This question has reared its ugly head so many times over the last couple of weeks as I’ve sat on my hands, bitten my tongue and remembered all the reasons I’m so glad I quite corporate life years ago. The age old debate about where the red line of responsibility lies has been one of the toughest internal battles around trade shows for decades, either because both or neither division wants ultimate control. So who wins?


Those working in sales are the first line of defence with the customer, the face that the customer recognises, trusts and listens to. The sales team will know which industry trade shows customers are attending and which targets and prospects are going to be patrolling the show floor. The sales team know some of the current challenges, obstacles and opportunities that customers are facing and how they might be able to address them. They’re living the current pricing parameters and delivery schedules and have many of the intricate logistical answers to customer requests.

So it should be sales alone, right? Well, maybe not. Without any support from marketing there can be a lack of access to marketing collateral, lack of clarity about the brand and core proposition and a lack of consistency around branding and graphics. Sales teams can be left to create pop-up banners and tailor makeshift brochures and literature that ‘will do’ but ultimately have the potential to confuse customers.


So are we concluding that it should be marketing that take full control of the trade show execution process? They are at the forefront of brand definition, clear about who and why they are targeting and the solutions that the product or service brings for customers. They have access to the latest fonts, shades and straplines, creating compelling and creative marketing messages for other campaigns. They can be sure that on approaching the stand, visitors will be crystal clear of the offer, how it solves their problem and what the next steps in the path to purchase are.

Although, it could be suggested that marketing develop those marketing strategies and executions in isolation, with a holistic view of how they would like the market to react to the brand. In reality, how people choose and use a product or service can be very different from the impression marketing have. Marketing as a discipline is rooted in influencing people to behave in a different way than they currently do. Potentially, whilst there is absolute clarity on the brand proposition, there might be a lack of reality regarding what is actually happening in the customer base right now


The remedy was demonstrated perfectly in my personal highlight from this week. We were working with a client on planning a training session we’re running for their 40 strong sales team ahead of a major international exhibition next month. Both sales and marketing were involved in the planning session with equal responsibility for delivery.

The Sales Director and Marketing Manager had sat down together and set SMART objectives, looked at where these could be achieved from their current customers and where they needed to attract new prospects. The Sales Director had contributed to the development of the selling tools, stand collateral and filtering process, with marketing ensuring that brand integrity was maintained at the same time as understanding the current landscape. There was no animosity, no suspicion of one-upmanship and any differences of opinion were quickly resolved by reverting back to the objectives and what they were jointly trying to achieve. Both parties knew how they could use the trade show to contribute to their joint personal and corporate performance. Without getting soppy it was beautifully harmonious and we did wonder for a second why they needed us?


If you’re currently locked in a battle with either sales or marketing and wondering how you move things forward her’s a few tips on getting the process started:

  • Start Early – involve your counterparts in selecting which show to go to, setting the budget and most importantly in understanding what the commercial contribution / return could be from a well executed show (check out this blog about winning internal battles (
  • Set Joint SMART Objectives – set 4-5 key objectives that contribute at a total corporate level, but also produce meaningful results for both parties. For example, it might be opening 2 or 3 new accounts for sales and securing coverage in 5 trade magazines for marketing.
  • Collaborate – on the design of the stand, the squad selection, the marketing collateral – both parties will have something valuable to contribute and when you hit a road block, go back to those objectives.
  • Train Your Squad Together – if you’re a united front, chances are your squad will take the cue from you. This ensures your squad are consistent in talking about the brand / product, but equally understand the commercial objectives they are trying to achieve.
  • Follow Up Together – the most crucial element of exhibitions and what you’ve all been working towards. Plan how marketing will follow up generically with the leads and contacts that aren’t yet in a buying position to keep them interested. Whilst sales will be responsible for converting hot prospects, support from marketing in terms of collateral and insight to overcome objections will always help.
  • Learn Together – evaluate the whole execution, what worked and what didn’t? Marketing may want to tweak some of their messaging based on feedback from customers. Sales may benefit from shifting their selling story based on an observation by marketing at the show.

We’d always advocate having a Project Manager who steers the entire trade show planning, implementation and evaluation (P.I.E.) process but that doesn’t mean that person has ultimate control, to the exclusion of all other opinion. Trade shows are much less about the ‘trade’ these days – they are your shop window that entices people in to find out more about you and success means a healthy balance of both sales and marketing input. Trade shows work best as part of an integrated marketing plan (check out this post for more insight, aligned to other tactics and with the contribution of sales to drive relevancy.

Are you planning a trade show and currently managing that healthy sales:marketing tension? How are you overcoming it? Who owns it in your business? We’d love to hear from you!

If you need help in influencing your internal stakeholders and winning over your colleagues why not give us a call on 01740 630175

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