The Conference and Hospitality Show will be taking place in Leeds on the 26th April. Emma Cartmell, managing director of show organisers CHS Group discusses the pros and cons of inviting customers to an exhibition:

Recently I attended a master class for exhibitors, organised by Facetime and supported by Centaur, organisers of The Meetings Show. At the event, the panel debated with the audience whether or not exhibitors should invite their own customers to a trade show where they are exhibiting.

It was an interested debate and one that I feel strongly about. People often cite that it’s the organiser’s job to get people to a show (which of course it is) and if they invite their own customers they will just be exposing them to the competition.

I really question this approach, and ask those companies: Have you ever considered that your customers are already known by your competition? Any customer worth their salt (or with access to Google) already knows who your competition is too. If they want to go to the competition they will. If you don’t invite your customers, the chances are your competition will and then they have got the upper hand in the relationship. Your customer ponders over your competitors invitation whilst wondering why their own supplier didn’t invite them.

I do believe that it is the organiser’s role to create an event that attracts visitors and therefore new customers, but clever exhibitors know that a show gives them a great opportunity to network with existing customers too. We all know that people attend exhibitions in order to network with their peers, discuss their opinions and maybe even ask about their supplier choices and preferences. So, if you invite your customers, then you will have created a group of advocates at the show to help spread the word about how amazing your company and services are.

If time is an issue, consider how many people can you realistically see in one day anyway? There will always be some down time so what better way to better connect with your customers, and spend time to introduce them to other people in the company too. Use the time to introduce them to other products and services that you have, what’s new and find out if there’s other ways in which you can help them.

You have probably worked hard to get that customer so don’t be complacent, don’t assume that they are yours for life. Customer relationships aren’t static, they need to be nurtured, and exhibitions give you a brilliant platform to do it in person. A 30 minute chat over coffee with a couple of clients at their offices could take you all day, so meeting them at an exhibition gives you a great time saving.

So don’t ask yourself if you can afford to risk inviting customers; ask if you can afford not to.

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