Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

lead generation

Applying the Modern Business Plan to Tradeshow Marketing

The ‘modern business plan’ was hatched on a blog post by Seth Godin. I was a recent enrollee in Godin’s The Marketing Seminar, where at one point we were referred to the post which breaks down the five elements of what he feels are the important parts of a modern business plan: truth, assertions, alternatives, people and money.

It’s also possible to apply that thinking to how you approach tradeshow marketing.

The truth of tradeshow marketing would be the facts and figures of the specific show(s) that you plan to participate in. How many people attend? What percentage of decision-makers and influencers are among the attendees? Who are the competitors/exhibitors?

Assertions might include your thoughts on what you believe you know that is not necessarily supported by data. What new products are you launching that might be similar to new products from competitors? What types of marketing tactics and strategies are those competitors using? This is where you state what you believe to be true, although you might not be able to prove it.

Alternatives: ­This is where you play the “what if” game. What if things go wrong? What is your plan B? What if you get lucky by meeting the exact prospect that you didn’t anticipate? What if your top salesperson is poached by a competitor? Hey, anything can happen. At least opening your mind to some of those possibilities gives you a chance to chew them over.

People: who are your best people and how can you best use them? Where are your weak spots and how can you improve with them? Do you need to acquire people to get your tradeshow department to run like a clock and not like a Rube Goldberg machine?

Finally, money: Budgeting, logistical costs, personnel costs. Return on investment, cost of samples. You know the drill. But are your numbers accurate? And did you run the calculations a year later after the show so that you actually know what your return on investment really is?

What is your Return on Objective? Thanks to the Exhibition Guy Stephan Murtagh!

There are any number of ways of looking at your business or marketing plan, but taking this approach helps to clarify several issues at once. Give it a try!

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11 Ways to Attract Attention at a Tradeshow

Wear colorful branded clothing. Whether it’s a staff of two or three, or twenty, having colorful branded clothing will immediately let visitors know who’s working the booth and who’s a guest. Bright colors attract, so put your logo on the front and an enticing message on the back. And to change things up from day to day, create a different colored set with a different message for each day of the show, and make sure your crew coordinates. Bright colors, especially if they’re tied into your brand work well: yellow, red, orange, blue, fluorescent.

Setup a giant prop and invite people to take a photo. Could be anything: a mascot, a giant purse, a full-size model of one of your products (if it’s small, for instance); something that stops people in their tracks. I’ve seen mascot, angels, musicians, giant hanging props, exhibits made from bicycle frames and more. They all had one thing in common: they begged to have their picture taken.

Once that photo has been taken, invite the visitor to spread the word on social media and include the show hashtag to make sure the post gets seen. Offer prizes to people that photo and share online.

Give something away and offer an incentive to wear it. One way is to print up a few hundred t-shirts or hats with your logo along with a fun message and tell people that if they put it on right there, they can also take home another gift. And tell them if you catch them wearing it at an after-hours show (be specific as to which one), you’ll be giving away $50 bills to random shirt wearers. This type of promotion gets others involved and spreads the word about your booth and products throughout the show.

Have a unique exhibit that begs to be seen. Sounds straightforward, but to break out of the cookie-cutter mold, it takes a designer that’s willing to create something unique and wild and a company that’s willing to spend to make it a reality.

Give visitors something to DO. Interactivity goes a long way. At the NAB Show, there were several exhibitors that gave visitors a chance to learn new software by joining them for a free class. Not only are you drawing interested people in, you’re keeping them involved for up to an hour and showing them exactly how the product works.

Contests. Give people a chance to win something by guessing the number of beans in a jar, answering a quiz, spinning a wheel or something else increases the chance you’ll get visitors to stop at your booth. Make sure to engage them in a brief conversation to uncover their needs regarding your product.

Famous mugs. Lots of companies hire famous (or at least semi-well known) people to be a part of the show. Authors, speakers, sports stars, actors, and so on can all draw a crowd. Authors in particular, if they’re in your industry, can be a good draw if they have a new book out. I’ve seen dozens of people in line to pick up a free copy of a new book and get it signed by the author (and snap a selfie!), and I’ve waited in line to get a prop soft baseball signed by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Comment wall. I see these more and more. Ask a bold question or make a bold statement and invite people to chime in with their thoughts on a wall. Invite people to snap a photo of what they wrote and share it on social media (make sure the wall is branded and has the show hashtag on it).

Bring media production to your booth. Know someone that is a podcaster in the industry? Invite them to record a few episodes of their show in your booth, and make sure to provide some good guests for them, whether it’s people from your company, or others. The simple act of recording a show in your booth will make a lot of people stop. That’s a good time for your staff to engage those visitors politely to find out if they’re prospects.

If someone in your company has written a book, offer free copies of the book along with free printed photos with visitors and the author. This has worked great for years for Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, one of our long-time clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. Every time they exhibit at the bigger expos, Bob spends time signing books and posing for photos while a photographer takes photos and has them printed up in a few moments for the visitor.

There are literally countless ways to draw crowds to your booth. It all boils down to creativity and execution. What can you do to improve the traffic at your next show?

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Top Ten All-Time Most Viewed TradeshowGuy Blog Posts

I got an email the other day from someone whose newsletter I had just subscribed to, and in the introduction email there was a link to the top 5 most read blog posts on her blog. That’s when an idea light lit up over my head and gave me an idea for a blog post (as a blogger, you’re always looking for ideas, right?).

Next thing you know I was pawing through my Google Analytics account to find out what were the most-viewed posts on this blog. These are the ones that floated to the top, for whatever reason. It’s all organic. I don’t advertise, but I do share links now and then on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On occasion there might be a link here from Pinterest. Or another blog.

This blog is aging. It’s over ten years old, having been launched in November, 2008. There are almost 1000 posts.

One more note: the analytics breakdown shows the front page as “most-viewed” and a couple of pages (not posts) showed up in the top ten as well, including the Contact Me page and the We Accept Blog Submissions page. But beyond that, here are the top ten blog posts since the beginning of the blog (in traditional countdown order):

Number Ten: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Exhibit RFPs. I created a one-page sheet on what should go into an Exhibit RFP (Request for Proposal), and posted it on Cheatography.com, a site for thousands of cheat sheets. Kind of fun. They regularly sent me emails telling me how many times it was downloaded (500! 1000! 1500!). Not sure how accurate that is, but obviously it’s been seen by a lot of people. From September 2017.

Number Nine: Breaking the Ice: How to Attract Tradeshow Visitors. I referenced a number of techniques taught by tradeshow colleague Andy Saks for this article, which appeared in December 2015.

Number Eight: 23 Pre-Show Marketing Tactics, Promotions and Ideas. A laundry list that was posted in October 2009 when the blog was not even a year old.

Number Seven: How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page. Inspired by Portland’s Digimarc, it’s a look at the steps you can use to put together an online site specifically to interact with potential tradeshow booth visitors. From December 2017.

Number Six: Write More Orders at Tradeshows by Replacing Paper With Digital Technology. One of two guest posts on the Top Ten list, this is from Sarah Leung of Handshake. April 2015.

Number Five: Tradeshow Debriefing Questions. Another oldie but goodie, this post from September 2009 guides you through the after-show info-gathering process.

Number Four: Virtual Reality for Tradeshows. You’ve seen them at shows: people wearing VR goggles. Is it worth it? A brief exploration, from June 2016.

Number Three: Exhibit vs. Booth vs. Stand. They’re called different things in different parts of the world, so I took a whack at trying to explain it. Just last summer in July 2018.

Number Two: 10 Skills Every Tradeshow Staffer Should Have. Margaret Coleback of Vantage Advertising LLC dashed of a great list for staffers, which appeared in January 2015.

Aaaaand, at Number ONE: SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. It still surprises me that this post gets a whopping 3.95% of all of the traffic on the site. At the time I wrote it I had been spending a fair amount of time with a friend who was going through school to get his degree in marketing, and one thing that we discussed in depth was the SWOT Analysis. S=Strengths; W=Weaknesses; O=Opportunities; T=Threats. It’s a great exercise to work through in regards to your tradeshow marketing appearances. Check it out. It’s from February 2015.

Got any favorites?


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In Tradeshow Sales, Focus on the Moment

Tradeshow sales is a much different beast than any other kind of sales.

Picture this: you’re standing in your tradeshow booth with dozens of competitors lining the aisle, selling to the same market. They’re all trying to convince visitors that they’re the best solution. The goal is to talk to as many people as possible, because if you do that, you can gather more leads. And the more leads, the better off your sales team is. That’s the common knowledge, and generally it’s correct.

But step back a moment. Let’s examine that interchange a little more closely.

“Less haste, more speed.”

Instead of doing your best to gather contact information, such as scanning a badge, or writing down names and numbers and email addresses, take the time to qualify. I’ve been to tradeshows recently where it seemed like the only thing that was important to the booth staffer was to gather as many scans as they could. Maybe it was a contest. But it was one in which they ultimately lost, because they no doubt ended up scanning dozens or hundreds of people that have no interest in buying, are not qualified, are not the decision maker or don’t have the money.

Even though you’re trying to get as many leads in a limited time, let’s remember a few things.

Are you qualifying visitors properly?

One, most of the people at the show are qualified to a certain degree. They may not specifically be in the market to purchase your product, but they are in the market, otherwise they would not be there. If they’re not a potential buyer, there’s a good chance they know someone who is.

Two, a majority of them are decision-makers or can influence a buying decision.

Three, given the volume of people walking from booth to booth, you will not talk to everyone. It’s not possible.

Four, knowing that you can’t talk to everyone, take enough time with the ones you do talk to to qualify or disqualify as soon as reasonable.

Now that you have the right perspective, understand what you are really trying to do: qualify the leads, and gather as much information as necessary for a productive follow-up on an agreed-upon date.

What you want to know

Here are the items you’ll want to uncover:

Are they interested in your product or service?

If so, when? If not, do they know anyone that is?

At this point, you will make an A/B decision: if they’re interested, uncover more information. If not, and if they don’t have any one they can refer you to, politely thank them and move on to someone else.

If they are interested, ask further questions, as if you’re peeling back the layers of an onion:

When do you plan to make a decision? Next week, next month, next year? This tells you the urgency of the situation.

How is that decision made? Is it one person, or is it a collaborative decision?

Does the company have the funds committed to the purchase?

The follow-up questions

Once you have qualified them by getting the right answers to these questions, quickly move on to the follow up questions:

When would you like us to follow up with you? Find a date, and if appropriate, get the time and date scheduled in both yours and their calendars.

How do you want us to follow up? Phone, email, in-person visit (if feasible), sending something in the mail?

That’s the simple, straightforward way to qualify and get enough information for your sales team to follow up.

Yes, there is a good chance that your visitor will have a lot of questions about your product or service, especially if it’s a complex product, such as software or some technical hardware. In that event, answer their questions on the show floor – take as much time as you need to determine if they’re a real prospect or not – and then move on to the confirmation and follow up phase.

Once you’ve confirmed the follow up, thank them and move on to the next.


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Showing Up is Only Half the Battle

If you do a Google search for “showing up,” you get all sorts of links and suggestions as to what it means. Showing up for a performance, showing up for important events in your life for your friends and family, showing up at work by giving it your attention and energy.

Showing up is important. As Seth Godin put it, though, we’ve moved way beyond simply showing up, sitting in your seat and taking notes. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda. Escalate, reset expectations and make your teammates delighted.

Show up to delight your visitors

Sure, showing up is important. On a personal and business level to me, showing up means controlling my behaviors and emotions. Knowing that when I set out to do a day’s work, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do (calls, projects, communications with clients, writing, etc.), and doing my best to do it, every day. For example, I made a commitment in January of 2017 that I would show up every Monday to do a video blog/podcast for at least a year. Once the year was up, I would assess it from a number of angles. Was is working? Was it fun? Was it good? Did it get any attention? Did my guests get anything worthwhile out of it? Did the listeners give good feedback, even if there were very few? Based on my assessment of those questions (not all were completely positive, but enough were) I committed to another year. Then another.

So here we are.

Showing up at a tradeshow is more than just being there. If you are to take Seth Godin’s perspective, you want to have more than just a nice exhibit. You want to show up with more than just average enthusiasm and average pitches to your visitors. You should set high expectations for your company and your team.

How can you do that? By starting months before the show and having ongoing conversations about how to get visitors to interact. How to get them to respond. How to tell your company or product’s story. How to make it exciting to just visit your booth, exciting enough so that your visitors feel compelled to tell others to come.

There are no wrong answers, and plenty of right answers.

What will you do beyond just showing up?

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Before You Fly Away Home from the Tradeshow

Once the tradeshow is over, it’s only natural to want to skedaddle the premises and hightail it home as fast as possible.

But WAIT. Before you go, if you’re in charge of the exhibit properties, or at least delegating the jobs to various entities, go over your checklist.

That checklist may look something like this:

Dismantle: Whether you’re hiring a professional I&D crew or taking down the booth with a few fellow employees, make sure to check that all parts and pieces make it into the shipping containers. I can tell you from personal experience that things go missing: carpet pieces, crate endcaps, products and much more. If you are there, take photos as things are put in the crates. If you’re not there, have your hired crew take photos. Most will do so without being asking just for their own records, but by asking you’re making sure that it happens (usually). It also doesn’t hurt to make a shortlist of what is in each crate. I have lost track of the number of times a client has asked if we can track down some particular item a few months after the show. Know what crate to look in makes it that much easier.

Shipping: If you’re using a shipping company, be in good contact with your contact about the details, such as the BOL (Bill of Lading), shipping address, number of crates and pallets, etc. At big shows, sometimes trucks will check in at 9 am but it’ll be hours until they are actually able to pick up your crates. You’ll be billed for the waiting time, of course. Communicate all pertinent information to your trucker: pickup address, check-in time, move-out times – anything that is available from the show organizers. It’s usually (but not always) on the website.

Leads collected: the most important thing, at least as far as management and the sales team are concerned. No matter what form you have them in, digital or analog, triple-check to make sure they are getting safely back to the office.

Reserve your booth space for next year. This may or may not be on your list. But if it’s something your team typically does ahead of time, make sure it’s done.

Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Plan a little thank you gathering (dinner, coffee and goodies?) back at the office for your team to show them how much you appreciate them.

Look ahead to next year. It’ll come quicker than you might think!

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100+ Digital Marketing Stats Reveals What Really Works

Good infographics communicate information in a way that no article alone can and these 100+ digital marketing stats are no exception. This new post from VisualCapitalist.com draws research from Hubspot, BrightEdge, Statista, FoundationInc, OptinMonster and many others to illustrate results that marketers get from email, social media, mobile, paid advertising, lead generation, content marketing and others. Yes, this is digital only, but so many tradeshow marketers are combining digital marketing with their face-to-face marketing, that it made sense to not only show a bit of the infographic, but link to it. Here’s a link to the blog post; here’s a link to the infographic itself. Or click the graphic below and go direct to the graphic which we’ve put on this blog.

100 digital marketing stats that work in 2019

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Asking the Right Questions

On the tradeshow floor, everything is important, but one of the most important is asking the right questions of your visitors.

I’ve been at three tradeshows in the past 5 weeks: two large expos (Expo West and NAB Show) and a smaller regional foodservice show.

In every show, I’m curious to see what questions are thrown out by booth staffers.

Frankly, I’m not impressed.

Yes, some good queries are pitched. But most initial questions or statements aren’t of much use to the exhibiting company.

“How are you today?”

“Would you like a free pen?”

“Still raining outside?”

(Looking at my badge) “What’s a TradeshowGuy?” (at least it got my attention)

“Have you been to this show before?”

None of those have much zing. Or pertinence to the situation.

How do you come up with good questions?

Let’s harken back to previous posts on this blog. To pose a good question, first understand what it is you’re trying to find out.

You’re there to sell a product or service, or to connect with distributors who will sell your products or services. Which means you want to know if the visitor even uses the product. Thanks to an interview we did with Richard Erschik, we know that the first question is often:

Do you currently use our product or a similar product?

After that, you’re trying to determine if the visitor is interested in purchasing that product in the near future:

Are you considering making a purchase soon? When?

Next, you’d like to know if the person you’re speaking to has decision-making power:

Who makes the decision? You? Or is there someone else that is involved?

Asking the right questions at the tradeshow.

And of course, you want to know if they have the capability to spend the money you charge for your service:

Do you have the money you’d need to invest in this product or service?

Many shows really aren’t trying to make sales on the spot. For example, the bigger expos are more about branding, launching new products and making connections with current clients, partners or distributors. In this case, what’s important is to get visitors to either sample your products (such as food), know about the new products, or in the case of other products such as electronic gear, cameras, software and more like we saw at NAB Show, to make sure that visitors were able to learn as much as they needed.

The company is paying good money – usually a lot of money – to exhibit at the show, which means that every visitor is critical. Ask good questions. Stay off the phone. Don’t eat in the booth. And don’t ask about the weather!

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The Art of the Tradeshow Follow Up

As a marketer, it’s pretty common to come back to the office with a healthy list of names and contact information that you’re planning to follow up on. And don’t do it very well.

Follow up is necessary in any sales endeavor, but you’d be surprised (or maybe not) by how bad or ineffective some salespeople are.

Example: a couple of years ago I was pitched on LinkedIn (not my favorite way of being pitched, but that’s a story for another day), and thought the offer was something I was at least interested in checking out. I ended up spending $50 or so on an hour consultation, which was useful, but was set up as a prelude to a bigger prize: a longer-term commitment to bigger and better ongoing, personalized consultation.

When we wrapped up the initial hour – at which we both had some time and money invested – the implicit understanding was that I would be hearing from him about possibly engaging me on a larger purchase.

I never heard from him again. Had I, I would have seriously considered his pitch. I thought his initial information in the one-hour consultation was useful, and I saw some potential for doing future business.

But it never happened. Because he never followed up.

When I meet exhibitors at a tradeshow, I look to get a name and business card – and then leave them to their business. I’m not trying to sell anything there. That all comes later. Yes, sometimes we do get into those sales conversations – at their lead.

And in this industry – tradeshow exhibit sales – the sales cycle is long. Companies don’t make capital investments in tradeshow exhibits often – maybe every 5 – 7 years. Or MORE. So the key to making a sales is to be someone that is remembered when the time is right.

Which is why I follow up as many times as it takes when I have a lead I feel is worthwhile. Not every lead develops into a sale. But the leads I let drop and don’t follow up on NEVER lead to a sale.

Lead Follow Ups

What’s your lead follow up look like? Do you have a system?

There are no absolutely right or wrong ways. Any follow up system is better than no system at all. But to me it makes sense that your follow up system should include most, if not all of the following:

A way to track everything. I use Excel, creating a spreadsheet that tracks date, name, company, potential client, reminders, phone numbers and other pertinent notes. I tried Salesforce and used it for a couple of years, but the tools were way more than I ever needed, and the cost couldn’t be justified based on the usability. Tried Pipe Drive, too, but it wasn’t a good fit, either. To me the spreadsheet may be a bit clunky, but it’s easily searchable, and if set up right, can easily track all pertinent data.

Calendar to remind you of follow-ups. Google calendar works great for me. As soon as I get off the phone and enter a note in my spreadsheet, if there’s a follow-up call agreed on, I’ll add it to my Google calendar and put a reminder notification about ten minutes prior. Google calendar is also very useful because you can copy and paste phone numbers and other notes, which means you don’t have to go searching for the notes in a spreadsheet.

LinkedIn: not everyone I follow up with is on LinkedIn, but a good 90% are there. That way I can scan their profile to get a sense of the person, and if something pertinent comes up I can reference it (went to same school, worked in same city, root for the same team, or whatever).

Ways to Follow Up

About the follow up itself, here are the ways that I use:

Email: make the initial contact after the show via email within a few days. Short, to the point – “nice to meet you, just wanted to reach out and express my hope that you had a great show, etc.” if there is a specific follow up that you both talked about, bring that up.

Phone: I call people a lot. It’s hard to get in touch with people on the phone, but it’s much more personal than an email, and harder to ignore. Plus, my pleasant personality (of course!) shines through. It’s pretty easy to tell within a moment or two if there is a real lead there.

Snail Mail: If I have a pretty good lead, I’ll send one of my books. Hard to ignore, and easy to remember as time goes by. If you don’t have a book, send some swag. In speaking with a marketing pro in the last year or two, we came up with some things to send that can make an impression, including stress balls (including note that says “don’t stress over your next show!”), measuring tape (“measure your success with us!”), microfiber cleaning cloth (“clean up your booth and clean up on your competition!”), a custom-printed company calendar (in December of course), coffee gift cards (“let’s chat over coffee!”), sunglasses (“when you work with us, the future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades!”), and so on. Lots of ideas. Send one every few weeks for a year, combined with email outreach and it becomes harder for them to forget you.

And if your personality allows you, have a lot of fun with it!

Don’t forget hand-written thank you notes when you acquire a new client, or even when you have a successful in-person meeting or phone conference. People love to get thank you notes.

If you have prospects that are not qualified for immediate business, but them in a long-term follow system. Do outreach (email, snail mail, phone call) every 4 – 6 months, just to remind them you’re still there. Things do change, nothing is ever static. People move, new people take over. I’ve made sales at companies where I thought I had no chance, but suddenly there’s a new person at the helm and they are looking for something new.

The Three Keys

The three keys to follow up success in sales, whether the lead came from a tradeshow or somewhere else:

Patience is a virtue. Play the long game, don’t give up. Persistence is the other side of the patience coin. Use both.

Be consistent. If you’re going to engage with prospects on a regular basis

Be yourself. Just because a system works for another sales organization or another person doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Keep tweaking, keep working, keep what works, don’t keep doing what doesn’t work.

It all sounds so simple, right? But sales, whether from tradeshow leads or direct or from other forms of lead generation, takes consistent planning and work.

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When Exhibiting, Talk to Other Exhibitors

As an exhibitor, try to schedule some time to talk to other exhibitors. Depending on how many other people you have on the booth staff, that may be easy or difficult. But give it a try. And I mean more than just the pleasantries with your neighbors that you’ll exchange when setting up and exhibiting. It’s easy enough to just show up, do your thing, and leave. But you’ll learn a lot when gathering information about other exhibitors’ experiences.

What to talk about and what information to look for?

At a recent show, I was curious to speak to exhibitors to get their sense of the show itself, and how they have fared. As a result, I spoke with quite a few exhibitors and got a broad look at the show. One exhibitor said she had exhibited at the show two years previously, and had written over $200,000 of business as a direct result of the show.

“Quite a Return on Investment!” I said.

“Yes, indeed. Last year, we wrote about $50,000 worth of business from the show. A big drop, but considering our minimal investment, still a great return.”

Another exhibitor told me that he thought that the show had shrunk each year for the last couple of years, and there was even a chance it might have been cancelled.

“Why do you think it’s shrunk?” I asked (I was not sure it had shrunk or expanded; I was just playing along to see where he was going with this).

“There are a lot of shows in the industry,” he said, as if that explained things.

I also asked exhibitors if they went to any of the various breakout sessions. Most said no, but one or two said yes. Those seemed to be aimed mainly at attendees.

Talk to other exhibitors at the show you're exhibiting at!

I asked several exhibitors if this was the only show they went to. Many said they do other shows, but not necessarily in this industry. Their company’s products and services can be pitched to other industries as well.

And finally, I asked if they were planning to come back to the same show next year as an exhibitor. A mixed bag: some said yes, others were noncommittal. But no one gave me a definitive NO.

Other things you can ask: how is job hiring going in your industry or your company? How well is your company doing against your direct competitors? Are there any companies here you would consider partnering with on any project or task? Are you looking to hire any positions soon? How many other shows do you plan on exhibiting at in the next year? Is this the only exhibit property you own, or do you have other elements you can set up to exhibit in a smaller or larger space?

When you find time to talk to other exhibitors, you’ll take away a larger sense of the show overall and how your fellow exhibitors feel about their place in the show and in the industry.

And you may make some good connections along the way!

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