For all those manufacturers that have spent many years and thousands of dollars to exhibit their building-products at trade shows around the United States … I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
Like any sensible human being, I’ll start with the bad: Trade shows might be one of the most inefficient ways possible to sell to architects. The good news is, there are new and improved ways to do the same thing in a much smarter way from the comfort of your office, including Source, Architizer’s new online marketplace for building-products. Before we get into that, though, you are no doubt skeptical of my bad news claim. Who am I to say trade shows are no good for marketing to architects?
Well, the reason for my assertion comes from personal experience — I am an architect, and I have attended countless trade shows. Despite my best efforts, I never get much out of them, aside from a few continuing education credits and a couple of free glasses of wine. That’s nothing to sniff at, of course, but it’s not really what successful manufacturers like yourselves want to hear.
The following 5 steps explain exactly why trade shows don’t work for manufacturers, from an architect’s perspective — and why the online alternative is so much more effective for connecting with today’s design professionals.
AIA Conference on Architecture, 2018; via AIA
1. Architects at trade shows are not actively specifying.
You’ve done everything right: You’ve created a kick-ass booth with tactile samples, you’ve gotten all your marketing materials printed on high-quality boards and you’ve staffed your stand with the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic reps at your company. As a result, an architect visits your booth, you talk through your products with them, you take their details — you have a lead! Everything seems to be going well. Afterward, though, everything changes.
You follow up with the architect, and they tell you they have a project for which your building-product might be a perfect fit — but it’s currently on hold due to a client’s budgetary issues. By the time they arrive at the specify stage, months have passed, and unless they have your business card tacked to their computer monitor, there is a strong chance they may have forgotten about your incredible sales pitch on the trade show floor. The fact is, the majority of architects walking a trade show are not actively looking for your product at that specific moment, making true lead generation all the more difficult.
2. Not all trade show leads are the leads you want.
On top of the time-lag issue described above, it is also a challenge to identify exactly how qualified each lead at a trade show actually is. You might manage to attract an architect who seems very interested in your building-product at an event, and they tell you they’ll keep you in mind when they come to specify their next project. The problem is, their next project is residential, and you sell products primarily for commercial buildings. Perhaps they are looking for a budget option, and you offer high-end solutions. One way or another, they are not as strong a lead as they first appeared.
While you are likely to identify some architects for whom you can provide a solution for, they do not walk around with a huge sign hung around their neck displaying the exact criteria of their project (sure, that would be helpful, but we architects are self-conscious at the best of times, so please don’t ask us to do this). On the other hand, product requests made through Architizer include all the information that manufacturers need to establish whether or not an opportunity has high potential for them. The trade show floor requires far more time and effort to get to the same point — and costs far more as a result.
AIA Conference on Architecture 2017; via RTM Associates
3. Architects are only there to get continuing education credits.
It’s common knowledge among architects that trade shows are a convenient way to rack up CEU credits needed to maintain their professional licenses. As Julia Ingalls pointed out on Archinect, “Many architects knock out all of their requirements at once by attending lectures at the annual AIA national convention.” The trouble is, when that is the primary reason that architects attend a trade show, they end up spending the majority of their time in seminars and then drinking at the bar afterward.
All too often this leaves the trade show floor empty, with many manufacturers’ representatives being left to talk among themselves. “The AIA has taken steps to get more traffic to the booths by placing a number of classrooms on the show floor,” building-product marketing expert Mark Mitchell says. “What I observed was architects walking across the show floor to get to the class and then leaving after the class without visiting any booths.” Needless to say, this behavior has the potential to make life pretty miserable for manufacturers who’ve spent their hard-earned money on floor space at the show.
4. Architects don’t want to be sold to.
Following on from the above, the fundamental problem with marketing to architects via trade shows is the same as it is with marketing to architects anywhere — architects hate being sold to. An architect’s number one goal is to fulfill the project brief for their client, so their priorities are different from your average consumer. They’re not interested in hearing why your product is better than your competitors, they just want you to help provide the solutions to their design challenges.
Herein lies another problem with the trade show set-up. However strong your booth installation is, you have no choice but to show your building-products out of context, while the architect wants to envisage how a product could be integrated into their highly site-specific project. Thankfully, you are able to gain access to each architect’s context at the outset, via the platform’s messaging system. It’s something that no amount of trade show booth demonstrations can provide.
AIA National Convention 2014; via Bradley BIM-Revit Resource Portal
5. Architects want to do their research online.
What don’t architects have much of? Time. This perpetual fact means they prefer doing searching for building-products online over going to trade shows, attending lunch and learns or going through hard-copy catalogues. A study by the AIA showed that 85 percent of architects use the internet as a primary source of information on products and materials, compared with only 59 percent that use trade shows for this purpose.
That may not seem like too much of a disparity, but when you consider the cost-per-lead in each scenario, the expense of setting up a trade show starts to look painfully high. Joe Sullivan, founder of industrial marketing agency Gorilla 76, asserts that websites favorably compare to trade shows for generating sales opportunities. By his estimates, companies can save approximately 60 percent on cost-per-lead by prioritizing an online strategy over trade shows.
So, there you have it — this is why trade shows suck. I’m not saying you should entirely abandon them, but these points reveal just why alternatives like Source are becoming increasingly relevant to today’s leading building-product manufacturers. Ultimately, manufacturers go to industry events to generate qualified leads and find new business. On this basis, they would be well-advised to look to the web rather than the trade show floor for their next sale.