Leslie Simmons, Dennis Christou and Morgan Maitoza participate in a panel at Exhibitor Storm Surge. (Photo by Ashley Nickle)

AUSTIN, Texas — The Exhibitor Storm Surge program at BrandStorm served up a comprehensive overview of trade show tips and strategy, including through two panels with industry members.

The day began with a two-hour presentation by Jefferson Davis, president of consulting firm Competitive Edge, about optimizing trade show performance through setting specific goals and measuring return on investment. Later, attendees listened to panel discussions between produce marketers and between industry members with experience on the buy side of the business.

Davis mentioned during his opening session that follow-up is a key element to maximizing the value of exhibiting, and in the following panel talk Del Monte vice president of marketing Dennis Christou, Dave’s Specialty Imports vice president Leslie Simmons and California Giant marketing coordinator Morgan Maitoza discussed their post-show procedures.

“As soon as we get back from a show, we sort of debrief and have our internal review together as a team,” Maitoza said. “As marketers it’s our job to basically then help sales and all the other departments that were in attendance at the show, whether that’s operations, packaging, food safety, IT, and ensure that everyone has the proper tools and resources and communications needed to then disseminate on to our partners.”

Signing new contacts up for the company’s weekly newsletter is one way to continue the conversation with being overly aggressive, Maitoza said. In addition, each sales team member has an objective and follow-up plan as well.

Simmons mentioned that she developed a system to classify leads as green light, yellow light and red light. The green light customers already know and like you and perhaps are already doing business with you; the yellow light group is a bit hesitant and needs a bit more encouragement; and the red light people think they don’t need you, or they don’t know you.

“Coming back to your sales force and having a communication plan that’s tailored — whatever that looks like for you — to each of those categories makes sense,” Simmons said. “You can’t go to your red light person and hit them over the head with emails and phone calls and expect, well, we shook hands on Friday, aren’t you going to give me a (purchase order) Monday? We’re in the business of connection, and it takes time.”

Simmons also suggested a way to give the follow-up a higher chance of success. Instead of assuming a baby boomer wants a phone call and a millennial wants a text message, ask each person how he or she prefers to receive communication.

Christou noted that communication from the sales team following a show is one way to measure the effectiveness of the exhibit. When there are more requests for marketing support for new customers and more support for existing customers, that is a good sign. Sometimes the effect of expo interactions is seen over a longer time frame, through changes in planograms or new packages that reflect a company’s desire to be more sustainable — moves spurred by conversations on the show floor.

A buyer panel, which included Larry Lee, sustainability coordinator at Hardie’s Fresh Foods, and Mike O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing for Monterey Mushrooms and former vice president of produce and floral at Schnuck Markets, also discussed the value of post-show follow-up.

Lee said a supplier representative could make a positive impression by following up with a summary of the conversation at the show that demonstrated an understanding of his needs as a buyer. At the booth or afterward, asking questions about what problems he is trying to solve goes a lot further than just spewing information about one’s company, Lee noted.

O’Brien mentioned several times that the ideal supplier-buyer relationship is not merely transaction-based but is a continuing partnership. He suggested industry members be willing to get to know each other even if it doesn’t work out to do business together right away.

The panel discussions also included pre-show planning by exhibitors and buyers and what the latter found most attractive and repellent in a booth.


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