9 Lessons The Office Teaches Us About Trade Shows

Dunder Mifflin and trade shows

Bears. Beats. Battlestar Galactica

Maybe at first glance, the comparison between The Office and the event world seems a bit unusual, but we are all about taking knowledge from a variety of sources (especially funny TV shows). So through Michael Scott and the rest of the Dunder Mifflin gang, let’s get 9 kernels of truth about trade shows: 

 

#1 Preparation

“My perfect Valentine's Day? I'm at home, three cell phones in front of me, fielding desperate calls from people who want to buy one of the fifty restaurant reservations I made over six months ago.” —Dwight Schrute, Season 7: PDA

You gotta admit: this is pretty genius, if not a little crazy (classic Dwight). This takes well-thought out planning and execution. Dwight is thinking at least six months ahead of everyone else, and he would end up reaping serious monetary rewards because of it. In the competitive event world, you should take the Dwight-approach in all aspects. Planning for booths and marketing materials typically happens long before the show, but sometimes we overlook other key areas to prep for long in advance. Begin with the end in mind, and focus on areas that impact event ROI. For example, lead retrieval systems, and both pre-show and post-show marketing. These are the areas that directly impact lead generation and closing deals, so should be a critical part of your prep for event success. If you do it right, you’ll be rolling in the dough.  

 

#2 Brand Awareness

“When I tell people that I work at Dunder Mifflin, they think that we sell mufflers, or muffins, or mittens, or . . .  And frankly all of those sound better than paper, so I let it slide.” —Jim Halpert, Season 4: Local Ad

A great quote from Jim, and also a great tie in to events and trade shows. Sometimes we are a bit like Dunder Mifflin and need to work on getting the company’s name or new product out there. That's why along with lead generation, many companies attend events for brand awareness, networking, product launches, etc. Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to interact face-to-face with consumers and even current clients. Most of us can agree that it’s hard to form a relationship with someone only through screens. Thankfully, in this fast-paced, digital world we still can interact one-on-one and build our brand at trade shows.

 

#3 Events Come in All Shapes and Sizes

“Mini cupcakes? As in the mini version of regular cupcakes? Which is already a mini version of cake? Honestly, where does it end with you people?” —Kevin Malone, Season 9: Dwight Christmas

A quote from Kevin that never fails to make us laugh. On the event side, it reminds us that events come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we focus on the big trade shows and forget about the tabletop events and conferences. While some people (like Kevin) may not see their value, smaller events offer a more intimate setting. Even with fewer attendees, smaller events tend to invite a more industry-concentrated group. It may not be the best setting for brand awareness due to attendance numbers, but still a great source for lead generation. So let’s not overlook them for their mini size. 

 

#4 Event Goals

“Finishing that 5K was the hardest thing I have ever had to do . . . That’s why everybody was applauding for me at the end, my guts and my heart. And while I eventually puked my guts out, I never puked my heart out. I’m very, very proud of that.” —Michael Scott, Season 4: Fun Run

Sometimes goals stretch us. Sometimes they challenge us. Sometimes—in Michael’s case—they make us puke our guts out. But most importantly, goals inspire growth and set a benchmark for success. Without setting goals before events, you will have no way to measure if you were effective. Set clear goals before a show, such as total quality leads collected or total revenue. You can also set goals to measure your branding effectiveness. For example, you could track the total number of new leads entered into nurture campaigns, or social media interactions with your pre-show marketing, and so on. By setting goals, you and the rest of the team will have clearer direction of what to aim for and how to achieve success. 

 

#5 Speed Matters

“I am fast. To give you a reference point, I am somewhere between a snake and a mongoose . . . and a panther.”  —Dwight Schrute, Season 3: The Merger

One of many unforgettable quotes courtesy of Dwight. In the event world, we all want to be a bit more like Dwight. Somewhere between a snake, a mongoose, and a panther. Why? Because 50% of the time, deals go to the first company to follow up. So speed matters. You must do all you can to give sales those hot leads right after a show. According to our research, your reps should be following up within 48-72 hours of the show. This is the optimal window to reconnect and close deals post-show. Otherwise, your competitors will be stealing away all your best leads. 

 

#6 Strategize

“I would say I kind of have an unfair advantage, because I watch reality dating shows like a hawk, and I learn. I absorb information from the strategies of the winners and the losers. Actually, I probably learn more from the losers.” —Michael Scott, Season 6: Happy Hour

Outside Michael’s dating life, this definitely applies to trade shows. You must learn from others mistakes, as well as your own. What didn’t work at the show? What provided the most value? Did your booth staff have all the equipment and training they needed to succeed? Did you prepare a lead capture process to get SQLs to your sales reps immediately after the show? What did your competitors do differently from you? Ask lots of questions and evaluate each event’s success. Learn from other exhibitors and experts. Keep the end in mind and strategize with clear goals. If you do, you’ll be sure to stand out as a trade show winner.

 

#7 Crunch Them Numbers

“I would like you to crunch those numbers again . . . just crunch ‘em. Just crunch ‘em please.” —Michael Scott, Season 5: Broke

I think we can all agree that Michael Scott wasn’t the best with numbers. Many of us likely feel the same. But when it comes down to today’s marketing, the numbers more than matter. Trade shows are no different, especially since they take up a huge chunk of marketing budgets. But it can be difficult to measure the amount of booth traffic, branding awareness increase, meaningful conversations on the floor, etc. Start by tracking the journey of each event lead that enters your CRM. Be sure to notate which lead came from which event. Then you can pull a report from your CRM to see which prospects finished their sales cycle and which events brought in the most quality leads. But if you struggle with numbers like Michael, this is where automation saves the day. Automated lead capture can track each lead’s sales journey and overall event ROI for you. 

 

#8 The Post-Show Slump

“I just want to lie on the beach and eat hot dogs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”  —Kevin Malone, Season 3: Beach Games 

Kevin on his way to the office’s annual beach day is all of us after a busy trade show season. We have days where we feel completely drained, physically and mentally. That’s why it’s so important to do all the hard work before you get into the post-show slump. Set up automated nurture campaigns. Segment leads during the show so you easily identify post-show which leads are most valuable. Create interest-specific content ahead of time to send to prospects post-show. Trust me, your future self will thank you!

 

#9 All Events Have Flaws 

“Guess what, I have flaws. What are they? Oh, I don’t know. I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally I’ll hit somebody with my car. So sue me.” —Michael Scott, Season 4: Fun Run

There’s no such thing as the perfect event. Or the perfect marketing campaign. Or the perfect booth conversations. But even in the chaos, even with all the ups and downs, events still play essential roles in closing deals. They are worth the investment because of the number of quality leads you bring back home. Yet, at the end of the day, some events have more flaws than others, like the wrong type of attendees. Make sure to carefully compare each event’s success to determine if it’s worth attending again next year. Yes, no event is perfect, but hopefully you can avoid events that feel like you’re (metaphorically) being mowed over by Michael’s car. 

 

What trade shows and The Office have in common

Photo credit: Ajay Suresh on Flickr

 

There you have it. There’s 9 trade show lessons straight from Dunder Mifflin. In the final episode of The Office, Pam says, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” And that’s true again. There’s a lot of beauty—and knowledge—in ordinary things of our lives, including the TV shows we love. You can get inspiration anywhere, anytime, for how to live your best life (and best trade show life).

Any other The Office quotes that remind you of your trade show experience? Feel free to share!