By: Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM, CEO, CEIR
In June 2020, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) partnered with SwapCard, a platform for virtual and live events, to conduct a study on the use of structured matchmaking activities at B2B exhibitions of all sizes, to determine the level of adoption of matchmaking activities and how effective they appear to be. The study was conducted on executive exhibition organisers in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. While the findings are North American focused, the findings are relevant regardless of the country.
The global pandemic this year has halted B2B exhibitions in many countries for months with no end in sight. Some countries, including China, are just now venturing to hold regional events with success. Travel bans not only by countries, but also by both exhibiting companies and buyers to attend live events, are likely to continue well into 2021. Many organisers are adapting by holding digital events.
Matchmaking has been primarily an unstructured, manual task with either the exhibitor or buyer requesting an appointment, or the organiser’s staff assisting with scheduling and confirming appointments. The organiser may offer a hosted buyer program that hosts the most important buyers, offering concierge services that may provide airfare and hotel. However, according to the findings of the study, the satisfaction on the use of matchmaking at live events is neutral, if not negative.
Satisfaction with Exhibitor and Attendee Use
The value of matching buyers to sellers is more important now than ever and using AI technology makes matching based on demographic data. By far, the objective organisers strive to achieve in offering these activities is to maximize the quality of face-to-face engagements for participants (80%). Roughly half of exhibitors (51% on average) and buyers (47% on average) actively use the attendee matchmaking activities they have access to.
Many organisers do not offer matchmaking services. They rely on the buyers and exhibitors to make the connections themselves. Lack of resources or a perceived lack of need were primarily cited for not offering a matchmaking program.
And then, COVID-19 made organisers re-think their live events, pivoting to digital ones. The importance of facilitated matchmaking has greatly increased (66% of surveyed executives say facilitated matchmaking has become more important). This makes sense as those serendipitous moments that occur at live events do not occur in the digital environment. The virtual event is great for providing content but in the two-dimensional space, the space where commerce occurs, finding and connecting with one another is incredibly difficult. The question becomes, “How can matchmaking technology help make meaningful connections?”
Once technology gets to the point where meaningful connections and business relationships are made, the digital event becomes important for commerce.