Thursday, June 25, 2009

Closing the deal: Help for vendors

One of my favorite people is Ernie Renaud, a longtime restaurant-chain executive and an even longer-time attendee of the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago.

Ernie, now in his 80s, has been attending the show since the mid-1960s, when it was a collection of booths on Navy Pier. He was there again this May, which made everything right in my universe, since I could ask him once again about his collection.

The “collection” is a shoebox of business cards he’s amassed over the years from salesmen whose booths he’s shopped. Ernie would ask them to get in touch with him after the show because he was interested in a product or service for whatever chain he was representing at the time (the list ranges from Jerry’s Diner to Long John Silver’s to Fazoli’s). The ones who never responded had their cards put in the collection. It was a marvel to Ernie that they never so much as made a follow-up attempt to get his considerable business.

That situation comes to mind because I just learned of a webinar the NRA will be offering this afternoon to those who exhibited at the show. It’s called the Exhibitor Success Institute: Post-Show Success, and it’s offered for free. Among the topics slated for discussion is the use of social media to spread the word about a vendor’s brand.

I’m going to participate, in large part out of curiosity. I can’t figure out why a company would invest considerable time and money in exhibiting at a show, only to squander opportunities by failing to make the most of the sales opportunity.

I encountered the problem firsthand when I was a co-presenter of the Menus conference for Restaurant Business magazine, which I served as editor. In attendance would be dozens of menu planners for restaurant chains, including McDonald’s. Yet our exhibitors would invariably complain about not having enough exposure and access. They’d be in their booths, waiting for prospects to come to them. Clearly they weren’t exploiting the opportunity that was gift-wrapped for them. And these were big companies with extensive sales forces.

It got so bad that decided to hold a sales primer for the exhibitors—only to catch guff that we were talking down to veteran marketers. So that idea was dropped.

The NRA appears to be taking a much more sophisticated tack in providing support to exhibitors. It’s a laudable effort that certainly appears to be worth the required time investment.

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