If you follow me online, you know I’m not a big fan of trade shows for building materials companies. One of my biggest issues is the amount of money companies spend on just two and a half days of selling.
Moreover, a large number of your customers or prospects don’t even attend the trade show. Only a small percentage of the show attendees will actually stop at your booth. And most of those are current customers, not the new customers you should be pursuing.
Your Customers Are Buying 365 Days a Year
When I ask a company why they don’t improve their online marketing to reach people on a year-round basis, they tell me they don’t have the budget. I ask how much they spend on a trade show and bingo, there’s usually more than enough money right there.
Instead of spending tens of thousands or more on a trade show just to get 100 to 200 leads, why not spend that same money in a way that can deliver 100 to 200 leads every month?
One way is to improve your website, SEO, content, social media and marketing automation.
Another way that I have always been curious about is taking your show on the road. What if you took your trade show to the customer? What if you could see customers in a different city each week?
When I go to trade shows, I frequently see building materials companies that traveled there in a van, a trailer, an RV or even a semi. The rest of the year, that vehicle could be taking the company’s message to the customers all over the country.
I’ve seen mobile showrooms that can be used with architects, designers, and owners. A lunch and learn on your turf has to be a lot more effective.
I’ve seen vehicles used for contractor and installer training.
A simple trailer like this.
Can turn into a mini trade show like this.
Here’s what I like about them:
- You can reach more customers
- It’s working for you 52 weeks a year
- You take it to the customer
- You can present products and show more of them than a rep can carry around
- You can develop more effective presentations or demonstrations
- Supports your reps, dealers and distributors on a local basis
- A reason to focus on your products
- “Come to the Ajax Products Contractor Event at Ace Distributors on Wednesday”
- Everyone will work hard to make it a great event
- Limited time offer that the customer has to act on (“If I want to see this, it’s only to be here on this day”)
- Unique and Special
- Your competition probably doesn’t have a mobile presentation vehicle
The first thing Travis taught me is that they’re not called Mobile Showrooms, Product Demonstration or Training Vehicles. They’re called Experiential Marketing Event Vehicles.
I have always been curious about the how, what, why, where and how much of a vehicle program. So, I went to an expert, Travis LeFever, VP, Sales & Marketing of SPEVCO, to answer some of my questions – and hopefully yours, too.
My first question was:
“Why should a building materials company have an experiential marketing event vehicle?”
Before you read Travis’s answer, I have to warn you that you are about to be sold! Travis is such an unabashed fan of these vehicles that he can’t help himself.
Here goes Travis!
“I’ve always wondered why every company doesn’t have a vehicle. Besides aaaall the great reasons you mentioned above, let me lay out the business case.
You said “More customers.”
Before we can say more, you have to know the baseline. How many sales conversations does a typical sales rep generate?
I’ve owned 5 businesses and managed salespeople my entire career and I’d say a typical rep (not a good rep, but a typical rep) has 2 sales conversations a day. I’d be surprised if they hit 8 per week, after taking off Monday morning and Friday afternoon. If he maybe works 48 weeks a year after vacation and holidays, he’s generating fewer than 400 sales conversations each year. If you have 5 reps, that’s 2,000 sales convos per year. There’s our baseline.
Now, what can a salestruckson (sales+truck+person) generate? A standard experiential marketing tour working 3 days a week will generate 50 sales conversations per show, for a total of 150 per week. It will run about 40 weeks per year….. Generating… wait for it…. 6,000 sales conversations.
You said “You take it to the customer.“ That’s almost right – you take it to the customer’s neighborhood and 50-100 customers come to you. When’s the last time you hugged 100 customers in an afternoon? I’ll bet you a paycheck the answer is a quiet, whispered “Never, Travis.” Unless you have a specialty marketing vehicle and a great game plan to leverage it.
Hey look, you’re right – that is more!
How many sales folks would you need to do that?
Let’s see; I’m not a mathematician but… 6,000 / 400 = 15.
Fifteen – one-five – salesy-salespeople.
A year – and I don’t know about you, but if I pay a rep $80,000 and travel him around, pay him insurance and a car, send him to shows and conferences, I’m easily spending $150K per rep easily… oh snap! That’s over $2 million per year to get that level of sales conversions.
What does it cost to run an experiential marketing tour for 40 weeks? Less than $500K. Sometimes a lot less; we have Starter Programs for the dip-your-toe brands. We prove your ROI in the first 6 or 12 months, then let you turn up as high and hot as you want after that.
You said “Effective presentations.”
I always love this. You want to hear a Brand Manager, a VP of Marketing, or a VP of Sales gasp out loud? Ask him, “When’s the last time you actually heard your sales rep make a pitch twice in a row?” Again, I bet you a dollar to a donut it’s “Never, Travis.” They might do one ride-along, or two, but months or even years apart. My point is: I had no idea what my folks were saying to the clients.
I would spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours developing the perfect messaging and the perfect stories and the perfect pitch, train up my folks and send them out into the wild. Guess what? They aren’t telling it like you want them to. They are ad libbing, making adjustments on the fly, highlighting what they think is important to the client and skipping about 90% of what you so carefully prepared.
Here’s what I love about trucks – are you ready? Get your pad. Write this word down: Consistency. It’s a simple word. It means every time a client walks into your mobile exhibit, he or she is following a carefully defined path through your brand story. They are encountering emotion-generating display stations, seeing images, hearing sounds that collectively are thousands of times more impactful to the human brain than another boring-ass sales pitch by your boring-ass sales rep. It makes me shudder to think of all the people every day, who across the country, are being forced to spend their days walking into a contractor’s office with a brochure or stupid bag of donuts trying to “develop a relationship.” It’s a waste of time, money, and human potential.
They could be, instead, walk in with a fancy invitation for their clients, inviting their staff to a fun and exciting event where they can engage with the rep, a regional exec, be immersed in the brand culture, learn about the people who are making this brand tick, learn from other customers – the whole thing.
You said “Focused Enthusiasm”
Let me share what I feel, then what we’ve found. Keep reading – I’m landing the plane.
What I feel is that any sales rep in their right mind wants, needs, has to have something exciting to set them apart from their competition. Every one of them wants, needs, has to have a REASON to see the client, otherwise – watch this – they’re just interrupting the client’s day, and trying to sell.
No one likes that. Clients don’t like it, reps don’t like it. They hate it so bad most of them will subconsciously avoid it (we are wired to repeat things that bring us pleasure and avoid things that make us uncomfortable or cause physical or emotional pain.)
Do you know what that looks like? On the client side: “I’m busy. Maybe next week.” On the rep side: “I left him a message. He hasn’t returned my call.”
Here’s what I’ve found: there is no “forced enthusiasm.” Reps love them – gives them that golden reason for their client to talk to them. They are offering the three F’s – free food, fun, and… more fun. They line up because they know they’ll have an easy conversation about a new product, an old product, or how to expand the business. None of those conversations happen across a desk. That’s what I’ve found. Reps love this.
The only person you might wear out is your district guy if you make him coordinate all the events in his region for 60 or 90 days straight. But we’ve figured out how to help you with that, so no worries.
I’ll leave you with this: most sales and marketing people are looking for a way to move the needle across a channel or product line. A 1, 5, 10% increase will keep you from getting fired, but it isn’t getting you promoted. Let me show you this calculation that keeps getting people around us promoted:
Your Average Sale x Your Average Purchase Frequency x Your Client Lifespan = Customer Lifetime Value
Example: If your average sale is $1,000, your client purchases 3x per year, and buys from you for 3 years, that’s a $9,000 Client Lifetime value ($1,000 x 3 x 3).
If your 5 reps from above are generating 2,000 sales conversations (highly unlikely, I’d say but whatever), 50% end up Market Qualified, 50% of those end up Sales Qualified and then you close at a 25% close rate, you end up with 125 deals.
Your reps closing 125 deals x $9,000 CLV has generated $1,125,000 in revenue – more if you can retain that business or expand it.
If you’re in this for a Merger and Acquisition play, you may have a multiple on your revenue of 5-10, saying your 5 reps are generating between $6-12M in Enterprise Value each year.
With one salestruckson, the same conversion rates generates 6,000 sales conversations, 3,000 Market-qualified leads, 1,500 Sales-qualified leads, and 375 deals. It’s a different story.
375 deals x $9,000 CLB generates $3,375,000 in revenue – more if you can retain that business or expand it.
That’s a 300% increase. If we play the M&A game with the multiples the same, it’s generating $20-30M in Enterprise Value per year for a $500,000K investment.
We’ve already established those 5 reps cost you $100K each – the same $500K you’d spend on a mobile campaign.
So I ask again: who wouldn’t want an experiential marketing vehicle?”
Wow! As you can see, Travis really is passionate about this subject. I also like the way he lays out the financial case for these vehicles. With the many different challenges and objectives building materials companies face, though, his examples may not work for your situation.
You may not be directly tying dollar sales to every sales interaction. But whatever your goal, I think you can adapt Travis’s financial approach to see if one of these vehicles may be a good idea for you.
I Had Some More Questions
Q: How about staffing? Who drives the semi?
We staff it, and the company supplements for events if you want to.
We provide operators and insurance and maintenance-free agreements – turnkey.
Q: Do you buy or lease the vehicle?
You can buy or lease. That’s a strategic decision that depends more on 1) how long you want to commit to the campaign and 2) their CFO and how they look at the investment.
Buying gives you residual value and the ability to recover 60-75% of their investment after the tour is over by reselling the unit either back to us, to another brand, an agency or a broker.
Leasing is clean and risk-free.
Q: How do you set up or learn how to schedule and promote it? Do you have to add a person just to manage the vehicle?
We help you plan schedule and events. You can add a person if you want to be super involved, but many don’t have dedicated tour managers. We perform that role.
We also consult on strategy and the customer experience (i.e. what interactions their prospects have with the exhibit and what message they carry away).
Q: How long do these programs run?
We recommend a three-year cycle. Year 1 is buy and launch. It’s new, everyone wants to see it. Year 2, it’s still newish and you target a different group of people or events.
Along the way, you capture what you’ve learned in Year 1 and Year 2 and plan a “refresh”: new displays, new graphics, new product mix.
Year 3 you repeat the tour, mixing schedule to hit the most promising and profitable events you hit in Years 1 and 2.
Q: How about the ongoing maintenance of the experience space in the vehicle? I assume the driver keeps it clean, but what about things replacing worn-out carpeting, upholstery, items that customers touch and feel? Is this a once a year thing or is it more frequent?
Between shows, we sanitize and polish. We mop and glow the floors, wipe down all the fingerprints, straighten up any print collateral, shine the chrome, wash the truck and trailer.
We also handle miscellaneous maintenance items. We’ll replace light bulbs or tighten loose door handles on the road as part of the pre-show inspection, or bigger things on a “fixer.” That’s just a work order for the shop to send a part, or if it’s not obvious maybe correct it during an off-week back at the shop.
Things don’t typically wear out. Maybe the flooring as part of the third-year refresh when we redo all the displays and graphics.
We don’t use carpet, typically, for that reason. We use laminate floors or commercial rubber floors like you’ll see at a convention center or airport. Made for high traffic. People often forget we own a lot of these units ourselves and don’t charge clients for any repairs, which means the better materials we use and higher quality workmanship that goes into them, the less they cost us over time to maintain.
Q: Any other suggestions?
A lot of people try to pump up the value by using advertising metrics like “impressions” while it’s driving or parked, but I think that’s B.S.
I’m much more focused on the value of media content you can produce and then reuse for years from a campaign like this, if you’ve got an eye for that kind of stuff. Social media, PR releases, sizzle reels, product demos, live customer testimonials, candid executive interviews, supporting good causes or giving back to communities. Put a good videographer on the road and it’s gold.
Have You Ever Considered a Vehicle Program?
I’m glad I looked into this subject as I’ve always been curious about how these programs work, how much they cost and what benefits they bring. I hope you have also learned more and are better able to consider whether a vehicle program is right for you.
To me, it’s about finding ways to improve the results of your sales and marketing on a year-round basis.
Please share your experiences with vehicles and any other questions you may have.