MAKING WINE SHOWS MORE PRODUCTIVE

Have you ever stopped to count all of the trade shows, wine festivals, and tastings that wineries participate in every year? The number is mind-boggling. Virtually every major market hosts some kind of wine festival, and there seems to be one every few weeks.

Considering the participation costs of most these festivals and trade shows, it is critical to establish goals and develop cost-effective strategies for this kind of event. What kinds of goals are realistic? Let’s start with four goals often mentioned either singly or in combination by wineries attending trade shows:

GOAL 1: WE WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE INDUSTRY, WITH CUSTOMERS, AND WITH THE COMPETITION.

Taken alone, this is a poor reason to participate in a trade show. The same can be accomplished by simply attending the show, without the cost of exhibition space. For that matter, if you don’t know what’s going on in the industry, by the time it is the talk of the trade show, its way too late for you. You should be using market research, not industry gossip, in your decision making process.

On the other hand, once your participation is indicated by one of the goals below, this becomes a legitimate secondary goal — one that takes advantage of the concentration of industry representatives and customers.

GOAL 2: WE WANT TO “SHOW THE FLAG.”

This is a difficult goal to achieve because it is so hard to quantify. What is the benefit of “showing the flag?” Only very large companies wishing to maintain their corporate image as an important player (a leader in the category) should use this as a reason for participation in a trade show. For the rest, showing the flag is simply another way of saying “we have no measurable goals for this event, but don’t want to miss it if something important happens.”

GOAL 3: WE WANT TO MAKE SURE OUR COMPETITION DOESN’T GET AN ADVANTAGE.

This goal is often combined with #1 and #2 above in a very defensive approach to justify participation. In other words, “we can’t leave the field open to our competition, so we must be there.” Of course, this ignores the more obvious question: “If your competition is not there, what do you expect to achieve?”

The sad truth about this approach is that it neglects more meaningful goals, and often leads to half-hearted efforts and poorly-conceived plans. This is especially true when the axiomatic assumption is made that since we have low expectations; we should invest little money, thought, or time into planning or strategy for an event.

GOAL 4: WE REALLY NEED TO MAKE MORE SALES OR MEDIA CONTACTS.

This is by far the best reason to participate in industry trade shows. It is measurable, contributes directly to the bigger picture, and can have lasting impact. But if this is the goal, how many wineries actually develop a specific strategy to achieve it? That means you have to answer the following questions.


HOW MUCH WILL PARTICIPATION COST IN TERMS OF TIME, MONEY, AND MATERIALS?

Don’t forget to include product costs, travel time, travel and entertainment budgets, and all associated costs.


HOW BIG IS THE PAYOFF?

Clearly, the staff attending a trade show should agree on a measurable goal for a specific number of sales contacts to be made, and a target number of follow-up sales calls and orders placed. By tracking these numbers and the success of the attending staff, you develop a much more refined sales plan that will make future decisions easier and more accurate.

By having a stated goal, your staff can focus on making sure those numbers are reached. Also, such an approach will encourage the sales and marketing team to explore other, more cost-effective methods of achieving these same goals. The result will be a professional and results-oriented approach to the often time-intensive process of sales calls.

Trade shows are only one means to the end, and a good public relations professional will explore a wide range of tactics to achieve any goal. Of course, as in all marketing communications, the secret here is to know your audience. Before you participate in a wine festival or trade show, answer these questions:


WHO IS THE AUDIENCE AND WHAT DO THEY WANT?

This must be determined before the trade show. Your sales and marketing team should develop a profile of the contacts who plan on attending a show. These profiles should indicate special interests, products, or budgets that are of concern to those attending. Then reference the information against the marketing goals of the winery to develop a plan for each trade show. Who is going to be there, and what do they want?


WHAT CAN WE DO TO GET THEIR ATTENTION?

Now that we know who they are and what they want, we can begin to develop a trade show booth and activities that will attract the target market and encourage them to spend time with us. We are not preparing for a party; we are designing a campaign — one that has a budget, objectives, and the potential for both failure and success.

STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESSFUL SHOW AND FESTIVAL PARTICIPATION

So you’ve answered all of the questions above satisfactorily, and you’ve decided that it makes good business sense to pay the fees and devote the time to participate in the trade show or wine festival. What are some of the strategies to make your participation successful? Following are seven helpful ideas.

1. USE ADVANCE DIRECT MAIL

Use advance direct mail to create interest in your booth or table, and to get a head start on making key contacts. Some shows will offer to sell a list of those attending to any exhibitor. Such a list can often be used very effectively to encourage a visit to a winery’s booth, follow-up on a marketing communication package presented at the show, or even pre-select attendees according to need or interest. If you know what you want to accomplish, then using this service to advertise your intentions, or to pre-screen visitors to your table can be really effective.

At every trade tasting or trade show, some of the participants are disappointed that they don’t get to spend more time with the key trade visitors. Why does that happen? It often happens because they do not plan strategically. If the top industry leaders have done their homework, and invited most of the top attendees to meet with them about future business plans, the others will be left talking to the rest of the visitors, and not the key accounts.

2. HOST A HOSPITALITY SUITE

Host a hospitality suite in the same hotel, or nearby, to give your key contacts a place to meet with you away from the distractions of the show. Often, the trade show floor itself is an overwhelming experience for potential customers. Offer these customers an interesting reason to leave the crowded floor and join you in a more relaxed and focused setting in a hospitality suite in the same hotel.

This kind of participation can be done without the fees for exhibition booths, and will generate an environment that allows you the undivided attention of the sales contact. Offers of elegant food, a place to meet with one’s spouse, entertainment, or other incentives will draw the customers to your suite.

But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Drawing customers away from a wine festival to your suite requires a great deal of contact work by the company’s sales staff to meet the potential customers and constantly remind them of the opportunity that awaits them in the hospitality suite.

3. ORGANIZE INTERACTIVE EVENTS

Organize interactive events at the trade show to generate more attention for your winery. These can be anything from “star attractions” to private dinners — anything that will give the sales contacts something to talk about and a reason to visit with you. The main drawback of most of these attempts is that they depend on borrowed interest — the contact is not interested in your winery or wines, but in the event. As a result, sales contacts are not always genuine, nor are they motivated.

On the other hand, the special dinners you organize should be planned well in advance, and executed against the stated goal. They are not just an excuse for your marketing team to spend its travel and entertainment budget by taking a bunch of colleagues to a nice restaurant — although that is what usually happens.

4. YOUR BOOTH MUST EMBODY THE QUALITY OF YOUR BRAND

The booth or table and its design must be symbolic of the quality and character of your winery.

If you are making a claim to preemptive leadership, you must have a trade show display that supports your position – both in content and in style. Thus if you want to be perceived as a major player, you must have a large, imposing display. If you want to be seen as a cost-effective alternative, your display must show the kind of clever, creative thinking that allows for cost- effective solutions without a loss of quality.

Finally, the staff and materials must be consistent with your corporate philosophy and your target audience.

5. GIVE CUSTOMERS SOMETHING TO DO AT YOUR TABLE

Keep in mind that the average time spent at a trade show booth is 15 seconds. At the end of that time, the viewer moves on to another booth unless he or she is given a reason to stay. Certainly, a discussion with your sales staff will accomplish that goal, but your sales staff can only speak to one person at a time. You must give other potential customers something to do while they wait.

At major wine festivals, it is often better to position the winemaker or principal out in front of the booth, where he/she can track down key contacts and interact with important industry leaders. The winery staff handles staffing the booth itself, so that the principal isn’t trapped behind the table, and a crowd of consumers, when the most important journalist at the event walks on by — and doesn’t stop to taste your wine.

6. MAKE SURE YOUR STAFF ARE WELL-TRAINED

In the final analysis, the results you achieve will depend on the efforts of your sales staff, and you should do all you can to give them training and the kinds of materials and environment that allow them to concentrate on selling your wines.

If there is one, basic rule of trade show participation, it is that staff sitting down in chairs behind tables will never be successful. Your staff must be approachable, outgoing, and positioned in a way that places no barriers between them and the sales contacts. Your booth must be open, well-lighted, and must encourage contacts to enter your area and meet you, face to face.

Choose staff because they know the customers. Nothing can improve upon a salesperson who has already established rapport with potential customers. This personal relationship can make contact easier, follow-up more effective, and closing more frequent.

Select staff because they know the market. Knowledge and credibility should be chosen over an attractive face every time, because once you get a live sales prospect, the last thing you want to do is put him/her on hold while you go find someone who knows the business.

Choose your staff because of their ability to evaluate the trade show and make suggestions for future improvements in your booth, your participation, and your products. Make sure your staff has agreed to the goals for the trade show and hold them responsible for achieving the goals. Encourage them to suggest improvements in both the booth and their own efforts that will generate more success.

At every trade show, you will meet a winery complaining about the quality of the show. “I just don’t think there are any buyers here,” they will say. But a neighbor at the next table will have sold containers of wine at the same show. Focus on these shows the same way you focus on a sales call: know the audience, bait the hook, and close the sale. Well-trained staff and advance preparation, born out of a focused strategy, gives immediate and positive results.

7. FOLLOW UP AFTER THE TRADE SHOW

The work does not stop when the doors close. After the show, you have to follow-up quickly and effectively with every sales contact. Without the proper execution of this single element, the world’s most exciting booth and sales staff will fail to produce any results at all.

To make this even easier, it’s a good idea to incorporate some kind of a promotion into your participation in the trade show itself — a reason to follow-up on every contact — and a reason for them to look forward to that follow up. Whether it is a free gift or in-situ demonstration, the reason for these follow-up visits is to keep the door open for future contacts and future sales.

Most importantly, use the time after the show to evaluate your efforts. What can you improve? Was the show worthwhile? Why? What will you do next year to achieve your goals? How will you adjust your expectations for next year?