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Harriette Bettis-Outland, PhD's Articles

CRM Integration

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A traditional view of trade shows is that they represent a promotional tool used by companies to show off their wares, generate sales, acquire new prospects, and as a way to remind current customers of the unique value proposition offered by the firm. Trade shows also serve as an opportunity for industry players to enhance their image, rub shoulders with alliance partners and industry analysts, as well as take a sneak peek at what the competition has been up to.

The recent negative economic environment has caused organizations to take a closer look at trade show costs and determine a way to better justify trade show involvement. Trade show expenses typically range from 10-25% of the marketing budget, second only to sales expenses. Despite this large investment, most organizations lack a formal or consistent way to measure benefits of trade show participation.

The number of new customer leads is a common method utilized to measure trade show success; unfortunately it is rare that these leads are followed up on. However, a strong CRM orientation, lead by company executives and senior management, can provide the vehicle needed to inspire trade show participants to better manage new contact and industry information acquired at trade shows. Just as important, a CRM orientation encourages trade show participants to make strides towards solidifying and enhancing relationships with current clients and alliance partners.

Trade shows are one of the most cost-effective ways to reach a large pre-screened audience; and, even though promotions play a major role in trade show participation, the opportunity for relationship-building offers more long-term benefits. Customers may be impressed with your new products and services; however, there is also a good chance that your competitors are impressed too, and, consequently may be tempted to imitate your innovations. Nonetheless, when there are strong relational bonds between a firm and its customers, the trust and commitment that are inherent in this type of relationship can act as a shield to prevent, or at least minimize customer attrition when comparable alternatives are available.

The emphasis in this paper is on the management of customer relationships. CRM (or Customer Relationship Management) represents a strategic method that is being adopted by many organizations in an effort to enhance their competitive advantage. Managing customer relationships is critical due to greater expectations for firms to communicate and collaborate with customers in order to better understand customer needs and desires. This is being made possible in large part due to tremendous CRM technological improvements, along with significant decreases in the cost of this technology.

Though originally conceived as a type of technology, CRM has evolved into an enterprise-wide philosophy of maximizing customer value by placing the customer, rather than a product or service, at the center of business decisions. This shift from a product-centric to a customer-centric focus requires the use of new tools for understanding and predicting customer preferences and behavior. It also requires an enterprise to re-examine its organizational structure and processes.

Technology tools that are used to implement CRM strategy were originally developed for use in marketing research, relational database development, customer contact centers, email, and campaign management. Starting in the 1990’s these disparate technical components were merged together to form what has since been referred to as CRM technology systems. Even though many industry leaders believe that CRM strategy should dictate which type of technology tools will be used to implement this strategy, the typical scenario is that the firm already has a technology foundation in place, so that in fact, CRM strategy is often modified to fit the technology that is currently installed. This is particularly true with established firms that continue to maintain a tremendous amount of customer data in mainframe (or legacy) systems.

A major component of CRM strategy is the development of a two-way dialog between the company and its clients. Two-way communication is important because it gives the firm a chance to obtain feedback from customers, and by acting on these customer suggestions the company will likely create more innovative products and services. Two-way communication can occur face-to-face as in a retail store or on a sales call. Two-way communication is also possible by visiting the company’s website, blogs, chat rooms, Facebook, and other forms of social media. Recognizing that face-to-face is typically the most desirable communication venue (particularly in B2B relationships), one of the most cost efficient methods for two-way communication and collaboration is at trade shows.

In a 3 or 4-day period, the amount of collaboration between the company, its customers and other stakeholders at trade shows is often much more rewarding both strategically and financially compared to other means of customer interaction. If you want to get the most out of your trade show investments, then CRM is a must.

© 2016 by Harriette Bettis Outland, PhD