Tips and best practices for on-site exhibit renewals from the trenches
One of the most efficient ways for associations to boost non-dues revenue (NDR), hit budget forecasts and ease anxiety is to sell exhibit space for future trade shows at your current trade show. Show organizers call this tactic “on-site renewal renewals,” and it can be a very efficient, profitable way to sell. You leverage the value of next year’s show while exhibitors are experiencing a successful run at your current show. It’s a great relationship-building technique that also provides monetary benefits.
Successful on-site exhibit renewals begin with pre-show planning and are amplified by impactful communications during the show. You want exhibitors to renew at your current show for several reasons:
First, the more exhibitors who renew on-site, the less work your sales team has to do down the road to fill your show floor. Wouldn’t you rather have your sales team work intensely for a few days during your show — securing at least 60 to 80 percent of the show floor for next year, than have them spend weeks or months chasing after exhibitors by phone? Your team’s time is likely better spent strengthening exhibitor relationships in person, and using time in the office to follow up with leads generated at the show or through other in-person events.
“Selling exhibit space at the current show for the next year’s show frees up our time during the year,” said Victor Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association. “Instead of focusing most of our time on how much more space our sales team must sell to reach our goal, we’re able to turn much more of our attention to getting to know our upcoming exhibitors.”
Second, on-site exhibit renewals create cash flow for your association that you can use right away. Exhibitors who commit to exhibit space for next year typically submit their deposits to you within 30 to 60 days. If they sign up during your current show, you can start applying those funds to next year’s show, or to other events supplemented by your main show, or to any other immediate need your budget calls for.
The frequency of your event can have a bearing on advance sales, however. On-site exhibit renewal sales work best with annual events because most of your exhibitors are working within annual budgets. It’s difficult to sell exhibit space for multi-annual events because companies budget for sales, marketing and business development, are their budget typically is not set more than 12 months in advance. It’s not practical to commit funds to an event beyond next year’s budget. For these events, pre-selling is more common and one tool that can be used is an “intent to exhibit” preliminary sign-up.
Leverage lead time
When preparing to offer on-site exhibit renewals, give your current exhibitors ample information about the following year’s exhibit opportunities as far in advance as possible. In your pre-show communications, make it clear to exhibitors that registration for next year’s show will be available at your upcoming show. Have data readily available about next year’s venue, dates and pricing. If your association will gather in a new venue, your exhibitors will want to know more about the benefits of the chosen destination. Send a printable floor plan (including pre-sold anchors, if possible) of the venue to exhibitors alongside your space availability announcement. Advertise the types of spaces and sponsorships available.
Best practice for pre-show sales? Call your current exhibitors before the show to discuss your on-site renewal process and the benefits of committing one year in advance. This way, you can answer all questions, create urgency, and nudge your exhibitors toward renewal. You can also collect exhibit space deposits right away, which is a benefit for the association hosting the show.
“Our Naylor sales team consistently sells 50 percent of next year’s show floor every year,” said Phil Russo, CEO of NAFA Fleet Management Association. “Having the funds from pre-sold exhibit spaces up front allows us to immediately start investing in traditional programming as well as new innovations for future shows. These advance monies give our association a buffer with which to expand our event programming and test out new formats without sacrificing what we know works well with our members.”
Make it as easy as possible for exhibitors to make their purchasing decision ahead of your show so that when they arrive on site, they have already made the decision, they already know their desired space specifications, and they know how much they can expect to spend.
If you have a priority point system for exhibitor enrollment, it is customary to give past exhibitors a 30-day notice of their ranking, a description of the on-site renewal sales process, and an invitation to schedule a renewal appointment during the show. Include details about how a company can move up in priority to get the space they want.
Some companies, especially first-time exhibitors, won’t be comfortable committing right away to next year’s show. To help convince these exhibitors, ensure your pre-show communications and everything your event staff does ensures that these first-time exhibitors have a positive experience. Additionally, know how well your current show is performing so you can show these vendors the ROI they are receiving by participating:
- Is attendance higher than last year?
- Are attendees saying positive things about the show floor experience?
Tell your exhibitors your key reasons for them to renew on site. There may be details that tip the decision in your sales team’s favor.
Get up close and personal
During or before the show, assign your sales team to contact anchor exhibitors first and re-confirm their location. You want to give your largest supporters first pass at next year’s prime exhibit options. Visit all exhibitors prior to their scheduled appointment time to confirm interest and to remind them to attend their appointment about next year. The exhibitor’s goal is to meet and talk with as many potential customers as possible, but your goal is to meet and register as many exhibitors as possible. For this reason, consider scheduling appointments outside of trade show hours.
For example, you may want to visit exhibitors one hour before the show opens, while exhibitors are setting up for the day. This way you’re not intruding on their show time. Your sales team should follow up with any no-shows. It’s easy for exhibitors to be so focused on successfully meeting their objectives at your show that they forget to secure next year’s appearance. They will appreciate gentle reminders about next year from your team.
Make sure that even the most casual exhibitor knows about renewal sales for next year’s show through on-site exhibit promotions. Before the current show officially opens, canvass the hall with reminder fliers and appointment schedules so exhibitors know when they can meet with your sales team. At end of each day, distribute fliers with a revised floor plan showing first day renewals. This will sustain the sense of urgency with which you want to register future exhibitors, and encourage holdouts to sign up before their desired locations are taken.
Worth the Intense Work
Selling advance exhibit space at an event can involve an intense, concentrated amount of work. Getting relevant, real-time information about the performance of the current show and the changing availability of next year’s show to potential exhibitors means your sales team must work at a frenetic pace for a few days. However, the benefits of on-site exhibit sales are worth the overtime. The time your sales team would have spent on sales calls over the course of the year can now be redirected to follow-up calls with planned exhibitors. Conversations that would have been sales pitches can now be stewardship calls to ensure your exhibitors are fully prepared to enjoy and get the best ROI from their show experience. Finally, the hosting association has fewer worries about breaking even on the show, and can make bigger plans about how to invest early exhibit revenue.
When done correctly, on-site exhibit sales are a win-win for all stakeholders involved in your events.
Pete Dicks is a sales manager with Naylor Event Solutions, and has been working with associations to put on successful events for 17 years.