Face-to-Face is the Ultimate Customer Experience in a Digital World


Interview by: Urs Seiler, Smartville, Zürich/Switzerland

Balluun CEO Roland Kuemin shares his vision of the trade show industry as it faces new business models. What it means to go digital & how it will boost tomorrow’s B2B marketplaces.

Roland Kuemin joined Balluun as CEO in 2015 with the firm conviction of taking place in the seat of a racing car. The company has been developing a unique engine able to raise powerful solutions for B2B marketplaces. As in other industries, trade show organizers are impacted by digital and the related change in customer behavior, facing new challenges as to how they provide value to their customers and the way they transform their existing business models through digital.

So, Roland, what has changed in the market since you joined Balluun ?

Well, the main thing is about the mindset and the way decision makers are looking at their industry. When I arrived in this business, people were talking about digitalization as a nice thing to add to their existing offering but certainly not as an element for fundamentally new business opportunities. Today, what I hear every day from top executives is that digitalisation is not about whether we should go for it or not. Their real concern is to find the best way to go for it without endangering their actual business. And this is exactly the key question we have been looking to address since my very first day at Balluun. First and foremost, what is interesting is to ask ourselves what will not change in the future.

How do you see that change?

First and foremost, what is interesting is to ask ourselves what will NOT change in the future.

Asking the right question helps determine what is fundamental and core to the value created by trade show organisers. We’ve been focusing too long on the fact that a trade show organiser is stressed by the physical aspect of the business namely selling square meters for events that last three days.

That’s simply one of the day-to-day challenges as to how they commercialize their existing products & services but it’s not the basic purpose: the core mission is to be a ‘business enabler’. It’s all about helping the communities of buyers, sellers and services providers across the industries they serve be successful, providing them with a platform, where they can activate trade, knowledge and networking through meaningful connections.

Balluun’s mission is to help trade show organisers be and remain those valuable business enablers. One of our strongest beliefs is that meeting face-to-face is the ultimate customer experience in a digital world.

FC Barcelona provides millions of fans with an engaging and valuable customer experience out of the stadium. If you look at how sports has evolved over the last years with the advent of digital and take as an example large sports clubs like FC Barcelona, they have hundreds of millions of fans world-wide that watch every weekend the games on screen however only about 95’000 can go to the stadium to watch them play live. The ultimate user experience of any fan is clearly to go and watch the game at the stadium. This obviously generates good revenue however the major portion of revenue generated by the club does not come from selling entry tickets but rather from the commercialization of TV rights, from FC Barcelona’s merchandising across the globe and by connecting, engaging across social networks on an on-going basis with their millions of fans that cannot attend the game.

The customer experience provided through social networks and media is what will bring at a given moment in time the fans to the stadium. As of today, FC Barcelona has 109 million fans on Face- book and provides them with an engaging and valuable customer experience out of the stadium. Interestingly, the dream of any of these fans is to go to the physical event and we are convinced this will never change. On the contrary, this will be reinforced through digital.

So how is Balluun enabling that change?

For us, helping trade show organizers go digital clearly means reinforcing every aspect of that mission. As we addressed that question with our teams, everything became clearer. The change will happen because we found a great way to take the trade show organizer’s business to the next level. Our digital platform augments physical trade shows while providing all aspects of connecting companies and people, allowing them to meet, network and engage in business conversations in a highly qualified and specific environment. That’s the social side of the solution. On the other side, showrooming and trading with your industry peers are also possible and made easy. That’s why we call it a social commerce marketplace.

Would you say that Balluun is in competition with the existing trade show business?

You are right to ask the question. I’ve been facing many questions and push-backs on that topic. Today, I can clearly say no as our entire approach and model is focused on partnering with trade show organisers. At Balluun, we see that success in a very collaborative way. In a digital world, the value of connecting on a meaningful, human level has never been more important. Incredible things happen when people come together, interact and inspire one another.

People must and want to meet physically and that’s what trade shows are made for: providing a meaningful face-to-face exchange platform. The problem is that they only meet for a limited amount of time and not everybody can attend each event. When we think about a trade show organizer, we see him or her as a VIP, a very important partner. And a partner is someone with whom you join forces to win greater battles. Our solution gives every partner the opportunity to seamlessly extend his offering from 3 to 365 days and to all stakeholders of the industries he serves.

Another important aspect where our model is disruptive is that we enable him to generate substantial additional revenues while leveraging a turnkey platform with minimal investments. That’s the real revolution.

And how is that possible?

Going digital is about offering new horizons, not just extending the existing ones. As we see it, we are really augmenting the role and value of a trade show organizer by providing a great technology, an online, mobile and social solution where networking and trading happens all year round and where the ultimate and reinforced experience is the trade show. Our partners can leverage all the data, may it be demographics, business preferences, data about their interactions, trending product searches to create even more high touch events where they match the right buyers with the right sellers. Users will join such platforms the same way as they join a trade show. They will pay a monthly fee to be on the platform to conduct business all year round. “A partner is someone with whom you join forces to win greater battles. For example, to generate additional revenue.”

So what is your immediate next step?

Although me and my team come from the digital side of things, our next step is to meet face-to- face with each trade show organizer to discuss how we can make things happen together. And this starts now with our participation at UFI’s Global Congress in Johannesburg where we invite you to meet us.


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