The decade demands re-inventing of wheels: Emerging key trends of B2B Trade fair industry

Trade fairs is one of the oldest loved marketing tools for companies. For smaller companies having limited marketing budget, trade fairs remained the first choice despite the emergence of multiple channels of social media. Higher ROI compared to other mediums and fractionally smaller investment is the legitimate reasons for companies to prioritize trade fairs over other channels.

Technology may had raised question on relevance of trade fairs in the modern world but face to face business or better called as trade fairs reinvented itself to keep its charm alive.  Advent of technologies only helped trade fairs to improve its effectiveness and register itself in the priority list of marketing mix of the marketeers.

Unfortunately, covid-19 arrived silently in 2020 and created the loudest noise. For the first time of its illustrated successful product history, existence of trade fairs business is being challenged. Overnight, shares of event companies nosedived. Small-time exhibition organizers couldn’t survive the onslaught of covid-19 and have to shut shops while others have to go for painful exercise of layoffs resulting in job losses.

A section of analyst quickly jumped to the conclusion of writing off the trade fairs business. They can’t be blamed of thinking like this because the impact of virus that emerged in China and engulfed the entire world was huge.

But just like first love, the charm of trade fairs refused to die and bounced back with a bang post pandemic forcing organization to invest more in this line of business.

Product manager in Trade fairs were quick to learn and adopt the new practices and because of its turnaround is much less than the expected time.

One of the reasons that trade fairs business survived through centuries is because nothing can match the charm of face-to-face meeting. A five minute of face-to-face meeting is more productive than half an hour of zoom call because it helps in building a sustainable relationship.

Business is bouncing back to normal. However, post pandemic the world is changing rapidly, and consumer behavior will be significantly different from what it used to be a year ago. Agility and adaptability to reinvent the wheel will be key to remain relevant in the business. The same is true for B2B trade fairs as it cannot afford to be aloof to the changing consumer behavior. Covid-19 forced leaders to revisit the growth strategies. Now scenarios are significantly distinctive from what it was pre-covid days.

Let me share few key trends that will define the trade fair business in this decade

  • Human Capital– There is a huge struggle for skilled manpower across industries. Trade fairs are more of a people or personality driven business. There is a very small talent pool who are driving the industry. The scale and size if not as big as IT or FMCG industry, hence there is no ready supply of resources. A lot of time has to be spent on grooming the hired resources. Because of covid, requirement of manpower has also changed and industry needs people with re-defined skill and mind-set. Technology will play a critical role in shaping of the business. Companies would be forced to think to diversify product portfolio for mitigating the existential risk posed by the threats like covid-19. And of course, it will mean more cost for the companies because of higher wage bills. It would be fair to say that for long, industry preferred not to hire people from outside the industry. And those companies were heavily impacted during covid times because they didn’t have diverse think tank group. But as the scenario has changed, I foresee a talent war emerging between the companies. Organizations have to adopt both tactical and strategic approach for safeguarding their interest in short and long run. In short run, organizations should develop a two to four weeks training program to groom the new hire. For long run, companies must tie-up with the colleges to run industry integrated program. This will give college students exposure to the industry in early part of the career and boost organizational human capital. This initiative can also be taken up by industry bodies.
  • Shorter Sales cycle– During pre-covid era, sale cycle in the industry were fairly long but now this is going to change in this decade post pandemic. The sales cycle is going to reduce, and clients are going to take lesser time for saying yes or no to the business. This may be because of the more options at hand for the marketeers. Companies must try to invest more time in preparing pre-sales strategy than selling. A clarity in strategy and tactical approach will help to cross the bridge. Having a bigger sale cycle will not going have positive impact on sales. On the contrary, it can negatively impact the sales.
  • Partnership- As I mentioned earlier, Covid-19 have severely impacted business and many companies reached a stage where survival itself was task. There is going to be lot of consolidation in the market. Smaller companies can offer equity to key employees so that they can be retained and contribute positively to the company growth. Partnership is the way forward for smaller companies. They can partner with other like-minded companies or associations or key employees.
  • Relationship Selling- Historically, exhibition business is based on transaction selling.  However, post covid things have changed. Now, companies are diversifying the product portfolios. It’s no longer a space selling business. The best is to learn from banks and adopt relationship selling model because transaction selling companies will struggle to convince their clients to participate in exhibition business YOY.
  • Changing buying pattern of bigger clients- Companies participate in exhibition mainly for three purposes. To create product awareness, Brand Building, and generate sales leads.

Bigger companies or the bigger brand may be going to limit their participation because over the years, they have built a strong client base and supply chain. They are already doing their own market activations. So now they will look for cheaper options like sponsorship to ensure presence in the show. Exhibition organizers must be up and ready for this challenge as during pre-covid days, they had big share of revenue. Also, bigger clients are the flag-bearers of the show. Organizers must accept this and adapt to reinvent the product to ensure bigger clients remain interested and invested in the event.

  • Customer experience– Technology has played a critical role in reviving trade fair industry post covid. Everything has changed from registration to onsite experience for the attendees. While this changed was a forced on the organizer because of government guidelines, attendees will demand seamless experience. In some cases, it will mean incremental cost while in few cases it will also help in reducing the cost. More importantly, it will become mandatory for the organizer to map the customer journey and experience. Those company who will not be able to integrate technology to improve customer experience will lag others.

As I mentioned in the beginning, repeating it again, there is no technology in the world that can match the charm of face-to-face meeting. Exhibition business will only get stronger in this post covid world. The one who can understand the changing dynamics will lead the industry. The aim should be to create meaningful and result oriented experiences for the customers.

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