Why 43% of Event Exhibitors Are Unhappy With Virtual Events and How to Change That

Virtual trade shows have their limitations, but they also shorten the sales cycle and offer cost-effective ways to reach more leads.

Last Updated on April 5, 2022 by Ronen Ben-Dror

As 2020 draws to a close, many enterprises anticipate the extension of many COVID-19-related changes extending far into the summer months of 2021. That includes industry trade shows.

Since March 2020, companies accustomed to displaying products and services in person have been forced to take their presentations online, enrolling in virtual shows. These shows, while superior to a complete cancellation, have a few limitations. A survey of vendors conducted in August 2020 revealed that 43% of 343 exhibitors are unsatisfied with the level of engagement with customers and prospects these events provide. These exhibitors took it a step further saying that they do not want to do a virtual event again.

Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Engagement and participation from attendees tend to be minimal
  • Vendors report little opportunity for networking
  • There are frustrations associated with not having enough time to develop presentations ideal for virtual formats
  • Vendors get bogged down in the number of platforms they must learn to navigate for different virtual trade shows

Does that mean vendors are ready to abandon the virtual trade show option?

Even with drawbacks like those listed above, vendors see the hole that live trade shows have left. A survey produced by Exhibitor Media Group shows that 60% of respondents reported that the cancellation of these events has resulted in a loss of sales leads and opportunities.

The survey asked for feedback in two key areas:

1. Engagement opportunities
Engagement exceeded expectations for 62% of survey respondents.
The level of satisfaction related to branding, promoting new products, and networking results were not as positive:


Graph From: MEETINGNET Oct 8, 2020

2. Their takeaway or ROI from the experience

The only ROI to which more than 10% of the respondents selected “definitely met outcome” was “acquire participant data.” That may not come as a surprise to you, as virtual-meeting attendance has been strong throughout the pandemic. For many companies, however, it seems that higher attendance didn’t necessarily translate into gaining more leads and increasing sales:


Graph From: MEETINGNET Oct 8, 2020

The connection between sales leads and trade shows may be enough to keep vendors attending virtual events, but there are additional reasons why some vendors aren’t ready to give up on them, and may even see untapped opportunities there:

  • Complete elimination of the risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • Virtual events are low-cost compared to a live trade show
  • The ability for attendees to participate in more shows because of the removal of geographic and travel concerns
  • Flexibility to attend at participants’ convenience, with many shows offered both live and on-demand.

New Opportunities

What some see as a poor alternative to live trade shows may, instead, offer untapped opportunities that are largely impossible with an in-person event. It requires the creative anticipation of how to take a challenge and create not just a solution, but a superior outcome for marketing teams. Take a look at some of the advantages to be gained with a proactive approach to virtual trade shows:

Extended Reach: Your trade show is no longer hindered by considerations like schedules, travel costs or budgets. You can reach a much broader audience through a virtual option. In addition, you may be able to narrow the number of trade show presentations you produce, significantly reducing the number of hours and the investment you put into trade show marketing.

Shorten Your Sales Cycle: By registering for your virtual event, you have an immediate catalog of qualified sales leads. Then, within mere minutes, you are able to introduce your product, conduct a demonstration and communicate any promotions that may encourage an immediate decision.

Utilize Lead Tracking Fueled by Data: Post-event reports can give useful insights to your virtual trade show. From the number of attendees to the number of interactions and downloads of corresponding content, you can gauge the success of your event and make adjustments. You can also use it to follow up on potential leads.

How to Overcome the Main Challenge so Many Exhibitors Experience

If your experience doesn’t match the positive picture discussed here, and your company has struggled to connect with the leads you anticipated as a result of a Webinar or virtual trade show, you can benefit from the expertise of a specialist.

At Blue Valley Marketing, you can access specialized lead nurturing designed to make the most of the contacts from a virtual trade show. You can set up a proactive lead nurturing program that assesses whether your attendees were qualified actionable leads moving closer to a decision, or if they are interested parties participating in the webinar for an educational purpose only. We can also tell if the contacts you thought were leads are actually your competitors spying on your marketing efforts.

Another approach involves changing how you determine your path for your virtual trade shows. You may decide that a Webinar is a good place for lead generation, or you may determine that it works best to qualify leads first, and then engage those qualified leads in a virtual trade show that adds value and assists them in making a purchasing decision. Finally, you can decide to set up smaller more intimate events or webinars with qualified leads only who are deep in the buying cycle and have a great deal in common with your brand.  These people will be looking not only to be educated about your company’s products or services and solutions, they will also be interested to engage in dialog as part of the virtual event.

At Blue Valley, we have seen this approach work in the past. Back in 1999, when the business world was facing another formidable challenge of the Y2K data impact, our company managed a project that set up 12 events for a business to promote their IT services. While that IT company wanted to focus on getting people in seats, Blue Valley convinced them to think more broadly.

Instead, Blue Valley convinced the company to qualify people and generate leads for the sales team separately from their attendance at the event. This assumed that there were people who were interested in the service that may be too busy to attend or not available at that time. It turned out that the largest sale resulting from this project was a $10,000,000 project from a client that did not attend.

This demonstrates the importance of qualifying a lead, no matter what their level of participation is in a live event.

Blue Valley Marketing can set up a customized program designed to generate and nurture leads through a proactive approach to your virtual trade show marketing. We can gather information related to budgets, decision makers, obstacles and factors influencing the decision, providing you with a clear picture of where each lead stands in relation to making a purchase.

There are several clear benefits your company can realize by outsourcing virtual trade show management and support to Blue Valley Marketing:

  • Our data clean-up and confirmation services can assist with building quality lists for use in inviting potential leads to your Webinar.
  • You can access our telemarketing and email support to invite and register attendees for the event.
  • After your event, receive follow-up support to qualify attendees and determine where they are in the decision-making process, ask about future plans and begin developing a lasting relationship.

You may be forced to participate in virtual trade shows for many more months to come, but it may benefit your company to stop thinking of these online events as a substitute for the real thing. Instead, with some proactive lead nurturing and qualification, you may find that the level of engagement, the broader geographical reach and the affordability of the online option make it far preferable to live trade shows. Contact us at Blue Valley Marketing to talk about a lead generation program.

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