Why trade exhibitions as we know them are gone forever

Charles Southey / 15th April 2020

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CEOs of all kinds of businesses in the UK have been questioning the viability of trade exhibitions as a primary source of sales leads. And they’ve been questioning their viability since long before COVID-19.

Aside from the trade exhibitions’ already dwindling effectiveness, we now face the reality which is no trade exhibitions whatsoever until further notice due to the global virus pandemic.

The trade exhibitions calendar has been completely wiped clean and it’s clear to me that this will mark the beginning of a major shift in the sales and marketing strategies of CEOs and Sales Directors.

I don’t think live events will be the same again after we come out of this COVID recession – Martin Sorrell

Exhibitions have traditionally been a stronghold for B2B sales. Yet, recently, more and more CEOs I’ve spoken to have struggled to show a positive ROI from trade exhibitions. This is typically due to poor attendance, lack of buying delegates and simply the high cost of attending an event.

Now everyone’s working from home and they’re all online

A large chunk of the UK and Europe’s workforce is now working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Since the start of this period, daytime web usage has pretty much doubled in the UK.

The shift to digital has been profound for businesses. If you were on the fence about choosing digital over live events, your mind has now been made up for you. Trade buyers now have only one easy to access, reliable source of information (online) to learn about products and processes that will solves their problems for the next thing they’re working on. They’re Googling, they’re on LinkedIn, they’re on Twitter. They’re not ‘in person’ anymore.

I think the switch to digital will be permanent – Martin Sorrell

Even before COVID-19, fewer and fewer people were venturing out to trade exhibitions. Now there’s nobody going out and everyone’s getting their information online instead.

Scrap exhibitions. Focus online to consistently feed your sales team with leads all year round

Unlike exhibition stands which lasted a few days at best, your website and online marketing is evergreen which means it’s always on 24/7 and it’s always open to attracting customers. It’s also available to the entire world, not just the delegates attending the event.

I regularly witness our clients attracting leads via their websites thanks to online marketing which results in deals with major (household name) manufacturers and corporations. This is all thanks to them investing in a digital strategy and dedicating focus to their online positioning.

Put simply, I’ve seen first-hand that the most successful businesses are the ones that supersede their competition by investing heavily in their digital strategy and their online positioning. They invest in their websites and their online marketing tactics. They position their businesses as leaders in their space and they subsequently win the lion’s share of the sales revenue that’s out there.

Position yourself online, before your competitors beat you to it

Who knows exactly what the ‘new era’ landscape looks like for B2B sales post COVID-19. What I can tell you is it’s going to be different and it’s going to feel uncomfortable for a lot of companies – especially the ones with a more ‘traditional’ sales approach.

Businesses will need to win new sales revenues and the ones that do this most successfully will be the ones that had an eagerness to invest in online marketing when perhaps their competitors didn’t.

My advice? Don’t delay – be ahead of your competitors and make sure your business is positioned to win the new business that will arrive in the massive economic boom expected to follow COVID-19.