How To Make Trade Shows More Valuable

How To Make Trade Shows More Valuable

A number of my clients use trade shows to connect with new prospects and strategic partners. Trade shows can be particularly valuable for generating awareness and new opportunities, however, there is some pre-work that should be done to ensure you get the most of your investment.

Below are several ideas for helping you make the most of every trade show you attend and be able to identify the return on your investment for future planning.

  1. In the exhibition hall before openingPlan Ahead

When I say plan ahead, I’m talking about a year in advance. Many shows start their planning schedule for the following year at the current year’s show in terms of booking exhibitors, planning the agenda, and call for speakers.

As we plan, we create a list of objectives for each trade show. Each show attracts a slightly different audience so you want to be sure that you’ve identified whom it is that you want to meet at each show. And I suggest you create a very specific list. I encourage my clients to do the research to be able to create a named list first and then get less specific if we don’t know someone that will be attending that fits the criteria.

  1. Expand Your List of Strategic Partners

Trade shows are particularly great for developing new strategic partnerships. In some cases, we don’t go to the show to exhibit, but find the show a much better opportunity to connect with like-minded businesses that we’d like to work with.

You can always see a list of exhibitors and that’s a great way to plan to meet other experts in the industry that you think might be good strategic partners. Review the list of exhibitors and, for example, pull out a list of five companies that you think you could potentially work with. Look at where you might have holes in your partner network in terms of the products or services provided or in terms of the geographic service area. Call ahead to schedule a meeting while you’re at the show to ensure you meet your goals.

  1. Speaking!

One of the best ways to generate awareness at a trade show or conference is to get a speaking slot on the agenda. Now this requires some exceptional planning–probably a year or so in advance. If it’s your first year at the conference, think about how you can get on the agenda next year.

Speaking really allows you to showcase your expertise and build trust and credibility. It’s also a way of self-selecting an audience. If you present on AV Control and Management, you will only get people in the room who are interested in that topic.

With speaking opportunities, remember that no one in the audience wants to be sold on anything–they want to be educated. Teach your audience what they need to know to buy right in your industry. The more you educate, the more trust you’ll gain.

Plan your presentation in advance so you can work in an opportunity to have the audience stay in touch with you. Whether it’s through offering a downloadable checklist for reference or offering the slides, plan this ahead of time so you’ve got the appropriate resources already set up.

  1. Sponsorships—Pay to Play

If you’re not able to get a speaking slot through the value of your own content then you may need to simply buy your way in with sponsorships. Conferences often sell the opportunity to sponsor a breakfast or lunch and these can be interesting opportunities if they come with the benefit of having 10 minutes to talk about what your company does and who it helps. If sponsoring a breakfast or lunch doesn’t come with the 10 minutes to speak, this is a pretty expensive way to get people to see your brand in a sea of brands.

Conference organizers sell just about anything they can these days (floor clings with your logo, etc.), but unless you’re already a big dog, many of these are hard to justify. Pay close attention to the options available and carefully think about what you will do to stand out and be memorable at the show.

  1. The Booth

The most important reason to have a booth is that it acts as an anchor point for you at the show. It gives you an opportunity to tell people exactly where to find you–booth 119 and that makes it really easy to schedule a chat. It makes it easy for them to find you as booth numbers and are usually placed on the trade show floor map.

To make the most of the show, you’ll want to select a booth location that has high traffic. Ideally, you’d like something at the entrance or exit area, or on the way to the keynote rooms so give that some thought when you select your booth.

It’s important to structure your booth such that you’ve got some meeting space inside your booth with a few chairs available. You also want to have something that makes your company memorable–so maybe you’ve got something very unique for a giveaway that draws people to go out and find you.

At the show, make sure you’ve got some good stories that detail the problems that your products and services solve. Put these stories together ahead of time in the form of case studies and even equip your staff with anecdotes to be able to share with prospects.

Remember that people don’t care about you and your products–they care about the problems they need to solve. Speak in those terms and you’ll have a much better time resonating with those you talk to at the show.

  1. After The Show

Just because the show is over and you’ve packed up and gone home doesn’t mean it’s all over. In fact, this is where you can stand out from the competition and become even more memorable. But you have to do it right away.

Create a report on the show itself because in two weeks you won’t remember much. Evaluate the audience for the show–was it what you were expecting? Was your ideal client there? Evaluate the booth space you had and the booth itself–what would you change for next time?

Were there certain topics that attendees were particularly focused on? Were there problems that were identified at the show that you weren’t aware of and how could you solve those with your products and services?

Then detail all the new prospects that you may have encountered. Put them into your CRM system and populate the system with any other relevant information from your conversations.

For any hot prospects, you should have already started the follow-up process and got the next touch point on the calendar already. If you haven’t done this, do it immediately.

For many smaller businesses, trade shows are expensive and ineffective because they DON’T FOLLOW UP. Trade shows tend to be good for top of the funnel and bottom of the funnel, but not so great for middle-funnel. Why? Because mid-funnel means they’re not in enough pain yet or they have to wait for some other trigger–often it’s new budget.

Marketing is about getting someone who has a need for your product or service, to know, like , and trust you. And that’s why trade shows are great for top of the funnel new prospects. Now the opportunity for you is to keep yourself top of mind. I recommend following up with something that specifically reflects the conversation you had at the booth. Personalize the follow-up with an article from an industry magazine that is related to their problem or a reference to a sports team you discussed at the show. The more personalized the better. Yes, this takes a little more time than sending off the standard email you might otherwise do, but it will pay off. This will make you much more memorable than anything else after the show.

In order for trade shows to be an effective marketing tactic, you have to plan and execute. You have to be thinking pro-actively and continuously evaluating so you can identify the shows that make the most sense for you to attend. If you go into these events unprepared, they quickly become expensive and not all that productive. But with a bit of planning, trade shows can help deliver some very successful results.

Download our trade show planning checklist to help you get the most out of your next trade show. You can find it here.

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