EXHIBITION NEWS May 2017 - Page 45

When your customers leave, listen Joe Bolger, MD at strategic insight agency Intellexo, on getting a handle of customer trends E xhibition organisers know the pain of losing customers too well, whether it’s the fi rst-time exhibitor that doesn’t return for a second show or the loyal exhibitor whose departure fractures event plans. We seek to understand when a potential client spends weeks, if not months, trying to make a decision on some space, only to conclude that the event is ‘not for them’. One of the strengths of our industry is that we have some excellent relationships with our clients and I’ve seen many times before how event leaders will drop everything to try and understand when there are issues. I’ve also been involved in several projects to get a handle on customer trends. However, it feels that, as an industry, we have a huge opportunity to really get to grips with what happens when customers leave or opt against doing business with us. We rightly celebrate our successes – and in our industry there are many of those – but do we really spend enough time trying to understand lost opportunities? Imagine for a moment you’re learning to play tennis. You turn up for the lesson and your coach sends ten balls across the net. You return eight of the balls without a problem, but two of them don’t make it back across the net. Raise a smile for the result, but your coach will be concentrating on the two balls that didn’t work out. Only by interrogating what went wrong can you get to a 100 per cent success rate. Of course, we do interrogate what went wrong on lost sales. Our account teams do it, their managers do it. Many organisers, I understand, will also categorise the reason for lost sales in their systems. What I think we don’t do often enough is to step back and invest time in really understanding what issues exist, and doing this comprehensively and rigorously. How can we be sure that the reason given to the sales person is accurate? What if the potential customer just didn’t like the sales person? This analysis involves having detailed conversations with lost customers, tracking their whole journey from the point they fi rst became aware of the event, rather than simply capturing a one line reason at our fi nal contact. It means probing what they really think of the product, identifying their needs and wants, really understanding their ability to invest in events and their experience of the sales process. And above all, asking ‘why’ time and time again to get beyond the obvious answers and get to the crux of what is going wrong. Companies also need to put in place a means of talking to every single lost customer to capture better information. Then, they need to track the results regularly. It also means talking to some customers that they did win, to provide a comparison. A 2014 study by Gartner, the IT advisory fi rm, found in a survey of its clients that while only 35-40 per cent of companies were rigorously doing this kind of work, those that were typically closed more of their potential sales. Financial services companies are particularly good this kind of thing, typically sending out automated surveys if a customer doesn’t follow through and make a purchase. Aviva, as an example, will send you an email if you ask for a quote but don’t act on it, asking: ‘What have we done well? We’d like to do more of it. What could have been better? Please let us know, so we can fi x it’. It will then prompt you to fi ll in a survey to give objective feedback on your experience. Gartner concluded that this kind of analysis allows a company to better target sales and segment its customers – which companies are ‘should win’ rather than ‘can win’. Analysis of lost customers also helps defi ne product strategy and get marketing messages right. Just as we should seek to know more about lost exhibitors, so there is an opportunity to know more about lost visitors too. Organisers are already trying to understand why visitors lapse or don’t visit regularly, but there is always an opportunity to better understand our potential audiences. The big question, I guess, is what’s stopping the industry from doing more with lost customers – whether you defi ne that as an exhibitor or a visitor. I suspect the answer can best be summarised as competing priorities – if we commit to better understanding our lost customers, where do we have to compromise? It’s important to remember too that each organiser has a diff erent culture and this approach might not be right for everyone. However, if organisers want to make sure they don’t leave potential custom behind, to make sure that would- be exhibitors and visitors don’t duck out of exhibiting at or visiting their events, I’m convinced the answer lies in better understanding these groups. exhibitionnews.co.uk | May 2017 45