How can a HR vendor standout in a sea of competition? #SHRM19

Just flying back from the SHRM National Conference. This SHRM conference was the biggest ever. Over 20,000 HR and TA pros and leaders all in one location. Thousands of others from vendors and support staff. It was a bit crazy and awesome all at the same time.

When you go into the expo of SHRM National (and other giant conferences like the HR Technology Conference in Vegas in October) it can be a bit overwhelming. Not only for the attendees but for the vendors as well. How the heck are you supposed to connect with the people you want? Both sides, by the way, have this problem.

Vendors only want to connect with a small segment of those attending, their actual buyers. Attendees also only want to connect with a small segment within the expo, those products, and services they actually have a need for. The current design of expos at large conferences doesn’t help either side.

Do you know why Home Depot and Lowes build across the street from each other? If someone wants to buy home repair type of items it makes it super convenient for them to be so close. One location doesn’t have what you need, the other might and it’s right across the street.

What if expos put all the same types of tech within the same areas? Need a recruiting tool? Go over to the Recruiting section of the expo and you can see all of the products, solutions, and vendors in one place. Need performance management tech, go over to the performance management selection area, etc.

Seems like this would actually be a better design for both sides, yet we don’t do this because of traditional sales strategies of the conference community. How much are you willing to pay for prime spots and how long have you been coming? Thus we end up with this scatter blot of an expo floor with people wandering around aimlessly collecting bad swag.

I don’t think any conference will change anytime soon, but sometimes you just have to throw out ideas to the universe and see what happens.

So, how can you stand out in a world of expo chaos?

  1. You can’t just sit in your booth and wait for people to find you. Hire some “interns” for the week and have them moving around the expo dressed up in a way people will take notice and want to find your booth.
  2. Give an email, direct mail offer so enticing that people have to show up to your booth. Come to our booth, do a 20-minute demo, and we’ll give you a $25 gift card to whatever. People who aren’t interested in you will not waste twenty minutes for $25 bucks so the lead gen is good and cheap.
  3. Zig when others are zagging. You can have the most expensive, and brightest booth on the planet or you can do something totally different. I’ve seen companies just put down astroturf and fill it with puppies and their space was full all day. I have an idea that you could go buy a bunch of really high-end women’s shoes. Shoes that every woman is interested in trying on, but in reality could never afford. You basically use your booth a shoe store, but you aren’t selling them, you’re just giving them the experience of trying them on and seeing if they would actually want these for real, without the stress of going into these high-end stores. Your salespeople turn into old-school shoe salespersons and have great conversations. In the end, the women trying on shoes can register to win the shoes they like the most. You would have a line into your booth for the entire show. (partner with Zappos or something and probably can get the shoes at cost for the try-on experience)
  4. Celebrity guest and photo opportunity. You would be amazed at how cheap you can get someone to come to your booth for an hour. Again, partner this with an ‘if you demo, you get to get your photo at the meet and greet” of this celebrity. It might cost you another $10-20K, but if that turns into an additional 200 demos, you win! We are in a world where we are all enamored by celebrities.
  5. Make it extremely clear what you do. I can walk by 90% of booths and have absolutely no idea what you do and why I would want to buy your product. In big expo environments, less than 10% of the audience is your potential buyer, so you can’t miss anyone, and if one of those buyers walks past your booth because it’s not 100% clear what you do, you lost. No, we don’t know your brand. Just tell us!

I know you already spend a tremendous amount getting the booth, the swag, and having your entire team travel out to the event, but if you don’t attract buyers, all of that expense is just a waste! In expo lead gen, you are either all in or you’re just burning a giant pile of cash.

The best booth experience is one where you are only attracting the buyers you want and not spending half your time handing out stuffed animals to people who don’t know you and will never buy your stuff. I know it’s a risk not doing what everyone else is doing, but great marketing is risky.

6 thoughts on “How can a HR vendor standout in a sea of competition? #SHRM19

  1. Yes, but.

    Those ideas are great for getting people to come to your booth, really great. However, those of us who are truly interested in discussing the product, getting answers, and having a conversation beyond what can be found on a company website, shouldn’t encounter a long line around the booth with no one to actually talk to.

    Too many times, I’ve searched for a vendor only to find a line of people trying to get the coolest stuff on the expo floor and my attempts to capture (and keep) the attention of a staff member leaves me frustrated. Inevitably, I walk away from the booth.

    I usually give the vendor another chance, hoping the crowds will have dispersed, but often I encounter the same lines so, again, walk away.

    Last year at SHRM, I was on a mission. I wanted to learn everything I could about specific vendors, as we were ready to get serious with new TA tools. I was able to corner each of the vendors and have an in-depth conversation about their tools, except for one. That one vendor had a giveaway after a mandatory video, so there was always a long line. I tried to talk with the staff but kept being referred to the end of the line to watch the video. Finally, I stood in the line (hate wasting time standing in a line at a conference, but that’s another topic), and slowly made my way up to the black curtain. I was then whisked inside, along with a dozen of my closest friends, the lights went down, and a slick, well-crafted show began. The lights went up, I was ushered out, asked to indicate my reaction to the video on an iPad held by a perky young man, and when I asked to speak further with someone about the tool, I was handed a t-shirt and told that since my badge had been scanned, someone would be in touch.

    Really? I just wanted 10 minutes alone with a vendor to ask some questions.

    So, yes, give me a reason to stop at your booth, hand me swag, sign me up for a possibility to win something cool, give me a memorable experience, but please make one or two of your staff available (readily and obviously available) to answer questions/have a conversation, away from the maddening crowds.

    Just my two cents.

  2. If exhibition agency could use proper aps and good color codes for vendor the complexity for platform vendors decrease heavily – but most even don´t use color codes for vistors by buyer, vender, consultants, trainer or student…there are lots of ways apps can help to create a proper agenda and lots of onsite elements helping to create visibility

  3. “What if expos put all the same types of tech within the same areas? Need a recruiting tool? Go over to the Recruiting section of the expo and you can see all of the products, solutions, and vendors in one place. Need performance management tech, go over to the performance management selection area, etc.”

    Sounds like a good idea, but it would be hard — and is getting harder — to execute. So many platforms and solutions are increasingly harder to put in a box. Categories keep getting hazier. Indeed, a question so many vendors struggle with is: “What category do we fit into?”

    • Vadim –

      You are right, but at least they could choose, or even choose to be present in two or more areas. BambooHR was smart at SHRM – they put a big booth on the main floor, then also had a small booth in the back with more of the SMB players. Big and stealthy all at once.

  4. I heard tell of a booth at an accounting conference that was giving away free botox injections! Apparently had lines of people waiting the entire conference!

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