Steve Miller of The Adventure LLC discusses why focusing on building strong relationships with key accounts is critical to generating ROI at trade shows.
Success at Trade Shows Starts With A Proper Understanding of Account-Based Marketing Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, mate?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, Jeff. Good to be chatting.
Jeff White: Yeah, it is for sure.
Carman Pirie: It’s always nice to get a chance to speak with… I think we’ve had a really interesting string of guests of late who were just bringing such an in depth amount of knowledge into really certain niche or niche aspects of manufacturing marketing.
Jeff White: Depending on what side of the border you’re on.
Carman Pirie: Today, I mean, it’s really we’re turning our attention towards the trade show. I don’t know how many manufacturing marketers I speak to that say 80-85% of our budget goes to trade shows. A huge part of increasing our marketing performance is getting that performance better.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: I think today’s guest is going to help us do that.
Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. Really excited to have Steve Miller joining us from the other end of the continent over in Seattle. Steve is with The Adventure LLC and his title is Kelly’s dad and marketing gunslinger. In addition to that, Steve works with the International Manufacturing Technology Show as a strategic marketer and all around expert and author of the book Uncopyable. Steve, welcome The Kula Ring.
Steve Miller: Thank you very much. You say you’ve had these different types of people. Well, let’s just see if we can make this even a little bit more different. Okay?
Carman Pirie: The bar has been set reasonably high by previous guests, but I think you’ll do just fine, Steve.
Steve Miller: We can bring that back down to normal. Okay?
Carman Pirie: Nice. Steve, why don’t we start by… Why don’t you give our listeners just a bit of a glimpse into who you are and maybe a two minute look inside your brain, if you will.
Steve Miller: Yeah, well, thanks, Alex. Just like on Jeopardy, right? I’m a strategic marketing and branding consultant. I have been doing this now for about 32-33 years, something like that. I’ve got a pretty varied background. Not really important to get into, but I have been consulting directly with AMT and IMTS now for about 26 years, as well as a number of other trade shows in many different industries. I also work with corporations of various sizes, mostly mid size companies, and help to make more money. In particular, I help companies to differentiate themselves from the competition. That said, that’s kind of it in a nutshell.
Carman Pirie: One of the areas, of course, with IMTS that you’re helping companies do that is to understand the trade show experience and the trade show dynamic, if you will, better, and then to reorient the trade show experience that they create and how they approach that work in order to get more out of that.
Steve Miller: Right.
Carman Pirie: Let’s just dive into that.
Steve Miller: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: What do you see as being some of the big shifts that you’ve seen happening in your time working with IMTS? How have trade shows evolved?
Steve Miller: Well, like I said, I’ve been working with them for 26 years, as well as many other events in many other industries. I have personally… I come from the sales and marketing background, so I had to do the trade shows. 20 years ago, you went to trade shows to write orders. That’s what you did. Quite frankly, there was a very good reason for that. Before the internet and before technology really started exploding like it has today, computer technology in particular, we were limited in the ways we could communicate with people. We had post office. We had the telephone, and then we had face-to-face, if you could get on an airplane or get on a train or something like that. It was a very limited type of connection with your marketplace.
Industry started to figure out that they could have an annual or biannual or a semiannual event where the industry would get together under one roof. Buyers and sellers would all get together under one roof. That would be the big event of the year for example. When they would go, they would use that as the opportunity to write orders for… If the show is an annual show, they would write orders for the next six to nine months or something like that at the show. Everybody was happy because they could go. It didn’t cost… The buyers could see all the vendors and suppliers under one roof and the vendors could see all the buyers under one roof.
It was a very efficient marketplace for them. Since technology has just taken over our lives and in particular the ability to communicate with each other, how many different ways do we have to be able to communicate with each other now? I mean, it’s not a few hundred. It’s thousands and thousands of ways to be able to communicate. We’re communicating with people right now in a way that we couldn’t do 20 years ago. Now because of that, companies don’t necessarily wait, or I should say buyers in particular don’t wait, for a trade show to write orders. This is just done… It’s done all year round now and even companies who used to wait for the big event every year to introduce their brand new products. Like for example, we were chatting and I said that my dad was co-inventor of the 8-track tape player.
I still remember my dad and his team when they were developing the very first prototype of that sweating bullets 24/7 for several days to get the prototype ready for the Consumer Electronic Show in Chicago. They had to have it there at that event because if they didn’t… At that time, CES was twice a year. They knew if they did not introduce it at that show, they would have to wait six months to be able to introduce it to the marketplace. That’s not true anymore. As a result, the idea of seeing something brand new for the first time at a trade show is not nearly as important anymore. Writing order at a trade show is not as important as it used to be. Because of that, the suppliers, they’re confused.
They’re very confused now about this marketplace because as you said, trade shows are very expensive. They take huge chunks out of somebody’s marketing budget. When they used to go and write orders, they could immediately tell after the show was over with did they make money or not. It doesn’t work that way.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. With that expense, of course, comes pressure to deliver results. How results are being defined, it sounds like you’re saying, is basically antiquated. That you can’t be determining results based upon orders written.
Jeff White: Yeah. You’re almost never going to have immediate ROI numbers coming out of a trade show anymore.
Steve Miller: No. No.
Carman Pirie: You may not even be able to determine the success of a… It may not even be on number of sales conversations or sales meetings. That maybe too far down the line.
Steve Miller: You should be able to project. That’s part of what the new education is all about that I’ve been trying to help exhibitors to understand over the years, is that with this change, you have to understand your funnel better than you ever have. You have to understand what percentage… If we start at the top of the funnel and you say, “If there’s 100,000 companies out there, what percentage of them fit the exact profile of our target market?” In my book Uncopyable, I call them moose. They’re the moose in the forest. What percentage of all the animals in the forest are moose, and then what percentage of those moose really qualify to be our best leads, and then what percentage of our leads ultimately become customers, and then what percentage of our customers stay with us for five years, 10 years, things like that.
This is one of the things that when I’m working with companies, I’m going to tell you, I would say 90 to 95% of companies cannot answer those questions. I say, “If you can’t answer those questions, you cannot predict, you cannot project numbers at all at a trade show annually or anything. You’re just guessing.”
Carman Pirie: Absolutely. I mean, if you don’t know those conversion percentages, you have no idea what the value is of introducing one new person into your universe, is basically what you’re saying.
Steve Miller: Yeah, exactly. If I know my numbers, then… Let’s say I go to IMTS and the objective at IMTS is, well, we’ve got all these animals in the forest coming down the aisle. I want to find the moose, and then I want to find the moose who I want to continue a conversation with. They are the highly qualified leads. If I say to myself, “Okay. At the end of the event, I’m going to walk away with 50 of these moose.” If I know that my next percentage… If my next step percentage is 20%, because I already know my numbers, right, then I know that out of those 50, I’m going to have 10 new customers. How much are those customers worth to me? That’s how you’re able to measure your success, but you have to know those conversion percentages.
Jeff White: Since you’re not going all the way to writing an order at a trade show anymore, you need to be able to take that prospect, that lead, that potential customer to the point where you can’t take them any further at the trade show. What do you mean by that? Can you unpack that a little bit?
Steve Miller: It’s like the conversation is different because you’re not just there to sell a product. You’re now becoming much more of a marketer than you are a sales focused company. A marketer is somebody who is… Peter Drucker always said that the purpose of business is to create a customer. You’re going there and you’re there to do two things. Number one is you’re there at IMTS to create a customer. Well, that means you have to start to go through that relationship building process with the customer. You’re also obviously going to meet with customers that you already have, but let’s stick with the first one here. As you meet people who you do not have a relationship with, you are now going through the process of understanding them better now and their needs and how you connect the dots with them.
In your conversations with them, you want to go as far as you possibly can to where you finally get to a point where, okay, you cannot really go any farther. You know? You’re still several steps away from writing an order. Maybe it’s simply like you say, “Okay. In order for me to better understand your situation so that I can give you the exact right solution to your situation, I need to fly out to your shop. I need to fly out to your facility, and you need to show me exactly what it is that you’re looking for. Can I set an appointment with you right now to go do that?” That’s what I’m talking about is you’re going to get to a point. Maybe it’s not an appointment to go visit with them.
Maybe it’s that, oh, there’s more information. The attendee says, “Oh, I don’t have that information with me,” and so then you say, “Oh, okay. We’ve gotten as far as we can here in this conversation. Why don’t we set up a phone appointment for next Tuesday at 10 o’clock and you can get that information together and get those figures together, and we can continue our conversation.” That would be the next step, right? I mean, that’s a couple of examples of what you’re looking for.
Carman Pirie: I mean, you really paint a picture of the way buying is facilitated via trade shows is fundamentally different than it was since the heyday of the trade show, of course. That buyer journey has changed and the fact that buyers are starting… Well, because they can self-start, they don’t have to wait for the six month trade show or what have you or the every year trade show in order to begin their market discovery. They’re all starting whenever they’re starting at a time that suits them. That means when they arrive at the trade show, every buyer almost necessarily by definition is arriving to that trade show at a different place in their buying journey.
Steve Miller: Yeah. They’re not all starting from zero anymore.
Carman Pirie: Right.
Steve Miller: That’s exactly right.
Carman Pirie: We create these trade show experiences that almost assume everybody is starting from the same place. Like we create these trade show experiences, “Oh, it’s all about a demo.” Well, some people may be well beyond demo phase as an example and other people may be well before that. Just using as a small example, but it would seem to me that we need to really think about that entire buying journey, the aspects of it, that the trade show can actually impact meaningfully and then re-imagine the trade show experience that we create to align with that, and to be able to meet different buyers who are at different places, and just stream with them almost in a seamless way—like we already knew where they were at and we just join them along the way.
Steve Miller: Bingo. You nailed it.
Jeff White: I think too, there’s something interesting there as well knowing what we know now about the size of buying groups is that it’s not just going to be all the same people arriving at the trade show either. Your salespeople could be meeting with an engineer. They could be meeting with a procurement person. They could be meeting with anyone of up to a dozen people potentially who may have influence over that buying decision could be attending that trade show now. Whereas before in the old utopia trade show sales world, it would have been pretty much all very similar people are arriving to buy.
Carman Pirie: They’re one to one in some way.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Steve Miller: Yeah. That’s a really good point because in fact, that’s something that we focus on really hard with IMTS over the years. If you remember in ’18, we had a huge bump in attendance. I don’t think that any one thing happened between ’16 and ’18 that caused it. I think it was a culmination of things like, you know, we’ve been focusing on buying groups for example or just teams from a company for example. Because one of the things that we recognized is that there are multiple roles in the buying process nowadays. You think in terms of there’s somebody who is going to write the check. There’s somebody who’s going to be the decision maker who says yes or no, and then there’s somebody who’s going to be the user of the product or service that you’ve got.
Now, in some cases, that’s all the same person, but more and more it’s multiple people from the same company. All of those people are going to be involved in the decision making process in some form or other. They might just have influence over the decision, but they’re going to be involved in some way or another. Every one of them is coming into this process with a very different conversation going on in their mind. These teams don’t necessarily always travel together on the show floors. They separate. They go out and they hit different exhibits. Then they’ll meet… Commonly what they do… We’ve tracked these guys and what we’ve learned is they all come. They’ve all got assignments about where they’re going in the morning.
They all go in the morning, then they meet for lunch, and then say, “Okay. Here’s where you guys have to go back. Here’s where you need to go to because we’ve kind of laid the groundwork with this one exhibitor. Bob, you need to go over there and talk to those guys from your perspective.” All right? That’s how the teams are working, and the exhibitors have to be prepared to have a conversation with each person on that team. It’s not the same conversation, right, that you had with other people because the finance guy is going to have a different conversation than the a then the machinist for example. Right? That’s why it’s changed so much from like you say the old days of, you know, somebody comes in and they just demo a product and you want to buy it, right?
Nowadays it’s much more of many steps in the process of building that relationship.
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Carman Pirie: In the course of doing this show, we’re really just creating a lovely kind of playbook in some way for how people ought to think about their trade show investment and presence. You’ve been loud and clear that that first of all needs to start with a proper ABM understanding. You need to know your target client organizations, who you’re actually trying to sell to, and then you do contact ID in advance of the show around who in those organizations am I likely to be seeing at this show. Frankly, have they entered our world before? Have they visited our site in the past? Have they downloaded our content? Have they interacted with our digital presence in any way?
To what extent can our martech stack give us any kind of intelligence about where they are at in that buyer’s journey? Can we surface that information by a CRM or whatever? Can we do contact ID when people enter the booth so that we can meet people at that space? Of course, people self identify who they are and that can help speed things along as well. Then we need to as marketers really identify the steps in the buying journey that we can meaningfully shape that trade show experience.
Steve Miller: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m going to say that in more cases than not, the buyer, the attendee that comes into your booth is probably gonna know more about you than you know about them.
Carman Pirie: Absolutely, yeah. The information advantage is reversed. It’s completely inverted. Yeah.
Steve Miller: Yeah, yeah, which puts you at a disadvantage quite frankly. This is something that I also think is really important is that if your marketing people can help you to identify these your prospects in advance, right, and if you’re able to… If there’s some way to have some type of contact with them in advance, some type of lead scoring mechanism done in advance, well, then if I can pick out let’s just say that really, really highly qualified moose in advance, well, then I am going to absolutely bend over backwards in advance of IMTS to make sure they’d come and see me. Pre-show has become so critically important that I often say to people, “Look, if you haven’t already guaranteed your success before you go to IMTS, well, you’re already losing the game.”
Carman Pirie: Well, of course, I kind of almost picture it as this point where you… I guess if we can keep the analogy of the moose going a little bit here. I don’t know how well this will hold together.
Jeff White: We are Northeastern Canada, so that’s okay.
Steve Miller: Everybody, yeah. Yeah, you guys. Yeah, absolutely.
Carman Pirie: In some way, that pre-show helps you kind of run up alongside the moose a little bit, get paced with it, understand where they’re at in the journey so that you can be more synchronized when you actually do encounter them at the show. Beyond that, that step identification that we talked about and looking at what you can meaningfully impact in the trade trade show experience that you’re now going to optimize, well, then the identification of that helps you then align what talent you need to have at that actual show. It’s probably just not salespeople. It maybe engineers and other folks who are perhaps able to speak more credibly to certain people at certain points in the process. You even mentioned you talk to the CFO differently than you talk to the lead engineer or something.
Steve Miller: Yeah. You just really nailed it because you see, that really shows how different trade show exhibiting is today as compared to what it used to be is that you have to have the people who can answer the questions for them there in the booth. In the past, you were just there to sell. I mean, literally the staff or the salespeople would walk around holding their order forms for the next person.
Jeff White: Like I said, utopia.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, utopia indeed.
Steve Miller: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we loved it. We all loved it that we’re doing that because, gosh, we could just go there. It was like printing money. The gold rush is over. But it does not take away from the value at all because I’m telling you, if I can go to one location for a few days and have my moose walk down there, I am going to go do that. Quite frankly, still today, as good as I think… The level of exhibitors and IMTS I think is so much higher than all the other trade shows around the world because IMTS has just bent over backwards to help educate the exhibitors over the years because they want them to succeed. I think that the level of these exhibitors is much, much higher. Even with that, a really, really good exhibitor just kicks everybody else’s butt.
Carman Pirie: That’s what I was going to ask. Maybe looking even beyond IMTS, when we look at the trade show performance overall as kind of an aggregate, and you look at what you’re suggesting here in the course of our last 20 minutes or so together, in terms of if that’s the North Star, how close are people coming to it really? Do you feel like people are really behind the eight ball? Some folks are catching up or just nobody gets it yet? Where are we at?
Jeff White: Do you hear a lot of resistance in the training that you do pre-show with these folks?
Steve Miller: Well, I don’t do so much training anymore myself, but I still work with a lot of exhibitors, a lot of companies just overall on their marketing. Of course, I have a very, very strong opinion about the trade show still have enormous value and that for the most part, their competitors are weak at trade shows. But I’m dead serious when I say that the level of exhibitors at IMTS is far better than it used to be, way better than other major trade shows and other industries and that type of stuff. There’s some examples. I mean, the one that I love to always kind of talk about is Royal Master. It’s not a big booth. I think it’s maybe a 30 by 30 or something like that. They’re kind of a mid size company. They get the idea that you have to…
Pre-show is extremely important to them. They’re very, very clear about who their moose is so that they are doing everything that they can to get as many moose to cross that invisible electrified fence into their booth. If they’re not a moose, they don’t come in. The information, the signage, the messaging, everything like that, is designed to be moose bait. If you don’t like moose bait, then you just keep walking and that’s exactly what you want to have happen.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. Obviously you want to be focused. You want to focus your resources accordingly. Part of that is helping people self-select in advance if they’re part of it or not.
Steve Miller: One of the biggest mistakes that companies have made since the idea of writing orders at the shows has kind of gone away. One of the biggest mistakes is they think that now the default definition is traffic in the booth. They’ll say, “Our booth was packed.” Yeah, exactly. It’s how many people come to your website. I just don’t care how many people come to my website. I only care about my moose. I just don’t care that everybody comes into my booth. I tell them to go to my competitor’s booth. Please. My competitors want you to come into their booth, but I don’t want you to come into our booth. Getting away from that concept of traffic as a measurement of success, that’s probably the number one hurdle that I’ve had to overcome over the years is to just get people to understand.
It doesn’t matter that there are 150,000 people walking through the front door. If you only talk to 100 people and as a result you write $10 million worth of business, you win.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly. You know what? For marketers listening to that bit of exceptional ad base, I would encourage them to look at their website in the exact same way. It doesn’t matter that 150,000 people showed up at your website. If you can only have a hundred organizations that can buy from you on the planet, you need to know who they are in advance and be measuring to what extent is your digital presence actually attracting them, not just organic search volumes gone up 200%. You are preaching to the choir. I think that they’re in so…
Steve Miller: Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be saying… I’m kidding. Of course. We have to beat these people over the head with this stuff is what we have to do.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, no. I think it’s a really key insight, frankly, to understand that when we… We’ve actually in some ways made the… I would say even in this podcast, we’ve made the mistake of referring to the funnel. I’m increasingly of the view that the funnel doesn’t exist, the funnel’s flawed because it has a myth of unlimited top of funnel. That’s not the case for so many B2B organizations. There’s a limited number of people who they can sell to. There’s a limited number of people that meet their target client profile. That’s how they need to be measuring success. Steve, I guess I didn’t know this before we started this podcast, but I love the fact that you’re providing me all kinds of backup for this thinking.
Steve Miller: Oh, good. It’s recorded. It’s down for history. Okay?
Carman Pirie: You don’t have to switch programs on the 8-track in order to listen to it in its entirety.
Steve Miller: Kachunk. Kachunk. Here it goes.
Jeff White: That was a good noise. I do certainly remember it.
Steve Miller: Yeah, it was a heck of a noise, that’s for sure, but it changed the industry. It changed music.
Carman Pirie: There is a ton of people listening to this podcast that have no idea what we’re talking about.
Steve Miller: Think cassette tapes, but larger.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. Look it up in your his… Google 8-track tapes and you’re going to go…
Carman Pirie: Frankly, it’s how I feel when I make a Seinfeld reference at work so much.
Steve Miller: Oh my gosh.
Carman Pirie: There’s only like half the people will know what I’m talking about.
Steve Miller: I shouldn’t talk about like Lucille Ball or…
Carman Pirie: Oh, nobody will know who you’re talking about.
Jeff White: Are you kidding?
Carman Pirie: Steve, I wonder if there are any kind of parting words of wisdom here as we’re wrapping up today’s show?
Steve Miller: Well, I always say that the number one thing… In fact, what I teach is that the vast majority of marketers actually have learned wrong and they have developed bad habits and they are marketing backwards. What I mean by that is that too many companies that I go in and sit down with, they go, “Well, you know, can you help us with our social media strategy?” That’s like asking me if I could help them with their fax strategy. There is no social media strategy. Social media is a tool. It’s a medium. The strategy starts with the market. Who is your moose? Identify your moose, first. Figure out where they hang out, second, then develop a message that is moose bait that they will be interested in. When I say figure out where they hang out, see, the interesting thing is the default answer is not social media.
There is no default answer to that question. Every market has a different answer. In Seattle, where I live right now, in Washington, our state legalized cannabis. Your country legalized cannabis, right? Our state legalized cannabis. Now, you would think that their moose would be social media. That would be where they would go. You think that’s what it should be, right? The bottom line is the number one marketing tool for the cannabis shops in Washington are billboards because they just put a billboard up and all they say is “cannabis one block on your right.” If you are a moose… Or I should say, if you’re not a cannabis smoker or something, if you don’t smoke marijuana, you ignore it and you keep driving.
If you are a cannabis user, then your brain is immediately thinking, “Do I need cannabis” You’re thinking, “Yeah, I do need cannabis, or well, even if I don’t need cannabis, it would be quick for me just to go in and I’ll buy some to make sure I have cannabis,” right. Billboards are… Every cannabis shop around here within one or two blocks in both directions are billboards for that cannabis shop. The tool is always developed by where are the moose hanging out. What is going to be the easiest way to attract the moose? Sometimes it’s social media. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s direct mail. Sometimes it’s TV. Sometimes it’s radio. Sometimes it’s billboards. Who knows? But you gotta know your moose before you can make that decision.
But too many companies go, “Oh, well, we really… You know, we put 100% of our money into online marketing,” and I just want to just, you know, break their necks. I should go, “Who made that decision?”
Carman Pirie: I love that as a parting wisdom, moose first.
Steve Miller: Moose first, looking for cannabis billboards.
Carman Pirie: Yes. As somebody who grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada, in a moose hunting family, I’m now kind of wanting a moose roast. But look, we’ll save that for another day. Steve, look, it’s been fantastic. I appreciate you coming onto the show and sharing your wisdom and experience with our listeners. Thanks so much.
Steve Miller: Hey, my pleasure, Jeff, Carman. Appreciate being invited.
Carman Pirie: Chat soon.
Jeff White: Thanks a lot.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Jeff White: Bye. Bye.
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Steve MillerMarketing Expert
Meetings & Conventions Magazine calls Steve Miller the Idea Man for his non-traditional, no-spin approach to marketing and branding. He’s the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller, “UNCOPYABLE: How to Create an Unfair Advantage Over Your Competition.” The book was featured at CES (formerly Consumer Electronics Show), and has seventy-three 5-star Amazon reviews. (The book also has a singular, and entertaining, 1-star review.) Steve calls himself Kelly’s Dad. That’s who he is. His business title is Marketing Gunslinger. He helps businesses separate themselves from the competition and grow by achieving “Uncopyable Superiority.” Since founding The Adventure LLC in 1984, Steve’s speaking and consulting clients have ranged from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 corporations. Steve has consulted for IMTS for the past 26 years, providing marketing expertise and online education for exhibitors and attendees. Besides his seven books, Steve has written for and featured in over 250 publications, including Fast Company, Business Week, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Highlights for Children. (OK, he made that last one up.)