National Trade Productions (NTP) is a full-scope tradeshow and event management company providing strategic planning; sales, marketing and promotion; conference planning and logistics; and housing, registration and operations management services. Each year, NTP manages eight to twelve events ranging in size from 80 to 800 exhibitors. The primary challenge for this closely held, private company has been to handle a larger sales volume with the same number of sales representatives.
Prior to 2008, the NTP sales team was using contact management and floor plan management applications that had become unwieldy. With separate systems supporting selling and closing, keeping both databases up-to-date had become a labor-intensive manual process. Information was entered in each system, and journal entry forms were circulated among staff. The ability to extract accurate reports was delayed until all hands had processed them.
"NTP recognized that they needed to be more efficient," said Project Manager Chris Guthrie, Searchlight Associates, Inc., the IT services firm that assisted with the systems overhaul. "The technology in the industry was moving quickly, and their systems were antiquated." NTP needed to streamline operations and maximize revenue for its clients.
NTP made a strategic decision to replace the antiquated systems with enterprise editions of two world-class applications: Salesforce.com (SFDC) for customer relationship management, and a2zShow for event management. Moreover, NTP opted to integrate these systems to facilitate two-way communication of prospect and customer information, as well as order information.
"a2z and Salesforce.com are both stronger products than we worked with previously," said NTP COO Karin Fendrich. "Having them communicate with each other is a significant benefit."
The integration project team included Searchlight Associates, performing requirements definition and project management; a2z, Inc., providing coding to push and pull data between applications; and Rainmaker Systems, providing coding for SFDC customization. The collaboration ensured that NTP received the full benefit of both systems sharing real-time information.
"The data is still separately stored, but the integration provides a high degree of confidence that the data is the same in each system," Guthrie said. "Data integrity is one of the key benefits."
Now in its third year, the integrated sales and event management platform has nearly eliminated the use of paper-based order processing. "One of the primary goals of the project was to be able to handle a larger sales volume with the same staff—in other words, to become more efficient," Guthrie said. "This was achieved in part through tight integration, by allowing information to be accessed from either platform and by eliminating double entry across systems."
Whether a staff member is working in sales or event management, the account history and current status are available at a glance—complete with roles of personnel involved in previous shows. This insight is invaluable. Getting from the initial conversation with a prospect to closing the deal is now much more efficient. There are fewer steps involved, and there is better information flow during contract processing. As a result, data entering the financial system is more accurate.
"With a recently upgraded phone system, the sales reps can work through a call list, create opportunities, launch straight into a2z from within SFDC, and see their new opportunity in place and ready for booth selection," Guthrie said. With a2z's real-time floor plan, booth assignment is quick and easy, allowing for rapid turnover during space selection.
NTP has noted significant performance improvements since implementing the integrated system:
- Condensed time to close sales by 3 days
- Increased sales dollar volume per sales rep by 15%
- Boosted on-site space selection efficiency, with invoices mailing 2 weeks sooner and even available on-site, if desired
- Saved 80 man-hours per show with new space selection system
- Diversified new revenue sources
- Improved gross profit by 10-15%
- Lowered overall internal labor by three people
- Enhanced communication capabilities, and better account history data have generated strong customer retention and higher renewal rates for subsequent shows
- Saved time since exhibitors can better access their information online, reducing need for customer service
NTP's sophisticated system delivers improved sales results for clients. "We are investing in our systems to be the best in the industry, and to provide our clients with accurate, timely and easy-to-understand reports," said NTP Sales Director Stacey Price. "We financially manage their shows with the best backend system in the industry, which should give them peace of mind."
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