Business-to-business (B2B) marketing is one of the most underestimated and under-researched fields in marketing. Due to the unique characteristics of B2B markets, the emphasis has always been on one-on-one communication between the seller and the buyer. This means that in the communication mix, elements such as personal selling and trade shows play an important role in the selling and marketing of a business product and the accompanying services.
There is an indication that there will be a growth in the trade-show industry, as well as in B2B marketing. There is also an element of uncertainty on the role of personal selling, and more specifically, the sales process at trade shows. Previous studies focused on the general activities at trade shows; but none focused on the sales process that is interlinked with trade shows. Therefore, an explorative study was done to determine the role of the sales process at trade shows; so as to guide exhibitors on what to do when exhibiting.
A number of studies (Godar & O`Conner, 2007; Gopalakrishna & Lilian, 1992 and Sharland & Balogh, 1996) pointed to the role that trade shows plays in the buying task and buying stages of attendees at trade shows. In these studies the findings indicated that trade shows do not play such an important role throughout the whole of the buying process of attendees. However, studies by Bresler (2009) and Keswell (2010) pointed to the importance of trade shows in South Africa. Smith, Gopalakrishna and Smith (1999) indicated that trade shows play a major role in attendees moving through the buying process and therefore relates to the faster completion of the sales process resulting in better personal selling efficiency. This study contributes to the before mentioned studies by indicating specific actions in the selling process this can help exhibitors to improve the buying process. The findings of this study can assist the trade show industry to provide guidelines for exhibitors. A multi-stage sample plan was followed; and a self-administered questionnaire was used to gather the data for the study from exhibitors at trade shows. To establish the factors of the stages of the sales process at trade shows, a Principal factor analysis with Varimax rotation that is explorative in nature was done. A further investigation was done for the sales process on the differences regarding (a) salespeople versus non-salespeople; (b) the type of trade show and (c) the business operations of exhibitors were assessed by means of an ANOVA, t-test, and MANOVA.
The findings depict the various factors that make up the different stages of the sales process during the pre- and at-show stage of a trade show. Firstly, the business actions of exhibitors were investigated that included a number of elements such as: trade-show marketing; written objectives; trade-show evaluation and plan, staff improvement, new product and non-financial success to name a few. Thereafter, the stages of sales process at trade shows were investigated. The first stage dealt with pre-show marketing activities used to attract attendees to the trade show indicated two factors: direct communication and promotional elements. The second stage on the at-show marketing activities used to attract attendees to the business exhibit stand at the trade show comprised two factors: trade-show sponsorship and promotional tools. The third stage deals with the sales presentation at a trade show; and it had four factors that were identified, namely: presentation methods; presentation actions; approach method and questions approach. The fourth stage dealt with objections experienced; and two factors were indentified: manifested objections, and latent objections. The fifth stage deals with dealing with objections; the factors identified included standard-objection solutions and product-objection solutions. The last stage dealt with the closing methods; and two factors were identified: typical closing and product closing.
Differences were identified between sales and non-sales persons for "presentation methods", "presentation actions" and "question approach". All of these factors deal with actions during the sales presentation. Non-sales exhibit staff in many cases does not have the experience that sales persons of the business have, especially on how to communicate during the sales presentation. Sales staff will also be more aware of the different sales methods and how to use these methods in different sales situations. From the findings what is of concern is that both sales and non-sales staff indicate that they do not really make use of closing methods to close the sale.
Regarding the type of trade shows (international, national or regional) there were no differences for pre-show marketing activities, at-show marketing activities, the sales presentation and closing method used for the stages of the sales process there were no differences. These findings are very interesting; since for elements, such as the marketing activities before and at the trade show, one would assume that different approaches would be applied. International trade shows would, for example, rely more on electronic and mass-promotional mix elements; since it is not possible for their sales staff to visit all the possible prospects.
Concerning the business operations (sales of goods or service industry/professionals or construction/manufacturing or other) of exhibitors and how they implement the stages of the sales process there were no significant differences evident. That means that the operations of a business have no impact on the sales process at trade shows.
The findings of this study also provides an encouraging outcome for trade show role players in that there are not major differences for sales versus non-sales persons, type of trade show or business operations of the exhibitors. This provides an opportunity for general sales guidelines to be developed to improve the effectiveness of the sales process. Furthermore, the training of exhibit staff can be done more effectively and efficiently since there are no specialised requirements. Trade show organisers will benefit since material developed can be standardised for all types of trade shows.
This study provides an interesting starting point for future research to combine the findings of this study with other studies that focus on the procurement needs of attendees of trade shows, such as Brelser (2009) and Smith et al. (1999). One of the main contributions of this study is that it provides a comprehensive sales process for trade shows with insights into the various sub-stages. Finally, in Chapter 7 a comprehensive figure illustrates the interconnectedness between the various stages of the sale process with trade show activities and the attendees' decision-making buying process. With this holistic overview conceptualisation is provided on how the sales process can be integrated into the buying process and stages of a trade show. The identification of the different actions can be an invaluable tool for researchers that want to expand on/or link the sales process and buying process at trade shows.