What Drives Attendees to B2B Exhibits?


In football, a playbook is a notebook containing descriptions of all the plays and strategies used by a team. In the hands of CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, a playbook is all the notes attendees might take about their experiences at B2B exhibitions — starting with why they decided to come in the first place.

Absent of those notes, CEIR set out to survey attendees — drawn from a pool of 21 exhibition organizers in North America — earlier this year. A total of 3,719 attendees across 14 industry sectors participated in the in-depth survey. Their responses are recorded in the 2018 Attendee ROI Playbook, sponsored by the PCMA Education Foundation and the International Association of Exhibitions & Events (IAEE).

The Playbook is organized into a series of reports, called “fact sheets,” distributed weekly to the events industry. As this issue was going to press, four had been released, with several more in the pipeline. Here are top-line insights from each.

Fact Sheet One: Decision to Attend and Factors Driving Attendee ROI/Value

Marketing efforts need to be directed to individual prospective attendees, not just the person making the final decision. Personalization is vital since one in four attendees pay their own way, and 74 percent are very involved in the decision to attend.

Here’s why attendees say they attend B2B events:

Half of respondents said the ability to achieve multiple goals in a timely/cost-effective manner is the strongest ROI offered by the B2B exhibition channel. Yet, the way attendees evaluate the outcome of attending an exhibition is mostly subjective, with 82 percent saying that they alone are involved in the evaluation process. Here’s how they determine the value of attending: 48% informal; 41% no process at all; 10% formal process.

Fact Sheet Two: B2B Exhibitions Top-Ranked for Value in Meeting Business Information & Purchasing Decision Needs

On average, business professionals who attend B2B exhibitions also rely primarily on a number of other information sources for business information and purchasing-decision needs:

When asked to rank the value of information sources used primarily to meet their business information and purchasing-decision needs, B2B exhibitions and communications with vendors and suppliers are neck and neck for attendees’ top choice. However, when combining their top two ways to meet these needs, B2B exhibitions prevail as the most valued information source — 57% vs. 41% for communications with vendors and suppliers.

Fact Sheet Three: Pre-planning and Tracking Activities — Impact on Perceived ROI/Value of Attending

The net promoter score (NPS) is a popular customer loyalty metric that calculates the likelihood of a respondent recommending the exhibition to a colleague on a 0- to 10-point scale. Those attendees that had spent time planning how they would experience the exhibition before they got on site had a higher NPS. Ninety percent of attendees said they pre-plan, as follows:

The takeaway for event organizers is to encourage attendees to preplan so that they come to the event with a good idea of what they hope to accomplish, by providing pre-event planning and activity tracking tools on their website, mobile apps, and other resources.

Those activities with the most impact are:

  • badge scans for product information
  • notes from education sessions attended
  • business cards of
  • exhibitors met
  • product literature collected
  • exhibit booths visited

93% of respondents also use tracking tools on site, which reinforce their experiences, and also positively influence NPS scores.

Fact Sheet Four: Attendance Today and 2019-2020 Outlook

Respondents said they attended an average of four exhibitions in the past two years, and more than half plan to attend the same number of events in the next two years. Twenty-five percent plan to increase the number of events they attend in 2019 and 2020, primarily because they will be taking on new or expanding job responsibilities that entail attending B2B exhibitions.

10% said they are unsure how many exhibitions they will attend in the future, due to uncertainty of funding and whether their job responsibilities will require attending. And the nine percent that expect their attendance to go down over the next two years attributed that to thinking that attending B2B exhibitions fails to meet their business needs or their organizations are cutting back on funding their attendance.

1 IN 5 attendees identified ways they would like to see B2B exhibitions improved to enhance the value of attending. Chief among them are more products relevant to their business needs, and booths staffed by more engaging and knowledgeable professionals. In terms of educational content, the largest percentage said that the sessions were not relevant to their business, with a smaller number looking for more hands-on demonstrations and more engaging formats — roundtables, workshops, brainstorming, and collaborative approaches. A key takeaway for organizers: “Strategic planning for the next edition of an event should always include an assessment of how well-aligned event content was to attendee needs and expectations.”

Download the Fact Sheets in the Attendee ROI Playbook Series, free of charge, at ceir.org.