Exhibition News September 2018 - Page 57

COLUMN: SALES TALK More than a building site Julie Vincent, sales manager for Blackpool’s new £28m Exhibition Centre, on the challenge of selling a venue before it’s even built W hen, in January 2017, the Prime Minister announced that Blackpool had secured funding for a new multi-million-pound conference and exhibition centre there was a great deal of excitement in both the town and the wider North West about what this could mean for the region. Fast-forward 18 months and the 2,000-capacity venue is now rapidly coming out of the ground, but as the countdown to next summer’s opening begins so the giddy prospect a having a shiny new events space in the heart of the resort quickly turns to the hard reality of selling it. Of course, initially it’s a sales person’s dream – and you set out with gusto telling as many people as you can about the new product, its assets and USPs, and highlighting how this could make their every conference and exhibition dream come true. But once you get past this section of the sales conversation, and you’ve got your prospective client’s interest (and often a good deal of ‘in principle’ buy-in), then comes the tricky part. Suddenly the usual client questions such as, “Can we visit the venue? “Do you have photographs of the rooms you can send me?” “Do you have testimonials of successful events?” and others are “Suddenly the usual client questions, such as “Can we visit the venue?” present a challenge ” impossible to answer, and even, “So, when will it actually be open?” can present a challenge. And while we know that developing a 21st century venue which will be physically linked to an 140-year old Grade II* listed building like the Winter Gardens will throw up a number of issues - and that a degree of slippage on an estimated completion date will always need factoring in - such contingency planning (and moving completion dates) aren’t particularly helpful to a sales team talking to clients with event dates which are often set in stone. After all, the last thing you want to do is commit to a site visit and then change it several times, or pencil in provisional bookings which may or may not be possible to accommodate, as this can introduce a lack of confidence in both you and your product. So, what is the answer? Well, in Blackpool we are incredibly lucky that we have far more than just a new venue to sell, and that there are many compelling reasons why the town should feature on shortlists for the wide variety of different events and exhibitions. For starters, we have the existing Winter Gardens complex - a hub of 11 distinct venues, all under one roof, offering over four acres of connected conference, meeting and exhibition space. It’s a unique product in itself, with a fantastic track record in delivering major events well for over a century. Then we have Blackpool the destination. Still the UK’s most well known and loved seaside town, it’s a place which continues to delight exis ting clients, wows new prospects who come here for a fam-visit, and repeatedly intrigues those who have never actually been. Combine that with details of the transformational £500m of investment the resort has enjoyed over recent years - including the commencement of high-speed Virgin Train services direct from London and Birmingham for the first time, an extended tram network linking the station to the promenade, and 900 new, premium hotel rooms being added to the town’s existing stock – and you’ve got a very good story to tell. So, as the new Conference and Exhibition Centre begins to take shape, the sales team enthusiasm is not dampened by the fact you can’t currently visit the venue which we’re pitching. Instead we are taking full advantage of Blackpool’s iconic status as a popular coastal visitor destination and its long, rich history as a great place to host events, conferences and exhibitions. In addition, the wealth of new amenities, accommodation and transport links which are being brought forward creates an amazing package to take to market, as does the whole idea of events being hosted within a resurgent and increasingly more cost- effective ‘Northern Powerhouse’ setting. That’s not to say that the lack of a physical space being ready for client visits isn’t a barrier to overcome, or that not being able to firm up some dates in the diary due to potential fit-out overruns isn’t at times a headache. But all things considered, having the power of ‘Brand Blackpool’ behind us as an asset is something few locations get to enjoy, and it’s something for which I’m, very grateful. And as a sales professional, who was born and bred in locally, I’m thrilled that we have so much to offer prospective and lapsed clients which is in addition to a fantastic product which is still a year away from completion. exhibitionnews.co.uk | September 2018 57