it’s not a tradeshow, but it’s an event of tremendous proportions. It’s historic week on the Monterey Peninsula, and I’ve been attending for over a quarter of a century. Since I first attended in 1989, it has grown to include multiple related events, including historic car auctions, vintage auto tours/rallies, historic auto races and more. It’s frankly hard to keep track of it all! It’s pulled off mostly by volunteers, and has so far managed to remain a mix of the one-percenters (who probably show most of the cars at Pebble) to the average historic/vintage auto buff. And very few celebrities – except for Jay Leno, who MC’s the raffles and a few other things to wrap up the Sunday show (get some new jokes, Jay!).
As I mentioned, I’ve had the good fortune to attend the show over 25 times, and get in a few golf swings at Pacific Grove Golf Course along the way. I thought it might be fun to share a few photos of the event. Check ’em out:
Hey, doesn’t everybody use Twitter? Okay, not everybody, but certainly a lot of folks do. It’s the go-to immediate social media platform to post quick-hitting comments, links and videos. You can track chatter about topics galore, and if you’re trying to keep up with social media interaction relating to a specific tradeshow, just plug in the show hashtag and you’re seeing dozens and dozens of tweets, photos and videos.
Frankly, it’s tough to find a tradeshow-related Twitter account that doesn’t commit one of the sins of tweeting: too much self-promotion, nothing but retweeting, or just ignoring the ability to personally relate by tweeting our photos or individual comments.
Let’s get highly subjective and track down a baker’s dozen of tradeshow and event-related Twitter accounts that you might take a look at:
When it comes to achieving tradeshow success, actual time spent at the tradeshow gets all the attention – so where does that leave pre-show marketing? Out in the cold, of course.
So bring pre-show marketing out of the cold and into the daylight.
The two questions to address are simple: what is my pre-show outreach, and who do I reach out to?
The ideal scenario of pre-show outreach is built on multiple touches: email, snail mail (postcards are good and cost-effective), and social media. Each of these could be broken down a bit more. Mailings could include more than just a postcard: if you have some high-value prospects in mind, send something a little more special and high-end that whets their appetite and gets them to your booth. Social media can include tweets and Facebook posts about your new products and services, or industry-famous guests at your booth. You can also create videos to promote your appearance at the show and share those as well.
So who gets the communication? The first channel to address would be your in-house list of clients, prospects and those that have inquired over the years. They know who you are and even if they’re not planning on going to the tradeshow, your invitation may help them change their mind. At the very least, they’ll know you’re exhibiting, which shows them you care enough about your company and brand to put it out there for all to see.
The second channel is to use a list provided by show organizers. But don’t just assume you can import the information into a spreadsheet and do a mail-merge and click send or print. No, you should go over the list to weed out competitors and non-prospects so they aren’t on the receiving end of your pitch.
It sounds easy – and in theory, it is. But pre-show marketing takes time and attention to detail. Create a plan that includes a timeline for each item, and then create the content and promotional material that will go out. Once execution of the plan is underway, track results as best as possible, and of course do your best to track the names and companies that actually responded and showed up to your exhibit.
I sat down with Jay Tokosch of Core-Apps on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Jay’s been in the industry for about eight years, and is CEO of Core-Apps, which creates apps for show organizers, show management software, apps for exhibitors and more. Check out Core-Apps when you get a moment, and be sure to look at the ShowcaseXD app here. Fun and lively conversation – check it out:
ONE GOOD THING: I saw the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets over the weekend. Critics say it’s the standout movie of the summer, and I don’t disagree. It’s a gorgeous movie, a pretty good story led by a couple of unknowns, but supported by a notable cast including Clive Owens, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna and Herbie Hancock (!). Good stuff. See the trailer here.
It’s a good question: what does a tradeshow manager do? And frankly, you can come at this question from a few angles.
For instance, is the tradeshow manager (or coordinator, or project manager) employed by the company internally, to make sure the tradeshow appearance is as flawless and successful as possible? Does the tradeshow coordinator work for an exhibit house, tasked with making sure the new (or stored) exhibit is shipped to arrive on time, and get set up, dismantled and shipped back? Or does the company find a third party to coordinate the logistics from show to show on an as-needed basis?
There are several things to determine, such as: what is the scope of work? What tasks are expected of the tradeshow coordinator? Is there a marketing department that makes decisions on which shows to attend? Who determines the budget and where does that money come from? And so on.
Wearing several hats is not uncommon for someone with the larger and somewhat vague title of tradeshow coordinator. Mainly, she is responsible for:
Determining what shows to go to (usually in coordination with a larger team that vets the various options)
Scheduling or securing the booth space and coordinating logistics such as electricity, internet, cleaning, badge scanner and more
Work with vendors such as exhibit houses or printers for any updates to the exhibit
Scheduling exhibit shipping, I&D (installation and dismantle), return shipping, storage
Booth staffer hiring, training, scheduling and coordination of any special clothing such as branded t-shirts; develop and/or coordinate any pre-conference training for staffers
Coordinate with sales and marketing for any special product demos, etc.
Hire in-booth presenters if needed
Track expenses as required
Coordinate lead generation activities, system and delivery of leads to sales post-show
Pre-show marketing: mailers, emails, any specific phone invitations
Post-show follow-up communication
Record keeping: maintain show schedules, project checklists, exhibit management, photos from each show, logistic and travel expenses show to show and year over year
Each individual position may include more or less from this list, but these are the main tasks on a tradeshow manager’s job description list.
And, just for fun, I looked at tradeshow manager job listings across the USA recently. There are a ton of openings. Just sayin.’
When I was a kid, my basketball coach used to tell me to follow through on shooting free throws and making basic passes. When I started playing golf, the instructor told me to be sure to follow through on my swing.
Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My instinct was to believe that the initial movement, not the follow through, was important. Hell, the follow through had nothing to do with the original shot or pass or golf swing, so what was the point?
But have you tried to swing a golf club without doing a proper follow through? It’s like you’re doing half a swing. How do you pull up short? Even if the club swing has nothing to do with the trajectory or distance of the ball, for some reason, it does play an important part.
Same thing with your tradeshow marketing. If you don’t have a good follow through, you’re only doing half the show. And in your tradeshow efforts, it makes a bigger difference than your free throw or golf swing, because without a good follow through or follow up, you’re leaving money on the table. A LOT of money. In fact, it could be said that without a good follow up on your tradeshow marketing after the show, you might as well not go.
When I first got into the business of tradeshow marketing, the one statistic that stood out like a sore thumb was that almost 8 out of 10 tradeshow leads are NOT followed up on. That’s still pretty true. Yup, somewhere between 70 to 80% of tradeshow leads don’t get followed up on for any number of the following reasons:
Not properly scored (cool, warm, hot), so the sales person making the call has no idea where the prospect is in the sales process.
Incomplete contact information.
Incomplete follow up info: what does the prospect want from the call and when does she expect the follow up?
Lost between the show and the office.
Sales people don’t understand the importance or urgency of the lead, so it sits on their desk for way too long until it doesn’t matter anymore.
Any of these means that money is left on the table. Follow up is simple.
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov
There are countless books written about how you can do something better, whether it is tradeshow marketing or underwater basket weaving. But the real secret to improvement is to approach the task with the intent of seeing what works and what doesn’t and use that information to increase your outcome the next time.
Which means that no matter what book you read, you are responsible for the success or failure of that venture. Or, as Peter Shankman recently said, “Lose is not an option. Your options are to win or learn.”
Frankly, even the most seasoned tradeshow marketers run up against forces that give them less than stellar results, leaving them to question their approach.
But if you’re a rookie tradeshow marketer, the learning curve can be steep with many bumps and potholes along the way. Don’t let that dissuade you. Yes, you’re under pressure from the boss to bring home more leads than last time, and to have your sales team close more sales from those leads.
What if the lead count is not what you want? What if the sales results are not optimal? Your choices are to keep moving forward and ignoring the reasons why you had those results, or dig into the various moving parts to learn what happened. Was your booth visitor count down? Did your booth staff perform poorly because they were not as well-trained as they should have been? Did your competition have a better product or service?
All of these and more can affect your results, and the more you understand about why you got the results you did, the better you can respond and improve.
Well, these might not be actual tradeshow marketing secrets, simply because by its very definition, a secret is something that is not well known. The following items are fairly well known and no doubt you can easily find them online – but the question is: are you using them to their full capacity and capability?
First, let’s look at first impressions. Hey, you only get one chance! And as you know, in tradeshows, perception is everything. Make your first impression strong, and the second piece of the puzzle will fall into place a little easier.
Next, know that the image you put out at a tradeshow isn’t just a random piece of your brand – it’s your whole brand. It IS your brand. If you miss the mark here, your next puzzle piece just got harder.
Up next: your staff. You can have the sweetest exhibit at the show, but if your staff sucks, it will all go for naught. Which means that your staff should not only know what they’re doing and be presentable and friendly and good with people, they should be well-trained in the challenges of dealing with hundreds of people on the chaos of the tradeshow floor.
Now, be sure to have something for people to do when they arrive at your booth. It could be a product demo, an interactive tool, a video to watch, a virtual reality headset to wear – anything that engages them for more than 8.4 seconds.
Ninety percent of success is showing up. Of course, you say, you’ll show up. But do you really? Are you really there for the full show? Are you there ready to listen to a client’s complaints and respond? Are you there to jump in when there is a problem or challenge and not leave it for someone else? Be there. All the time. Not just when you’re on the clock.
Cross your T’s. Dot your i’s! Details are important. When you slip on an important detail, someone – perhaps a potential client – is bound to notice.
Yes, details are important, but so is keeping your eye on the bigger picture. Tradeshows are a powerful way to reach markets that you otherwise would not be able to access so easily and economically.
Really, it’s all in the follow-up. Yup, I was kidding back in that earlier paragraph where I said the key to tradeshow marketing success was to draw a crowd and then know what to do with them. You’ve got to have a good follow-up plan in place. And be sure the work the plan.
Finally, be flexible. Sometimes, you just gotta MacGuyver things and adjust to a changing landscape. Be willing to go with the flow and see where it leads, as long as your overall strategy doesn’t change.
So you wanna create social media buzz before the tradeshow but aren’t sure exactly how to pull it off? Of course there are dozens of strategies and tactics that will raise your profile above the average company, but not all will work in all situations and of course nothing is guaranteed. Your tweets and Instagram posts could be swept away by an unforeseen event or distraction that swoops up the eyeballs you were hoping to grab!
One of the most memorable methods was one I saw years ago when Griffin refurbished an old VW bus and drove across the country for a couple of weeks, tweeting and posting photos and videos all the way. By the time they drove the bus onto the tradeshow floor, hundreds of people were waiting for them. So you might consider how to play up your travel to the event. It might grab attention if it’s different than the norm. Anyone want to bounce from SF to LA on a pogostick wearing a branded shirt? Hey, just a thought!
So here are some more thoughts and ideas on how to create a little social media buzz prior to the show:
Know the show hashtag, so that everything you put out is trackable and findable by show followers, whether they follow your actual account or not.
If you have new products or services, create a teaser video or three and get them out onto your social media platforms.
Maybe you’re going to debut a new exhibit at the show. Work with your exhibit house to tease elements of the exhibit with photos prior to the show.
Consider creating a special landing page on your website just for the show. Let people make appointments, view more videos, learn about new products, get invited to parties, sign up for email or text notifications, whatever.
If you have a company CEO or other management member speaking at the show or being part of a panel, be sure to include that in any information you post. And if you’re sponsoring a specific event or area of the show, don’t forget that.
Got a contest or something else to draw people to your booth? Start promoting the contest online a week or so prior to the show. Any sooner and it becomes old quickly. Wait too long and you won’t reach as many people.
Create a special hashtag just for your company for just this show and invite people to post photos of themselves wearing your product using the hashtag. Draw several prize winners from among the photos during the show and give away a bunch of your products to both show attendees and those that weren’t able to attend.
By engaging with attendees prior to the show, you create social media buzz that increases the odds you’ll draw more people to your booth during the show. If you manage to come up with this year’s VW bus promotion that goes viral, you might even get a raise!
If you’re standing at the edge of your tradeshow booth ready to engage with a visitor, remember that as try you qualify him or her, you’re really trying to find the prospect’s real issue. Once you do that, you can determine if you can be of assistance, or if you can’t.
Tradeshow selling take place in a chaotic environment. Hundreds or thousands of competing exhibitors, and thousands or tens of thousands of attendees means everyone is vying for attention and they all have their own personal agenda. So when you get an opportunity to interact with a booth visitor, the best recipe for a successful encounter is to know where you want to go.
And often that destination is reached by trying to uncover the prospect’s real issue. How do you do that? By asking questions.
Let’s say you’re exhibiting at a show to get more leads for your IT business such as virus eradication and firewalls and related services Your visitor mention that they think their IT department is doing okay. That’s a bit of an opening – not much – but it should give you an opportunity to peel back the onion a bit.
“When you say that ‘you think’ the IT department is doing okay, what do you mean?”
They may tell you that from what their IT guy says, they seem to have dealt with most of the recent viruses with a rebuilt firewall. Or something. He’s not an IT guy.
“What do you mean by most? Can you tell me more?”
They go on to say that the IT guy only “swore for half the day” earlier in the week at something-or-other that was taking up all his time instead of being able to add on to the network which he was supposed to be doing.
“So your network administrator only ‘swore for half the day’ at having to deal with viruses? It sounds like he must have dealt with it. So it’s a done deal, right?” (You’re trying to backpedal a bit: psychologically it’s going to spur them to open up a bit more. If you suddenly tried to sell them your services without knowing if they need it, their defenses would likely go up).
Naah, he says, still some work to do. But he doesn’t know because he’s not the IT guy. Maybe it would be worth giving you his contact number, he says.
“Well,” you say, “that may be a good move. But he probably has his own go-to team to deal with issues like this, right?” (Still back-pedaling and acting like it’s not a big deal, to get him to open up more).
He doesn’t think so. In fact, just an hour ago when he was having lunch with the IT guy, the guy got a phone call from his assistant and they must have sworn back and forth for ten minutes over the situation. In fact, the IT guy may have to leave the show early to go deal with it.
“He and his assistant swore about the situation for ten minutes while you were eating? So the assistant has it handled, then?”
Uh, no, says the visitor. Gulp. Doesn’t sound like it. But then, he says again, he’s not an IT guy.
Now you’ve uncovered the real issue. It took a bit of doing, because your visitor was unwilling to reveal that information until you kept asking questions – and following up those questions with some ‘aw, shucks, it’s probably not a big deal, right?’ questions. And with your laidback but curious approach designed to get more information, he’s revealed the issue: that there really is a problem that your IT guy is trying to solve. Trying to put out a fire, in fact.
Sales is essentially the same whether it’s on the tradeshow floor, on the phone, or in someone’s office. It’s not about features and benefits. It’s about uncovering the problem and seeing if there is a fit between your prospect’s problems and your potential solutions. If there is, you’ll find an opportunity to discuss it in full at the earliest opportunity. If there is no fit, you wish him or her well and move on to the next.
Next time you’re on the tradeshow floor, try to refrain from hitting your visitors with a list of features and benefits at the first sign of a possible lead. Instead, drill down by playing a bit dumb, asking more questions and getting to the prospect’s real issues. Then you can schedule the next move that both of your agree on.