Our interviewee, Hannes Gottwald, has been working at voestalpine Stahl GmbH in Linz (Austria) for more than 12 years. For the last five years, Mr. Gottwald has been in charge of event management and promotion, which means he is also responsible for the company's trade fairs and customer events.
Head of Event Management & Promotion
voestalpine Stahl GmbH
voestalpine Stahl GmbH is not only known as Austria's second-largest company and as one of the country's leading employers, but it also has around 10,000 employees worldwide. As an end consumer, you also find the company's products across national borders. Whether on the car door or in the refrigerator – everyone has an item at home that contains steel and most likely one of them is from voestalpine. The company's steel is supplied to companies such as Bosch, Siemens, Audi, BMW, and other well-known manufacturers. Steel is also used in Liebherr construction cranes, in the pressing tools of all returnable plastic bottles, in Swiss Army knives, and in many other products.
Changes in the event industry
Jochen Seelig: You have many years of experience in your role as head of the events and promotion department. What changes have you observed in this sector – apart from the COVID pandemic?
Hannes Gottwald: Let me briefly tell you how we met. A few years ago, one of my colleagues discovered your company at a CEBIT trade fair. Everyone who has been working in the event industry for a while is familiar with the pieces of paper where you have to fill out who was there and what the visitor was interested in. In the best-case scenario, interns had to transfer the notes to Excel and two or three weeks later contact the visitors. Nowadays, however, you have to get in touch with potential customers a week and a half later at the latest – otherwise, it could be considered old-fashioned. When we were at your booth, it took less than five minutes and we had already received a follow-up email and in the next few days, we should receive more information. This sparked a great deal of interest in both my colleague and me and we wanted to establish it in the steel industry. Apart from that, the speed of customer response has definitely changed in recent years. Nowadays, there are not only relevant visitors at trade fairs, but there are also many public trade fairs – such as bauma, the largest trade fair for mining and construction machinery. In this kind of exhibition, many private individuals attend purely out of interest and do not bring any added value to companies in the B2B sector. For this reason, it is important to use tools to select who is a relevant customer to invest time specifically for them.
Trade fairs and the success measure
Seelig: Which expectations does voestalpine Stahl GmbH have when you attend a trade fair, and how do you measure success? Do you calculate specific ratios or have certain criteria such as "how much a lead can cost"?
Gottwald: Regarding the success measurement of trade fairs, we have already carried out one or two projects with the Johannes Keppler University in Linz. Key figures are important and indicate whether a trade fair has been successful or not. Determining our success in terms of "cost per lead" is quite difficult because our visitors are usually customers. When we meet customers, we want to know more about them, their needs, and the market. Even for us, products are changing, such as in terms of sustainability. Of course, we also look at what the competition is doing. But we essentially use the trade fairs as a meeting place and we address existing customers to inform them about everything in the best possible way.
Seelig: That's interesting. In COVID times, many companies also resorted to online events or hybrid trade fairs – something snapADDY also does with the snapADDY launch event (SALE). However, once a year we also organize an in-person event with our customers – when possible. I find it very nice to meet someone in person and I also think that I would have made far fewer contacts and obtained fewer business opportunities over the Internet. What do you think about this?
Gottwald: I agree with you! Last year we only attended one trade fair instead of many big ones: in Italy in September. The trade fair was not very well attended, but in the end, all the relevant people came. The customers appreciated the time we spent together and the exchange. This year we were present at the trade fairs again and it proved what personal exchange can do. With the customers we met digitally, the relationship is different because the commitment is different. So the online events are more of a temporary solution, and the trade shows will certainly come back, as you can see. Maybe not as many people attend anymore, but the relevant people are there. I'm confident in the trade fairs and I'm looking forward to the "Blech-Expo" in Stuttgart, Germany at the end of October.
Optimal trade fair planning
Seelig: Not everything goes well at trade fairs – what has been your biggest gaffe?
Gottwald: Trade fairs in South Korea are a different matter. We are only one of four divisions, but we help organize the trade fairs for our colleagues. We were supposed to ship several products for the fair, so we also considered the customs timing. Not everyone involved saw the deadlines as tight, which made it a challenge to get the products on-site on time. Finally, we found a solution but the deadline should not be underestimated.
Seelig: How many trade shows do you organize per year and how much time do you have to allow for trade show planning?
Gottwald: We hold six to seven major trade fairs, some in-house trade fairs directly at the customer's premises, and currently also many virtual events. We currently hold between 60 and 70 events a year, plus trade fairs. Of course, there are differences in the preparations. For Blech-Expo Stuttgart, for example, we start at least half a year in advance. We have a booth builder, a defined booth on which modular and content adjustments are possible, and we know the process. Still, it makes sense to do it six months in advance: because the technicians have to give their approval that we can present the product there in this way. The figures, the final trade fair stand, the invitations to customers, etc. have to match. So you have to start in good time and, as unforeseen events always arise beforehand, it is advisable to prepare well in advance.
Digital lead capture implementation
Seelig: You always adapt processes at trade shows, such as the digital lead capture with snapADDY VisitReport. I would like to know what obstacles you encountered during the implementation and development?
Gottwald: As with any project, there are things that work well and others that need to be tackled again. The first time we used snapADDY VisitReport, it worked well. However, we had to convince the sales department to work with a tablet. We tried different ways to motivate them: for example, at trade fairs in which sales staff captured the most qualitative leads. The winner received a prize. The second time we used snapADDY VisitReport was also a success. But at the third trade fair, we had some problems after our tablet requested a software update. Every time we scanned a business card, the app crashed. This posed a challenge for the attending colleagues, who had to switch back to pen and paper at this trade show. Later, it turned out that there was a software problem. It was not very smart of us to update the tablets without testing them again. In general, we were very satisfied with snapADDY VisitReport at the time, although some colleagues had doubts due to the short-term issues that arose. But that was three or four years ago and we haven't had any problems since. The acceptance is mainly thanks to the GDPR in Germany and Austria, where we cannot contact customers without marketing consent. Asking for it in writing and scanning it never worked well. In contrast, in snapADDY VisitReport it is possible to obtain consent online with the signature field feature. Our legal department is also very satisfied with this. The advantage is that the timestamp is also transferred directly to our CRM Salesforce system and that customers prefer to give their consent at trade fairs rather than by phone. Since then, we have realized how important digital lead capture is – also for following up on the information the customer wants. Colleagues in the office can already work with it and thus also respond quickly to the customer. As a result, we are often the first company to contact customers, which means we score points in terms of speed.
Seelig: That's right, nowadays, the speed in customer response is key. If it takes two weeks to get in touch with potential customers, it is often already too late because a competitor has been faster. The costs you invest in a trade fair are too high for that.
Gottwald: Of course! We should not underestimate the costs for staff, working hours and hotel expenses. That's why it is important to make the most of the trade fair activities efficiently.
Seelig: The return on investment with the digital solution with snapADDY is both the speed and the costs saved. If you capture contacts with pen and paper, it is necessary to have staff available to record and digitize the data. This is again the additional staff that needs a hotel reservation. In our case, the digital lead capture is a very small component compared to the other costs.
Gottwald: The advantage of digitizing leads is that there are also backup copies of the data. If the pieces of paper with the contact data are lost, the entire trade show investment would be lost.
snapADDY VisitReport: Concretly
Seelig: If you could wish for a feature for snapADDY VisitReport, what would that be?
Gottwald: Some time ago I would have said that it would be easier to choose booth staff. Today, this is already done, as your product development cycles are short. It would be ideal if the whole app could be voice-controlled, including the drop-down menu, for example. Currently, our colleagues have to deal with the customer during the meeting or enter data afterward, which would be easier if it were voice-controlled.
Seelig: Thank you very much, I will consider that to see what we can do with our team. You just said that your colleagues at the booth handle data maintenance differently. What is your recommendation for the sales department to solve this in the best possible way?
Gottwald: That depends on the employee. Giving the tablet to the colleague shortly before the trade show is difficult if it is not the colleague's tablet. Some colleagues put the tablet next to them during the conversation and, while the customer is there, only make a few important key points, such as a certain alloy in the steel, for example. When the customer leaves, it takes two minutes to scan the business card and fill in the rest of the mandatory fields. We have mandatory fields to transfer the data to the CRM system. But some colleagues include the capture in the interview – that works very well as long as you know what questions to expect. It depends to what extent the salesperson likes to be guided through the conversation or can achieve the goal without the predefined questionnaire. In other words, we don't impose a way of applying it on our colleagues.
The future of trade fairs
Seelig: You already have several years of trade fair experience. How do you see trade fairs in five years?
Gottwald: There are always certain trends that come and go. A few years ago, everyone at bauma had 3D glasses, regardless of whether the content was suitable or not. No doubt there will always be things like that again. The thing that will get stronger is the personal discussion. We used to have more highlights to attract people to our booth. Now we focus on opportunities to get together for joint meetings or lunches. Furthermore, no one can avoid digitalization. Scanning business cards plays an important role – even if the physical exchange of business cards were to cease to exist, data would only be exchanged digitally. Working with a pen and paper seems very unprofessional. In general, lead capture will be entirely digital due to the fast pace of life. You expect to receive a response in a short time. The good thing about snapADDY is that you always ask us what we need, and you are constantly developing your products. That's your business model and the payment model is different now than it used to be, which I think is better. That's the good thing, that you always listen to our needs and then you also put them into practice.
We thank Hannes Gottwald for sharing with us the interesting way of capturing leads at trade fairs at voestalpine.
The interview was recorded on 09/29/2021 and is available here.