generate leads directly on the social media platforms without the need for elaborate landing pages.

Additionally, individual salespeople should use their social networks to reach out to potential customers. Very popular, but potentially harmful to the relationship, are generic contact requests without a personal touch. It is better to formulate an individual message so that the person addressed can directly see what added value can be expected from the contact. Companies should also help their employees to post high-quality content. In smaller companies, a request via Slack or Teams is often sufficient, but larger companies can also use employee advocacy tools such as Smarp, Bambu or PostBeyond.

Third: Online Summits

As well as additional channels, there are also digital options to replace live conference appearances. These so-called Online Summits are ideal for specialized target groups and when the customers are scattered around the world.

Some tools have already developed very specific functions for this. For example, the service offers white label conferences with ticketing, scheduling, landing pages, etc. An exciting development: Some make live participation free of charge, but let users pay for the recording. This rewards those who participate directly at the event by providing the added value of being able to answer their questions in real time. Microsoft Teams also enables live events to be hosted and some organizers use Facebook Live, such as IBM’s Ixperience Friday.

Question: Will this kill live conferences?

Once you have got used to the digital alternatives, there is really only one question left: Will we need “real” trade fairs in the future? My answer: A resounding yes! It is currently very clear that 100 percent virtual solutions cannot solve everything – this applies to both home office and conferences. Nevertheless, it will not be possible to turn away from the digital solutions that are being established this year. We will mix analogue and digital much more. And this will create new opportunities for B2B communication.

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