Five Fundamentals for Trade Shows

Although social media is now viewed as the best way to talk to customers one-on-one, the fact is that NOTHING, especially in the business-to-business world, beats a trade show. You get to actually meet and shake hands with people, answer questions in real time, present your products and your message exactly how you want to present them, and meet new people who could very well become customers in the future. Trade shows can be huge benefits, but like with everything else we have talked about, you will only see those benefits if you come into the trade show with an objective and a few fundamentals in your pocket. Here are some tips we feel will help ensure that your trade show goes smoothly.

1. Drive traffic to your booth BEFORE the show

It’s in the trade show’s best interest to drive people to the show. Once attendees are there, it’s up to you to get them to come to your booth versus a competitor’s. There are nearly countless ways to accomplish this goal, and you can use any channel of marketing to assist you. Many trade shows offer a direct mail list of pre-registrants that you can rent as part of your show package – that’s a fairly easy way to start, but you need to make sure you send something compelling. Those people are receiving many messages over a short period of time all asking them to visit a specific booth. Adding your booth number to your print and online ads and advertising in key show issues or show months always helps. Having a list of trade shows on your website, along with booth numbers and a show notice on your homepage can help capture who visit your website.

But there are also a lot of more creative ways to get people to your booth. Consider notifying your Facebook fans (if you have a page) that fans who show up at the booth will be entered into a special drawing. Send personalized messages to your most loyal customers and invite them to visit your booth where they’ll receive some sort of VIP treatment (a free massage perhaps). You’re competing for attention – combining something really special with frequent reminders you’ll be at the show is an ideal way to drive traffic to your booth.

2. Generating and defining leads

Everyone at a show wears a badge, and when you scan that badge you get that particular attendee’s contact information. Because of this, many times when you visit a booth you’ll be asked for your badge, even if you’re not really a customer. Is this company really gathering leads? Not necessarily. Scanning any badge that comes along is in the same line as measuring banner ads with impressions or email marketing with opens. A pair of eyeballs on your booth does not mean a person is likely to buy from you. Decide on how you will qualify your leads. Will it be a person who asks a question? Will it be a person who hangs around the booth for x amount of time, indicating interest? When you come back with new contacts, you should be able to explain, generally, why those people were considered leads. Not only will this give you a more accurate idea of how the show performed for you but it will also help you establish how you want to nurture those leads.

3. Have a plan to follow up with leads

Speaking of which, knowing how you are going to nurture the leads you generate at the show should be part of your pre-show conversation. Trying to decide on a strategy after the show has ended is already too late. As people return to their offices after a show they’re going to be playing catch-up from the work they missed while attending the conference. Soon, their interest in your company will wane if there is no follow-up. We recommend making sure that your customer service department, your sales department, and your marketing department are all on the same page before your personnel leave for the show. Who will process the leads? Who will send out the first communication to those people and what will it be? Again, the more creative the better. Show attendees are likely to receive a lot of emails after the show is over because people view email follow-ups as quick and easy. The same holds true for direct mail. How can you stand out and remind your prospect why they were interested in your company?

Incidentally, following up with existing customers who visited you is not a bad idea either. Making them feel special by acknowledging that you saw them and appreciated their presence could go a long way towards building customer loyalty.

4. Exhibit with marketing materials that look professional

A trade show booth, in many ways, is like a real-life website homepage. You are standing in an aisle and you want people to see all of the things you feel are most important about your company. As we have discussed before, we understand that professional literature and booth graphics represent a bigger investment, but when you are trying to make a powerful first impression, isn’t it important to put your best possible foot forward? Your booth graphics, your literature, your business cards, and anything else you present will be how people perceive you as they walk by. Make it a good first impression.

5. Be creative

We’ve touched on this a lot already, but trade shows are real-life representatives of the struggle marketers face to get attention. You are literally on a floor with hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of other companies. Your competitors are likely there. People are there who are buying from your competitors, and you have a chance to make them rethink that decision. Think creatively from your efforts to drive traffic to your booth to the way you interact with people at your booth and through the process of following up with leads. Simply handing out logo pens is no longer enough. There are ways to integrate social media, video, and more into your trade show presentation. Think outside the box.

If you are planning on exhibiting at a number of trade shows in 2013, or even just one big one, now is the time to start planning. If you need any help from us or if you have any questions, just let us know!

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gypsyrosed/482920665/ via Creative Commons


7 comments on “Five Fundamentals for Trade Shows

  1. This is really interesting and very useful. The five fundamentals for trade show will give you an edge over your competitors if followed correctly. Following this plus honesty will surely make your trade show a success.

  2. This is very intriguing for me because we ended up dropping trade shows as part of our own strategy. We now only attend if we are keynote or panel speakers at one of the breakout sessions. I know we could have improved our strategy regarding a lot of early-prep to target existing customers and our prioritized list of prospects. We also now have social channels to better promote our booth beforehand. 10-12 years ago, you only had email, phone and a website. And we were not built well for cold calls or email “blasts”…I agree, they should never be called blasts because that just screams SPAM.

    We did get a professional looking booth, and we had professional marketing materials. However, it seemed like we were competing with 10 people offering almost exactly the same services, and some of them brought “eye candy”. Umm, I’m not eye candy by any stretch of the term. We had swag, but I would get frustrated at the attendees who would make one last round on the exhibit floor with a bag to put all the cool swag they could get…to take home to their kids.

    I think shows/events are excellent as a speaker or an attendee with a desire to learn about new products or get educated on existing products. They can also be an outstanding place to develop new prospect connections as well as potential partnerships. However, we now take the approach of doing those tasks as a speaker or breakout attendee that also goes to the evening festivities for networking.

    • You raise a few great points.

      When I first started in the business, trade show traffic was driven (in part) by postcards that you could send out to a list the show would provide. Given that all exhibitors had access to the list, you can only imagine how many postcards and mailers those pre-registrants got before the show. You really would have had to do something spectacular to stand out in the crowd.

      Trade shows still may be tough to rationalize for companies, especially if said company is short-staffed. Having a person away from the office for 2-3 days can be tough, not to mention the cost for food and travel. All that being said, if you really strategize about your trade shows – what you want to achieve, how you’re going to achieve that, etc., we still think they can be great opportunities to meet up with your sales force, your customers, and even your competition. It’s just not the kind of thing you want to just “go to” and get it over with. That doesn’t make sense at all.

  3. These five points are great. And I find that people value face-to-face time even more so today because of social media (of which I am also a fan). I love that the first point addresses steps to take before the show. Often it’s all operations, and little marketing, before reaching the peak that is SHOW TIME! However the only thing lacking more than pre-show marketing, in my experience, is post-show follow-up. Successful participation in trade shows requires a more holistic approach, as opposed to the “magic bullet” effort so popular today.

    My keys to success for a company’s trade show program are…
    1. Choose the show wisely. Define your target and make sure this event attracts that target.
    2. Attract your target to the show (we’re all in this together) and, specifically, your booth (Step 1 above).
    3. Have a plan to capture, qualify and follow-up with your sales leads (Steps 2 & 3 above). Don’t leave your prospects wondering what happened to you after the show.
    4. Follow-up with yourself. Did the show’s attendance reflect your target audience? What percentage of those in your target actually made it to your booth. Where are those leads in the sales pipeline? What is their conversion rate? How did your investment in this show compare with other marketing investments in terms of cost per lead/exposure?

    Showing up at a show and hoping something good happens simply won’t result in a return you can justify. A comprehensive, integrated approach will yield success.

    • Great points all the way around, Siobhan! It’s important to ask the people who manned your booth what vibe they got from the show. Often times we hear from clients that the visitors seemed to be more decision makers versus design engineers (or the other way around) – that makes the trade show less a consideration in the years to come. Trade shows also need to be cognizant of these trends, by the way, because the exhibitors are THEIR clients.

  4. Awesome tips Marjorie – You might also be interested in this cool infographic I came across discussing how to Attract Tradeshow Attendees http://bit.ly/OyDdF0. Might have useful information for fellow readers!

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