If you run a tradeshow or conference, the primary purpose is likely to be attendee education in the form of sessions, but exhibitors can play a significant role in educating attendees, as well.
Of course, let’s not forget that primarily exhibitors help defray a substantial portion of the expenses incurred in having an event. As an event organizer, retaining exhibitors is an important goal.
What keeps exhibitors happy and keeps them coming back? Attendees. And attendees want education that has take-home value.
Let’s consider how we can get attendees and exhibitors engaged with one another in a meaningful way. “Stamp my card” so I can qualify for a prize drawing is not a meaningful way. “Give me a pen” is not a meaningful way. “Hi, I see you are from Sheboygan”, is not a meaningful way.
Not every attendee and every exhibitor have a mutuality of interests, but certainly there should be some combination of attendees and exhibitors that result in positive conversation. Should this be left to chance or is there some way that you, as an event organizer, can nurture the possibilities?
Here's an idea worth trying, we call it: The Attendee Ambassador Project
It works like this.
First, survey your attendees prior to your event the following questions:
1) Which of the exhibiting companies have they done business?
2) Which companies delivered the goods?
3) What are the attendees’ major challenges?
4) If they could go home having achieved just one thing, what would that be?
Armed with this information, ask a number of attendees to become “Ambassadors”. Give the ambassadors some perks, in return for which they will be asked to escort other attendees, perhaps some already known to them, to visit exhibitors on the show floor in small groups of 4 to 8 people. Ideally, they would visit exhibitors with whom the ambassador has done business.
Impress upon the exhibitors that the visitors should be welcomed as they would if they visited their offices. No hard sell, but more like, “Here’s what we do at National Widget. Let me take you on a “tour”. Perhaps we can address some of your issues or maybe you can suggest services that we should consider offering.”
This would address the issue of quality leads, as opposed to quantity of leads. It would not preclude attendees visiting exhibitors on their own, but as an exhibitor, I would be delighted to host even a half-dozen such groups. More? That would be better yet. That’s my take. Tell me, what do you think of the idea?