Whether you are exhibiting at your first trade show, or you’re a seasoned trade show veteran, you can always find room for improvement when it comes to maximizing trade show participation. Many companies consider trade shows a necessary evil and a big expense of doing business. Whether you’re attending high-profile trade shows with large audiences or smaller networking events, you can always find ways to make trade shows PAY for your company.
Trade shows all have one thing in common: Your competition will be there doing the same thing you’re doing. In fact, everyone exhibiting at the trade show will be doing the exact same thing you are doing. If your plan is to buy a trade show booth, send a few sales people with a stack of brochures and some pens and hope for the best, you’re probably not going to have a successful or profitable trade show. Marketing is the key to your success and the differentiator between you and your competition. Successful marketing occurs before and after the show – not at the show.
Below are simple tips for maximizing the return on your trade show budget and differentiating your company from the competition.
1. Plan early to maximize your budget and exposure.
When planning for trade shows large or small, begin at least six months in advance. Many times, if you are exhibiting at a trade show you will have the opportunity to secure your booth space during the current show for the next year. Be sure to work with the show staff and pick the best booth for your needs.
*TIP – You can usually obtain a better booth location after you’ve picked your initial space. Try contacting the sales office after a couple months; they are usually eager to help and willing to negotiate.
Take advantage of early bird specials. Most show services will give discounts to participants who book and pay early. Also, many trade shows contract with hotels in the area and offer special rates. Usually only a limited number of discounted rooms are available, so booking early can save you hundreds of dollars.
*TIP – Once you sign up for a trade show, many independent companies will try to sell “group” rates at the various hotels. If you want their help, call the trade show office first to ensure the company you are considering is affiliated with the event or conference.
Make sure your customers can find you at the trade show. When you register for a booth, you will receive access to an online toolbox for your company. The most important thing you can do is fill out your company’s online profile and submit information for the printed show directory listing. The show directories are produced months before the trade show, and you want to make sure your company is listed so people can find you.
*TIP – If you miss the deadline for the printed show directory, make sure your online profile is filled out and includes your company’s logo. You should plan on marketing your booth number as much as possible before the show. You can also call the show staff to find out what advertising opportunities are available for additional visibility during the trade show. You might be able to place a banner in the lobby or purchase an aisle sign or floor decal featuring your logo and booth number.
2. Successful trade show marketing is key to success at the show.
The key differentiator between you and your competition is successful marketing. Studies show that very few exhibitors do any kind of pre-show promotions before the actual trade show. Pre-show marketing is a necessity to maximizing the return on your trade show investments.
Communicating to your current customers should be a high priority in your pre-show marketing plan. Let them know you are going to be at the show and highlight the benefits they would enjoy by visiting your booth. Developing an appointment schedule is a good way to get customers committed to meeting with you during the show. You can schedule dinner or breakfast meetings with customers or potential customers. Sales staff attending the trade show should be reaching out to all clients and potential clients making one-on-one appointments.
*TIP – Many conferences and trade shows have important sessions, events or keynote speakers scheduled at various times throughout the event. Always check the show schedules and make sure you aren’t setting up meetings that conflict with important sessions or events.
Remember to post your trade show schedule and upcoming events on your website as soon as you book them. You should also be cross-marketing all trade shows you will be attending throughout the year in any marketing activities your company participates in, including blogs, social media, other industry trade shows and company newsletters.
*TIP – There are companies you can hire that specialize in this type of pre-show marketing.
3. Maximize your presence at the show.
You don’t need the biggest or best booth at a trade show to make the largest impact on your potential customers. It’s the quality of your message that counts. A clear, concise message is the key point that is going to engage people and make them stop for more information. Don’t try to squeeze everything you do onto your booth or signage. You have less than five seconds to capture peoples’ attention. Nice graphics, a bold headline and a few bullet points are all you need.
*TIP – If you are attending an event that requires a simple tabletop exhibit, forgo the traditional tabletop pop-up and instead purchase a nice tablecloth with your company logo, a hanging sign and simple portable banner.
Engaging people at your booth is one of the most important aspects of exhibiting at a trade show. Having people at your booth who are educated about your product or service and can sell it/them is critical. This may seem like common sense, but the number one complaint I’ve heard about people attending trade shows is: “The person in the booth couldn’t answer my questions.”
*TIP – If you’re attending a larger show, assign a booth captain before the show. Captains should be in charge of making sure their booth is set up properly, remains clean and tidy and has someone in the booth at all times.
Lead management is an important role in the success of any trade show. However, not all leads are created equal. The best way to go about qualifying a lead is to have the sales team determine what makes a “hot,” “warm” and “cold” lead and devise a system that captures this information. This will help organize your sales and marketing team’s follow-up after the show.
*TIP – Fully customizable software applications can be purchased that can integrate with an iPad® in your booth. This can streamline your lead management and reduce literature expenses. The applications allow you to manage leads and forward them in real-time. You can also send related digital materials from the device to any email address.
4. Post-show follow-up and closing the sale.
Post-show follow-up is just as important, if not more important, than any of your pre-show activities. You have spent a lot of time and money earning your trade show leads and, if you’ve created a system to classify the leads, it should be easy for your sales team to prioritize a follow-up strategy. Leads should be distributed to the proper sales staff and every one of them should be followed up with accordingly.
A good strategy would be to have Sales follow-up with all hot and warm leads and have marketing follow-up on the cold leads for further nurturing. Every one you meet at the trade show should be viewed as a potential customer. Whether you send an email thanking them for visiting your booth or contact them directly over the phone, all leads should receive some form of personalized contact.
*TIP – All leads should be tracked in either a customer relationship management (CRM) system or a spreadsheet. It’s important to show your return on investment (ROI) for trade shows and understand what is working for you and what needs improvement. You will also be able to better identify what trade shows are more valuable for you to attend. The better tracking system you have, the more detailed sales data, ROI and customer information you will be able to capture from your trade show efforts.