GE Water trades in hundreds of trade shows for a paid proprietary event program. A look at how its first-ever World Water Tour is paying off
Filters that turn salt water into drinking water. Mobile units that purify 600 gallons of water per minute. Miles of tiny membranes that reclaim waste water and save energy. It’s not science fiction (or Al Gore’s latest invention). It’s the stuff of cutting-edge water recycling developed by GE Water & Process Technologies.
To build awareness for its full suite of water reuse systems GE has launched its first-ever international road show. The GE World Water Tour is a series of three-day events targeted at plant managers bottling company execs and municipal waste managers who are charged with bringing clean water to their communities and finding energy efficient water recycling solutions for their businesses. The seminar series which launched May 2 in Las Vegas travels to 14 cities in eight countries this year including Australia Chile China India Mexico and United Arab Emirates—all destinations where water scarcity is a pressing issue. The proprietary program is unprecedented in the industry which includes competitors such as Siemens and Veolia and it launches on the heels of a recent Kiplinger’s report that predicts water technology companies will see a 15 percent increase annually in filtration technology sales up from $1.8 billion today.
“Nobody owns that mindshare so the tour is building brand awareness in some of our targeted emerging geographies where either the customer doesn’t know who GE is yet or knows GE but thinks of light bulbs or appliances not GE Water ” says Jeff Fulgham the company’s cmo. GE WPT is made up of five recently-acquired companies each with a different specialty so communicating the GE brand as a one-source solution to its heritage clients was central to the strategy. “We’re trying to show that we’re not competing in just one of these solution sets ” says Fulgham.
Over the past three years GE WPT has dropped 270 trade shows from its 300-show roster and moved the budget to the development of the proprietary tour. “At trade shows we have to go wherever the show is and it may or may not be aligned with where we need to grow ” says Fulgham. “By doing our own thing we’re taking it right to the spots that are the 14 key geographic areas where we want to be.” GE doubles up its investment by using the two days before each seminar to train its sales force (Agency: Sparks Philadelphia).
The $250-per-attendee event kicks off with a heavy-hitting keynote speaker who provides a high-level global perspective on the crisis. (Michael Deane senior policy advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency was the first speaker in Las Vegas. Karen Poniachik the minister of mining for the Chilean Government is on deck for the August event in Santiago.) Then a second local speaker takes the podium to put the issues in a regional context. After the keynotes attendees break out into interest groups where food and beverage managers for example can learn in detail about technical solutions for their particular challenges. The water scarcity education emphasis serves as a soft sell to boost attendance and to help channel top tier prospects toward GE’s pitch for an audit an in-depth analysis performed by a GE WPT specialist who troubleshoots problems and presents solutions GE can offer.
“We had to be able to have something that resonated and cut through all our different customers and segments and their different functions; to appeal to a plant environmental person and a vp of operations for example ” says Fulgham. “[The theme] is not very sales-y purposefully. It’s much more technical like an information exchange than it is a sales session and I think they feel that—and for that reason it’s very well attended.”
In the seminar space usually held in hotel conference rooms the room is split in half with one side dedicated to the speakers and breakouts and the other to sparking conversations at an interactive “river-to-river” six-panel display that shows how GE’s various products work from when water is taken into a plant to when it’s processed and released back into local waters.
At its fourth seminar held in June in Edmonton Canada the company added a local plant tour to its schedule allowing attendees to see products in action. It was so well-received GE will add a field trip to all future stops.
Attendees spend the last day of the seminar using the GE methodologies learned during the event to prioritize the water challenges that are affecting their plants. They also receive a CD with calculators and other tools to help them identify opportunities at their facility.
Based on exit surveys and NPS (net promoters score) cards GE says the content and message have been resonating with attendees and speakers. People who wouldn’t attend industry trade shows or might ignore GE’s sales force in the past are attending and engaging in the tour. And institutions and governments are attending the seminars just to understand the water situation in their area. In Edmonton for example local United Nations representatives were in attendance.
“When you look at the return on investment with the level of people and the positive response the leads are way beyond what we get at trade shows ” Fulgham says. This year’s maiden voyage will serve as a benchmark for a program the company plans to grow in the years to come. H2 oh so good.