Food shows have been around for many years in various forms. From large, extravagant multi-day shows to intimate events in creative venues, each distributor has produced their events with unique objectives in mind. The metrics of successful shows have included increased sales, improved customer goodwill, and that all-important bottom line number: vendor income.  

The 80’s and 90’s were the golden age of food shows, where vendors invested money to participate in the show and provide rebates to the distributor’s customers. Distributors enjoyed the overflow of vendor cash to fund their events, and set aside a portion of the money as marketing income. Since 2000, a great deal has changed with the way vendors fund distributor marketing programs. 

Today, most marketing programs are fixed based on the percentage of distributor purchases. Extra money has dried up and with it, the cash flow that marketing managers once used to fund their events. At the same time, the reasons that customers attend food shows have shifted. Rebates for existing business have declined and that cash reward for coming to the show has diminished. Smart operators can still get deals, but the overall the attitude of show attendees is now focused on discovering new products and better ways to operate their restaurants.

Sales and Leads

Food shows are still about selling, but the sales cycle has shifted, with operators increasingly focused on education, new ideas, and new products. Over the last three years, among the shows that we help manage, there is an average of 15% to 25% in new business sales, but often times a significant number of new case sales happen after the show. These additional new case sales originate at events, but as leads rather than bookings. This is a key difference. 

Operators learn about new products at the show but often want to test them in their own kitchens before completing an order. This has slowed down the sales process, but when a change is made it tends to stick.

Distributors focused only on show day numbers can overlook the real selling opportunities that occur in the two weeks following the show.

We call this “Lost Leads Syndrome”.

Before an event, distributors make a tremendous effort to convince operators to attend and buy products, but more often than not neglect to collect the information that operators want to provide regarding their desires and expectations for after the show. Leads either go to a broker or manufacturer’s rep, or are missed completely because there wasn’t a targeted way for the customer to communicate their interest. Every one of these lost leads is a missed opportunity for the distributor to close additional sales and improve their average drop size in the account.

Today’s restaurateur is comfortable using a variety of methods to communicate with distributor about their needs and wants. At a food show you have a wonderful opportunity to gather valuable information from your customers; the challenge is just how to collect it and then convert it into actionable sales activity.

So, as a distributor, you are now at a crossroads: Do you continue to settle for less vendor income and fewer sales, or do you make more of your leads post-event? 

You know the answer already.

A New Marketing Paradigm

Making more of your leads requires you to examine your tactics. First, you’ll need to determine how to fund better leads technology. Second, you’ll have to decide how to make leads data work for your business. 
Traditionally distributors have held on tightly to their customer information, allowing brokers and manufacturer’s representatives access on a limited basis. And that approach that worked well in the pre-information age. Today, there are so many ways to gather and store information for field sales forces (brokers) that a distributor is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.

There is more information leaking through than you can possibly control, and trying to control it is simply counterproductive. 

Instead, think about forming partnerships with brokers and manufactures’ reps for food show leads. This will allow them do their job while you manage the results. This strategy changes the funding game, too, because now they are buying access to leads that they get to keep. 

We’ve found that distributors have manufacturers and brokers that are willing to pay for a service like this independent the normal marketing program, through other streams in the their organization.

Once the funding is addressed, the next thing to tackle is data management. Again, this will require a change of perspective. Traditionally at food shows, when a customer visits a booth, the broker or exhibitor takes a lead with our Data Connect point-of-sale system or a simple pen and paper. Leads on paper are a black hole for a distributor because they’re often lost, never followed up on, or eventually given to a competitor. And our point-of-sale system, while effective, falls under a distributor’s traditional marketing program funding in most cases. 

But now that most of your customers have web-enabled smartphones, there are new ways to collect leads at your events. Instead of relying on booth staff to manage lead collection, you can now get actionable insights directly from customers using a web app. Because they are customer-generated, these leads are significantly more valuable than traditional leads. Whereas traditional leads may reflect what a broker or rep wants to sell, attendee-generated leads are more likely to reflect what an attendee actually wants to buy. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to convert these attendee-generated leads into sales.

Show Expert Mobile Leads

Data Connect has made gathering and tracking leads with smartphones easy. Using a web app, attendees scan QR codes in vendor booths to retrieve detailed information about products. We track all of their activity in the app, including when meetings are scheduled, contact is requested, and email addresses are collected. The tracking allows you and your brokers to see exactly how customers are interacting with information on the show floor. 

What sets our service apart from other lead retrieval systems is our ability to connect leads data from the show to your sales activity after the show. Just send us your orders data and we will analyze it against your leads. We can do this once or throughout your entire shipping period. This gives you a better way to track the performance of sales calls and measure close rates by brokers and their sales teams.  

Your traditional food show sales cycle probably ended the minute you closed the doors at your show. But with a fresh approach and a stronger emphasis on leads, your events can continue to pay out long after they are over.

Wrapping Up

If you’ve stopped doing ordering shows or food shows in general, we encourage you to consider whether you are taking full advantage of potential marketing opportunities in this new foodservice economy. After all, the foodservice business is still about listening to customers and providing them with the products and services that they need to be successful. Strategic events can help you to understand those desires better and respond to them faster than your competition.

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