By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

Lean Six Sigma

If every exhibiting company wants to get the most out of its investment of time, effort and resources into trade shows, then why do so many come away from events feeling like they’ve fallen short of expectations?

It takes a ton of work to prepare for and execute a trade show exhibition effort. But the vast majority of companies have no idea how to measure the effectiveness of what they do, and they don’t have established processes in place for accurately evaluating their efforts. Fortunately, a solution exists to help organizations craft a proper framework for continuous improvement and operational excellence: Lean Six Sigma. A method that relies on collaborative team effort to remove waste and reduce variation, Lean Six Sigma combines components of Lean enterprise and Six Sigma to help organizations of all types and sizes drive improved performance.

“If I approach trade show exhibitors, rarely can they show me a well-defined written process that can replicate success sustainably,” said Marty Smith, Master Black Belt Sensei, president of BuyingBehaviorMETRICS, and a leading subject matter expert regarding continuous improvement in purchase experience environments. “Not just how to design and implement their booth, but also how they collaboratively bring the extrinsic and intrinsic value streams together to create an impactful, effective, soulful experience for their customer to consume. That shouldn’t be the case, and Lean Six Sigma methodology can help.”

Why Lean Six Sigma?

When any exhibition effort is deemed a failure, organizational leaders are often tasked with determining what went wrong and assigning blame accordingly. Unfortunately, many don’t have a series of processes in place to do so effectively. And to make matters worse, there’s nothing to be done to prevent failure from occurring again in the future.

While it’s important to set long-term trade show goals and enact initiatives to help foster success, they are only worthwhile endeavors if exhibiting companies can measure results. According to Smith, doing so requires building a connection between how the goals and initiatives impact an organization’s “soul,” and how that soul aligns with the needs, wants and expectations of prospective customers on the show floor. In short, desired outcomes need to be in lockstep with the customer voice in order to connect from awareness to conversion or advocacy.

“The soul of a company really shines through, and for a lot of organizations, it’s contrary to what their strategic goals and objectives might be – and they end up hurting themselves more than helping themselves,” said Smith. “They need to be very careful about the objectives they set and how those objectives reflect to the customer. And that’s very difficult for companies to balance when they are caught up in their day-to-day work.”

Aligning goals with tactical execution and “matching souls” with prospective customers is only possible if exhibiting companies develop a sound understanding of attendees’ desired purchase experiences and determine if they are capable of meeting those needs.

“If you haven’t done that, you shouldn’t even be going to shows,” said Smith.

It All Comes Down to Execution

Many exhibiting companies today are so focused on deciding what shows are most effective or provide the best opportunities that they fail to realize what ultimately matters most: how they execute on the show floor.

“Results are just a product of what you’ve done upstream, and what you’ve done to deliver,” said Smith. “And if you’re mishandling that, and you’re not matching your soul to the soul of the attendee, you’re clueless.”

Making Informed Decisions

It’s critical for exhibiting companies to avoid making important decisions in a vacuum. They must make decisions holistically, and they need to incorporate a sales process effectively. Organizations that fail to do so run the risk of missing out on how individual touchpoints impact prospective customers as they navigate their way through the purchase cycle (from consideration to preference and, ultimately, to conversion).

“As a result, exhibitors make mistakes,” said Smith. “They come to the show and have no offerings, no good signage, and no good interaction between staff and their customers. Companies that do this, they act like the show is supposed to do everything.”

Achieving continuous improvement and maximizing a return on investments of time, effort and resources in trade shows is a tall order for exhibiting companies today. In utilizing Lean Six Sigma, however, they can provide a framework for success by fostering a connection between how goals and initiatives affect their organizational soul. More importantly, though, Lean Six Sigma allows organizations to drive desired results by aligning with the needs, wants and expectations of prospective customers.

“Exhibiting companies can build a system of interrelated processes that help them drive everything they want through to fruition,” said Smith. “And not only that, Lean Six Sigma principles allow them to make it happen again and again.”

Want to learn more? Marty Smith will present a session entitled “Lean Six Sigma White Belt for Exhibitors" at the upcoming EXHIBITORLIVE Trade Show and Corporate Event Marketing Conference. EXHIBITORLIVE runs Feb. 24-28, 2019 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. 

AEM members and exhibitors will receive an unprecedented 25 percent off registration fees! The article you just read is a small sample of the over 170 sessions you can learn from. For more information on the sessions visit EXHIBITORLIVE.

Subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor for additional content related to trade show marketing strategy.