If knowledge is power, communication is king
There was a time when I knew a lot more about the products I was selling than my customers who were buying them. After all, I was the one who had done the training courses, visited the manufacturers and spent time handling the merchandise. The customers would rely on me giving them the information they needed to make an informed decision. I had spent the best part of forty years as a salesman, with the upper hand in the knowledge stakes.
I guess it was about five years ago that I realised my world was changing, primarily as a result of the internet. In my role as managing director of the Production Printing division at Danwood I started to see that despite all the training and education that our sales team enjoyed, when the visited their customers it was not product knowledge that the customers wanted, they already had that, it was the financial package and commercial terms that was the immediate focus of attention.
What had crept up on us was the access to knowledge from a myriad of sources that our customers enjoyed through the internet. Firstly there were manufacturers web sites with full features, functions and benefits laid out clearly. There were brochures that customers could download. Increasingly there were videos of the products in action and with the arrival of social media there were blogs that gave the views, both positive and negative, of other users of the equipment. Never before had there been so much information available to potential customers contemplating an investment in new equipment.
Today that growing knowledge bank is available 24/7 and it is constantly updated by manufacturers, suppliers and users. These days there is no excuse for a purchaser to tell a salesperson that they had not fully understood what was on offer and no excuse for a salesperson to be ignorant of their own and their competitor’s products.
Which brings me to the function of shows such as Drupa and Ipex? In their heyday they served the same purpose as the internet. They were the place to go to get the product information, compare rival manufacturers products and meet other users, satisfied or otherwise. With the internet taking over that function, what purpose do they serve today? Why would a potential buyer go to the expense of getting to Dusseldorf or Docklands, giving up a day or more of their precious time when they can sit in their office and with a trawl of the internet prepare themselves to do battle with competing sales people? If we don’t have the answer to that question, we won’t have the shows. Decreasing attendance in recent years has made the job of the exhibition organisers in getting manufacturers to dig deep into marketing budgets a much harder task.
I would propose that there is one fundamental reason why the big events should continue and that is to do with human nature. Meeting people, socialising, debating, questioning and social intercourse is still a basic human function that none of us can really do without. The broader the range of human beings you can do it with, the richer the experience that you gain. I spent two weeks in May, besieged on the Landa stand at Drupa with people desperate to find out what the fuss was all about and in doing so broadened my understanding of other people’s needs and wants in a way that would have been impossible on an iPad or smartphone. I came away with different ideas, ways to do things and objectives for the future as a result of physical interaction with other human beings.
So the challenge to the exhibition and event organisers is to accept that fact that the internet has destroyed the original reason for their existence and to create an environment that will entice and enable industry professionals from all over the world to meet face to face and participate in one of the basic human functions – communication.
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