How to Exhibit at #BIO2012 
Posted by Carlos on Apr 27, 2012

Yesterday, we responded on LinkedIn to the following note:

THis is our first BIO conference in June and want to make it a great one. Any hints or helpful suggestions for our booth?.

 Our response was:
Make your booth as self-sustaining as you can, then spend your time on all of the meetings you pre-arranged (or will pre-arrange) prior to the actual show. Even if you don’t register for the One-on-One, you can’t just stand there at your booth and wait and hope and pray that business will come to you. The Exhibition is awash in a sea of similar-looking booths with similar-sounding messages and pictures. Forget all that. Save your feet and do something different than your competitors by setting up as many meetings with qualified leads and prospects as you can PRIOR to the exhibition. Then have these meetings wherever convenient; your booth, Starbucks, lobbies, wherever. You’re much better off meeting 15 solid leads versus 50 floor walkers looking for free pens and candy.
If you are going to spend time in the booth, then don’t check email, don’t eat lunch, etc. Stand in the aisle handing out flyers and do some networking. Also, remember that the goal should be networking and searching for qualified leads. Selling comes later.
This response was admittedly written in haste. So, having had a day to think about it, here is our advice to #BIO2012 Exhibitors:
Don’t Exhibit.
Yes, this is a rather provocative statement. However, as we said in the LinkedIn post, the exhibition hall is a sea of sameness. Standing in front of a booth hoping for qualified leads to simply come over with open checkbooks is rarely a good strategy. We are reminded of the auto repair section of a phonebook. You could shuffle the names and addresses and phone numbers around, and still not be able to tell one auto mechanic from another. So trying to stand out amongst the sea of similar-looking booths is very difficult.
The best use of a booth is to serve as a meeting place for meetings that were pre-arranged prior to the conference. But, how does one pre-arrange meetings prior to the conference?
This is the key question. Out of respect to some of our current clients, we cannot get into specifics here. However, our general advice begins with your USP. You simply have to have some unique selling proposition (USP). Even if your company does the exact same thing as your neighbor in the booth next door, you still need a USP that is different. It may have to be inventive, creative, or highly niched, but you must have one. Without one, a prospect does not have a specific reason to talk to you on issues other than price. Ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to do business with us?” Remember, there are a lot of service providers who are highly qualified, fast, GMP Compliant, experienced, client-focused, fast, etc., etc. These are a given. You simply have to move away from the crowd and stake your own ground.
Second, you must identify and target your marketing towards qualified leads. Using LinkedIn, Jigsaw/Data, and other tools, it is possible to find prospective leads, then target your marketing accordingly. Admittedly this requires a great deal of grunt work to build a database of leads from scratch. But a small set of highly qualified prospects is always better than a list 10x larger full of contacts who will ignore your monthly newsletter or postcard or magazine ad.
Further, it is important to laser-focus and micromarket to your prospective clients, avoiding mass media approaches with <1% response rates that rarely, if ever, actually deliver qualified leads. Of course, this assumes that your USP and offer is compelling to begin with. That money spent on pens and candy could be better spent mailing a provocative USP-containing letter or postcard campaign to a small set of qualified leads.
Note that repetitive marketing to a small, focused list is generally more effective than a spray and pray approach. There is little doubt that your advertising consultants and agencies will disagree. They will push for more mailings, more web traffic, a bigger booth, more pens to give away, etc., etc. But, like the Goodyear blimp doesn’t cause me to run out and buy tires, nor does mass marketing work well in an increasingly crowded, distracted market.
If you cannot come up with something unique to say about your company, then you have to lower the activation energy with a low-cost (or free) offer or sample (a real sample, not a pen). For example, we’ve heard of certain service providers who are offering low-cost “audits” of existing Preclinical or Clinical studies…a second set of eyes, so to speak. We see this a lot on many other markets outside pharma/biotech, and we see no reason why it should not work here.
Yes, these ideas may raise your per-customer acquisition cost. But, these approaches will dramatically increase the chance of securing business in an increasingly crowded, hyper-competitive, unfocused, easily distracted market.
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