Spring is coming and with it comes trade show season! Exhibiting at trade shows can be a very effective marketing activity. It also can be a black hole where your dump your money, time, and energy for little or no return. Savvy marketers know that trade shows can be very successful if strategically planned in advance. There’s a lot more work involved in trade show marketing than setting up a booth and giving away branded chachkies in return for a business card in a fishbowl. Follow these five steps to marketing your next trade show and you’ll see a much better return on your investment – I promise!
- Research. Take your time to research and select trade shows where your target market will be. It’s OK to exhibit at a trade show where the industry focus is different than yours, as long as your potential customers will be attending the show. Take a close look at the cost to exhibit and expected foot traffic, then set up a goal for conversion – after all, this is a marketing investment. If the numbers are not working right, attend the event first before committing to it. You can still network and do business as an attendee.
- Booth Selection. Location is a key for success at a trade show. If key decision makers will be attending the event, your business should be visible to them. Take the time to select a strategic location on the show floor. If this is a major show for your business, consider sponsoring it to have first bids on the best locations.
- Sales Strategy. Take the time to train your sales team on how to sell your products and services at the show. Give them a quota and make them accountable for the success of the show. Never allow your sales people to sit down behind the table or socialize with co-workers – that gives your prospects the worst image possible of your company. Sales people should be well groomed, alert, and connected to the traffic on the show floor. They are the ones representing your brand, and they have the power to either make it a successful show or a waste of time and money.
- Pre-Show Marketing. Get your marketing and sales people in a room and come up with a plan for before, during, and after the show. Your booth display should be clean, attractive, and welcoming. Begin talking about your presence at the show on social media three weeks before the event and include the event’s hashtag on all of your posts. Blog about it and try to schedule appointments with editors of industry magazines attending the show to educate them about your products and services. Have a press kit ready for them. Seek free product/service coverage on the show guide and on the daily updates (multiple day events). Get a list of exhibitors and see who you’d like to connect with – email them and set up a quick meeting during the show. Tell your customers that you’ll be there, where to find you, and offer them a reason to stop by. Think of ways to attract attendees to stop at your booth to do business, not to pick up a giveaway. Actively ask attendees for their information. Most people at trade shows know that getting their badges scanned means they will be receiving emails from a number of vendors, so let them know you’ll send them an email about your product/service, but they’ll have an option to unsubscribe from the mailing list if it’s not the right fit.
- Post-Show Marketing. Your post-show marketing is just as important as your performance on the show floor. All new contacts should be followed up within 24-48 hours after the show (72 hours if you’re overseas, but you still should aim for 48). You don’t want people to forget the conversations they had with you, so make sure to act upon all leads right away. Don’t mistake show attendees for warm leads and try to sell immediately. Instead, approach them as you would approach a top of the funnel lead, and nurture them all the way to the bottom of your funnel, as you would do with any inbound inquiry. The only added advantage here is that you had a chance to meet with the decision maker (hopefully) in person and had an opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of your product/service and how it can help them solve their challenges.
Trade shows can be extremely effective if planned and executed appropriately. The more time you invest in your marketing strategy, the better your outcome. And don’t forget, the purpose of your investment is to connect with new prospects, solidify existing relationships, and ultimately sell – not sit behind a table and hand out chachkies.