What the future holds for hosted buyer programmes

Hosted buyer programmes and fam trips were questioned and came in the spotlight after an industry “blacklist” was sent to conference organisers last year. To get a further insight into the topic, shortly after its publication we got a panel together and discussed whether this business model still meets today’s business needs of buyers and suppliers. The discussion “Hosted Buyer Programmes and Fam Trips – is it time for a change” had a very strong focus on fam trips, so we decided to host a follow up session and focus only on Hosted Buyers. The Event Planners Talk session took place at the International Confex last month.

The session was called “Hosted Buyers – lifeblood or leeches”. Prior to it we ran a poll on Twitter with the question “hosted buyers: lifeblood or leeches?”. 22 event professionals answered and the result was a 50-50 split. Surprisingly, several event planners said that this model is still relevant but needs innovation. We took on board the feedback from the online audience and aimed to look for solutions how to innovate this model.

Our speakers were Johnny D. Martinez, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Shocklogic, Valerie Kosh, Business Leader at C-WISE, Paul Colston, Managing Editor, Conference Division at Mash Media and Adam Perry, Director at Event Tech Live. The session was moderated by Robert Kenward, Co-founder & Chief Talent Officer at YOU search & select.

We kicked off the discussion asking our panellist for their opinion: hosted buyers – lifeblood or leeches?

For Valerie they are both lifeblood and leeches. In many ways they are leeches and that’s what the industry needs to get rid of. The leeches should disappear so the hosted buyer model becomes lifeblood and introduces innovation.

For Paul it’s time for a change. He has been on many trips and saw time and again that someone was abusing the hospitality system. It has been swept under the carpet for a long time because not all programmes have a good screening process in place but now it’s time to address it.

Adam thinks that these two are too far ends of the spectrum, but instead need to look at the process and find the genuine buyers. Event Tech Live hasn’t gone the route of hosted buyers because they are not sure how the hosted buyers can add 100% value to the show.

Johnny has experience as an exhibitor both at shows that have hosted buyers and don’t. For his company it’s good to know how many leads they can anticipate before the show and helps them plan what was the cost and forecast revenue out of the activity. Hosted Buyers and visitors bring the same value but the qualification process must be stricter as well as needs innovation.

If you could change something what would you change?

Firstly, to reduce the number of meetings. With at least third of meetings that neither side wants them it’s a waste of time and “box ticking”. Furthermore, we need to bring ethics and efficiency to this process. For buyers it’s nice to have meetings on the radar, but at the same time they also want to choose by themselves whom they want to meet. Non-hosted buyer shows like the International Confex provide a meeting platform for buyers and suppliers.

Secondly, 360° participation from exhibitors is required. Exhibitors who exhibit at a hosted buyer show must put a large amount of marketing effort, and probably even more to benefit from the show. The match making process with the use of technology must happen effectively.

Additionally, meetings should be more innovative. There are too many meetings during the day. The match making shouldn’t be just a meeting but perhaps a round table. This will help to understand better each other’s business and build relationships.

Innovation is also needed in qualified meetings. Buyers think that they had a meeting if they had their badge scanned. Therefore, there should be some restriction on this that buyers need to spend a certain amount of time with the exhibitor before going to the next one. It often happens that about 30% of buyers are friends of the exhibitor and will make an appointment to tick the box and fill their diaries, other 30% are always on the run so actually don’t have a meeting and you can’t stop them. The rest are the genuine meetings that both sides can learn about each other.

Another suggestion was to offer education activities over sales pitches, or other activities that can maximise buyers time. An example is trade shows that reduce the number of days or merging shows that can also attract more buyers. Another point brought was training that both buyers and suppliers can benefit from.

Meetings are not valuable when exhibitors can choose the buyers. If the programme is run on the terms of the supplier community and not the buyer community, that’s when the dissatisfaction occurs.

How to become stricter on the qualification process?

Shows should be brave to admit that there might be less hosted buyers but these will be highly qualified. Bad buyers devalue the programme and its integrity and as a result exhibitors are not happy. Organisers need to be braver and to decline buyers. That means getting away from the numbers game. A solution can be to have a limited number of people who are eligible to be hosted buyers. This way, buyers really can appreciate it. Or, offer a semi-hosted buyer programmes.

Why now??

Corporate suppliers want a change, we don’t have the solution yet but the system as it is today has had its day. The industry needs to look at what new system we can get in there to keep the best out of it but also realise that there is a lot that is wrong with it.

Hosted buyers are “good to have” but not particularly needed for exhibitors. If there won’t be any more hosted buyer programmes the exhibitors will need to be more proactive about approaching these people. It could be an opportunity to revamp the marketing strategy and how they go about contacting people.

Venue finding industry has evolved and companies are doing different things as they did 25 years ago. The increased abuse of the system as well as mixed generations on trips requires us as an industry to re-evaluate their relevance.

As an industry we are discussing now more openly and that’s a topic that keeps coming up. Additionally, now we have more platforms to do so (such as the Event Planner Talk). Hosted buyer programmes will probably stay in the next years but as an industry we can look for solutions, education and formats to make this better for everyone.

Use of data

There is a lot of data about buyer profiles. Currently organisers don’t measure and study how the data has changed. If we understood the buyers that bring business to the exhibitors, we would concentrate on inviting them more. No black listing because there is no size fits all.

Industry associations should play a bigger role in this. They have the duty to lead and develop codes or practice and ethics and get to common standards. Ethics is playing an increasing role and we need to protect the good buyers and the reputation of destinations.

Get rid of it? It’s worth trying

Is it time to abolish it completely? Yes, it’s worth trying. Businesses should be willing to send a project manager to a show. This way the delegate has a responsibility to share the knowledge with the team rather than taking it for granted. Also, we need to protect the good buyers from the bad buyers. Agencies would be ready to allocate a yearly budget for their team members to go on a business trip to learn and absorb rather than being hosted. That in turn doesn’t hold them responsible that they need to bring business to them because sometimes they can’t.

Associations, for example, need to look for new venues and destinations every two years, so they will come even without being hosted. On the other hand, the corporate users will not come because they have fewer incentives to look for venues.

Photos by Sandeep Rai Photography

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