Are Trade Shows Worth The Investment?

This is a very typical question for marketers when planning next year Marketing Plan. This question has no an easy answer as far as there are not always clear evidences of the ROI (return on investment) of attending a trade show. In too many ocasions marketers have the feeling of being spending their company’s money and senior management time when they finally realize that the trade show is full of competitors and empty of customers.

So let’s start by the beginning. Setting clear goals and objectives for what you are trying to accomplish at a trade show is critical to your success. In my experience I’ve realized that the main goals for a company to attend a trade show as an exhibitor are:

·      Brand and product awareness
·      Sales leads
·      Networking and new business development

Of course there can be other goals like identifing new industry trends, sharing knowledge, benchmarking or employees training. Obviously for these purposes you don’t need to participate as an exhibitor. You can get them with a simple delegate pass and without renting a booth or a display.

Anyway my suggestion is to do your research very carefully and be sure that you attend a trade show where concentrations of your customers, distributors, etc might be.

In fact my first tip for someone who is not sure about the convenience of attending a trade conference is to go there as an attendee first and check if the visitors profile match with your business. In this point remember that quality of potential contacts is much more important than quantity.

If your goal is to get as much sales leads as possible it is critical that your sales people takes the ownership of this marketing activity and you have a plan to track and monitor the progress to sale. Believe or not most leads are never followed!

The role of the sales people is key. This means that your staff needs to know exactly what your company expects from them (in terms of quantity, quality, follow-up, etc.). From the marketer’s side it is very important to have an Action Plan for them  that includes training, sales presentations, brochures, videos, networking activities, speaking opportunities, etc.

We should end with a very obvious but often forgotten point: everything has to be planned in advance including a good communication plan. Invite you clients, suppliers and other relevant contacts to attend the show and be sure you give them all the information. Remember people don’t like to waste their time, so provide them a very clear reason to attend (a product launch, a networking dinner or a formal meeting with your senior management can be good alternatives). And of course use all your social media channels to increase your communication effectiveness.


Happiness at work is profitable

On previous occasions we talked about the the connection between motivation and productivity. No doubt: if you get your employees motivated you get also more engaged, more optimistic and even happier employees. At the end when we feel comfortable in our working environment we work more and better.

There is much talk these days of happiness at work and the optimistic organizations, though often these concepts are addressed in a much more personal and less corporate. Well, this time I would like to reflect how these concepts can affect to the business.

Two of the core values for a person full development are freedom and responsibility. With greater autonomy comes greater responsability, so the best way to motivate an employee should be working hard on this and promoting a strong sense of ownership of the profesional project. But this is a two-way street. To do this it is essential that senior management is willing to develop their employees and allow them to achieve a higher level of maturity and also the employee is willing to engage and commit more.

How do you get that? Let's face it: this approach is valid for any company but not for any people. It is not an easy task but even so there is a concept that can help us move in this direction: the empowerment.

Empowerment implies the delegation of authority to the professionals and granting them a strong sense of ownership of their own work. It is therefore a strategic process that seeks a partner relationship between the senior management and the employees. It transcends the typical boss-employee relationship where the manager gives an instruction and the employee is strictly limited run, to reach a point where there is a greater value contribution and a higher level of  commitment between the two parties.

But empowerment is not a one-way from the head to the employee. The employee (or group of employees) should take a very active part and be aware of their own contribution. From this perspective, empowerment is an exercise in strengthening one's own abilities and increase its visibility within the organization. That is, the professional must assume that personal growth is also an exercise of personal responsibility and therefore should not be passive and wait for the boss or the company to assume the leadership of his/her own development.

It is imperative, therefore, that the employee understands that the times in which professional development, training, risk taking and initiative were the sole senior management responsibility thankfully are over.

Empowerment helps people to lose their fear of change and and also to be more proactive and enthusiastic. Put another way, people are happier when they are empowered. They feel more engaged, flexible and creative as they feel more secure and recognized. Somehow the empowered professional becomes an “active problem-solver” instead of a mere executor of instructions.

The main barriers to empowerment are primarily psychological and are based on fear. From the business perspective leaders are quite often afraid of empowering employees. From the employees perspective fear feelings are often linked to self-esteem (Will I be able to do it? Where do I start? What my boss will think about it?) and lack of consistency.

The only way to successfully implement a process of this type in a company goes through the full involvement of the owner and the senior management who must lead the cultural change. Involve middle management is also crucial. For this, a good recommendation is to opt for constant training (and, especially, self-training) and for a leadership coaching exercise (business tool to identify potential improvement areas and to implement the action plans).

In any case, as in many other professional fields, the key to success in a process of empowerment lies in having a clear goal and be consistent in the effort to achieve it. It is therefore important to ask the right questions and find honest answers from which to undertake the necessary action plan:

Self diagnosis: Where am I?  How do people see me?
Goals: Where do I want to be?  How I want people to see me?
Action Plan: What do I have to do and when? Who can help me?
Evaluation: How will I know if I have succeeded? How I can improve?

As my admired Haile Gebrselassie used to say "if you have a plan, you know what to do."



The 6 myths of the distribution channel

There are many situations in which a small or medium business can support its commercial and go-to-market strategy through a network of partners (distributors, dealers, wholesalers, etc). It is a very common way to market products and to provide a high level customer service.

But developing a suitable indirect channel strategy is not easy at all. Having a distribution network has many advantages but requires at the same time a thorough understanding of its dynamics.  Otherwise, dealing with distributors can become a real headache and a burden rather than a competitive advantage.

One way to address this complex issue is to start by analyzing the most common mistakes in the practice of managing distribution channels. I call them "the myths of the distribution channel" due to the huge number of conventions and assumptions generally accepted but usually unrealistic.

The myth of exclusivity.

In my experience granting a distributor an exclusive territory does not guarantee a special performance. It only makes sense if the product is particularly new in the market or require a specific investment by the dealer . Even with this situation the timeframe for the exclusivity should be limited.

It can also make some sense in those sectors in which the ripening time for purchasing is very long and requires a high level of interaction with the end customer.

In all other cases I know, the market share obtained is greater when channels compete or are complementary.

The myth of access to new customers.

Distributors are often particularly effective in attacking its base of regular customers. Accessing new customers is difficult and often very expensive. Therefore, unless we give the dealer a very good reason to do a special effort (for example, a great incentive or a significant competitive window of opportunity), access to new accounts in this way is frequently very difficult. Therefore, when choosing a partner make sure that its customer base is adequate for your products.

The myth of demand generation.

Distributors serve markets but rarely develop them. This means that the manufacturer has the ultimate responsibility for demand generation. Of course you can decide to have some specialist dealers to train end customers about new products, services or technologies, but its contribution in terms of market share growth is probably going to be very limited.

The myth of treating everyone the same

Another common mistake in implementing a development strategy of distribution channels is assuming that it must be the same in all areas, for all products and for all partners. But the real world makes differences. For example, we may find relatively small distributors that have extremely large market shares in its territory or distributors with a wide geographical presence but with a very limited market share at local level.

Obviously both are important: the first because they provide us proximity to local markets (usually thanks to an excellent customer service) and second because they give us capillarity. But it is also clear that both can not be managed on the basis of rewarding them in the same way. In short, we must make a differential management based on the value provided for our brand in the short and in the long term.

The myth of “higher investment in the distributor means higher sales”

In distribution management is very important to manage expectations. If your products are a very small part of the portfolio of a particular distributor and therefore a very low percentage of its sales, it is more than reasonable to think that the effort of the sales force will be even lower. It is important in this case to assume that our product will be "more dispatched rather than sold" and therefore does not worth making large investments in specialized training, expensive promotions or certification programs. The right thing in such cases is to make the selling process as simple and easy as possible and assure a reasonable stock availability. Everything else is wasting valuable marketing budget that should be devoted to generating demand on the end customer (pull strategy) and to support dealers who are playing their survival with their products or services.

The myth of pressing the channel only with sales matters.

There is a belief in some circles that the manufacturer just have to press dealers to sell because everything else can distract them from their main task. Although there is some truth in this, it is also true that professional management of distribution channel requires monitoring and control from both sides. For example, as well as the distributors expect from the manufacturers a detailed list of marketing activities that support their sales action, the manufacturers have the right to demand similar information to its partners (training plans, sales reporting, business plans, etc.)

In short, developing a business strategy through the distribution channel does not in any way mean the delegation of responsibility of selling in the distributors. If you are a manufacturer, do not forget that you sell through the distribution channel, not to the distributors, and you can not ask them to do what you do not want to do. It is important to remember that brand loyalty by your distribution partners is directly proportional to the margin they obtained by selling your products and the potential sales growth they observe in the short and medium term.

Therefore, it behooves manufacturers to offer a solid business proposal that should convince the dealers that to bet on their brand is a good business. But as well manufacturers demand planning, rigor and results to their direct sales force and offer support with marketing policies, incentives and talent management, they also must demand and offer the same to distributors in accordance with their business strategy and demolish the myths mentioned above. That's the only way I know to have a strong business partnership and I'm sure it works when talking about channel distribution development.