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

Networking

Some Random Observations About the Tradeshow Industry

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I sat up and jotted down a few thoughts and observations from what I’ve seen in the past 17+ years in the tradeshow industry. I got to thinking about the exhibition industry, as it is often called, from both the exhibit-production side and the exhibitor side. What things do I observe in seeing how other exhibit companies work? By reading industry periodicals and staying in touch with industry colleagues?

Tradeshow Industry from the Exhibit Producer Side

Let’s start with the industry as a whole. Tradeshows in the USA generated $12.1B as a B2B marketing operation in 2017. The industry is growing at about a 4.1% annual rate (projected from 2016 – 2021). Which, considering that the economy as a whole is struggling to grow at just 3%, is a pretty good thing.

There are thousands of exhibit companies competing for your business. They all want a fair share of business available from companies that are looking to upgrade or replace old exhibits. The industry supports a lot of very big companies, as well as a lot of companies that work with just a handful of loyal clients.

tradeshow industry

Profit margin for exhibit companies is substantial but there’s a very good reason. Things cost a lot. There is a lot of labor cost. Without substantial markup companies couldn’t survive for long. I don’t have enough information on other industries, but I’m told that the margin in groceries, for example, is razor thin. Same for gas stations. What they don’t make on the margin still makes them a good amount of profit due to the sheer volume of products they sell.

Yes, you can find lower cost items and companies willing to provide lower cost service but at what cost in quality and service? If you shop around to find the lowest price, are you giving up a warranty or guarantee, or are you trading a few dollars for an inferior product?

Some exhibit companies have large spaces and large staffs. Massive overhead means they need to keep developing new business and selling more things to current clients. I’ve seen those up close and understand that the pressure to produce can be immense.

Smaller companies such as TradeshowGuy Exhibits still need to generate profit to survive and thrive but are not driven to the levels as the bigger companies.

From a “making more sales” standpoint, there’s no one single thing that is the magic button to generate sales for exhibit companies working to drum up more business. I’ve talked to numerous sales account executives at different sized companies and they all say about the same thing: sales are hard to make, there is a lot of competition, no one thing works, so they all do a combination of what you might expect: phone and email prospecting, advertising (print and online), meet and greets at tradeshows, and networking groups. Some are more creative than others, some more persistent than others, some more organized, and so on. But they all love it, because they like making their clients look good when the exhibit is finally set up.

Lightboxes (aluminum extrusion silicon-edge fabric graphics) can be a bit tedious to set up, but damn, they look sharp.

From the Exhibitor side

Many companies seem to be somewhat naïve about how the industry works. Shipping, logistics et al are almost like a black hole mystery box. There is a world of moving stuff around from the warehouse to the show site that many people rarely get involved with. Those that are involved are always looking at ways to shave dollars. And to a person, I hear them say, “tradeshow stuff just costs a lot.”

tradeshow industry

Most companies don’t have a sense of how much things cost and how much extra cost will be added along the way. Think drayage, Installation & Dismantle, shipping, graphic design and printing. 

Many companies fail to take advantage of all of the various steps: preshow, postshow, staff training, in booth activities, social media, etc.

More and more companies I work with are hiring labor to setup and dismantle their exhibits. I find that of exhibit crews, about one out of three is a real pro and knows exactly how things work. One out of three know pretty well what they’re doing. And the third hired hand is usually there just for his willingness to schlep heavy things around – and you hope they do what they’re told. I also find that many crews assume that with a simple glance or two at the setup instructions, they know how it works. Often it does. But I’ve seen a number of occasions where a lot of time could have been saved if they’d only read the instructions in greater detail. Time wasted on a tradeshow floor is expensive.

Growth can happen quickly with tradeshow marketing. Many companies I’ve worked with over the past few years have seen substantial growth and are regularly increasing the size of their exhibits. As Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill famously once said, “Tradeshows have opened doors to markets that we would not have otherwise been able to open.” Or something like that – but you get the idea.

Opportunity abounds in today’s tradeshow marketing world, but it’s easy to lose $$$ if you make a misstep. Larger companies with deeper pockets have a natural advantage, but that doesn’t mean they are always doing the best they can. Smaller companies with few dollars can still use tradeshow marketing to attract people to their booth with creative marketing, great interactivity, attractive exhibits and more – and still crack open doors to new markets. Which leads to more growth (see the previous paragraph!).

For those companies that do get involved in tradeshow marketing – and certainly not every company does – they spend roughly a third of their marketing budget on tradeshows.

From the Personal Side

I’ve been in the industry since April 2002. It took years for me to get used to the industry and a few more to like and then love the industry and thrive in it. I came from the radio industry, which from a sales standpoint, moved very quickly. Yes, there are deadlines which don’t move and keep you on your toes in the tradeshow world, but it’s not like the radio world where a sales person could come in and need something to be written, voiced and produced and on the air within the hour. Which happened frequently. My first impression of the exhibit world was that things moved at a glacial pace. Boy did that take some adjusting!

tradeshow industry

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work for myself. That radio thing was great for 25+ years, but in the back of my mind I was trying to figure out how to be my own boss. When I entered the tradeshow exhibit industry on a fluke when the radio industry changed, I was still working for someone else. It wasn’t until the owner of that company retired and I was thrust into the unknown (ever try to find a good-paying job in your mid 50’s?), I figured it was now or never. I’m still surprised by how well it worked out. There’s no guarantee, of course, but for now it’s good.

I can do marketing, blogging, podcasting, prospecting, phone calling, meeting people at shows and following up regularly – and yet when it comes time for a company to purchase a new exhibit, it seems no matter how much I try to stay in front of people, it’s easy for them to go elsewhere. Again, back to that magic button: how do you manage to stay in front of a decision-maker so that you’re there at the exact time they need you? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

One way to differentiate myself was to write. Starting as a blogger in November 2008, producing ebooks and more, and finally writing a pair of books (Tradeshow Success in 2015 and Tradeshow Superheroes and Exhibiting Zombies in 2018) was my way of doing that. I couldn’t tell you how much it’s contributed to my success or helped make sales, but I like giving the book away to potential clients – and hey, a few even sell on Amazon now and then!

Another way to differentiate myself was to go back to using my radio skills. First as a guy who knew how to record digital audio and post it on our company website (anyone remember Real Audio?), and then as a podcaster on this blog. And of course, video is a gas, as well. My viewpoint is that the more real you are, the better chance you have of making a personal connection with someone who wants to do business with you. That’s always been my philosophy. Share who you are, what you like, and how you do things. In today’s world, making a personal connection is a way to get ahead.


When You Don’t Meet Your Tradeshow Best Practices

Of course, we always want to make sure our tradeshow best practices are out on display for everyone at all times. But as Steve Miller says, “Perfection is your enemy.”

And…we’re only human. That means you’ll find that your booth staff will sometimes be eating in the booth, or on their phone when people are walking by. Or they’ll fail to direct a visitor to the person with the right answer for the question. Or maybe you realize that your pre-show marketing efforts were lame this time around. Or your post-show follow up really left something to be desired.

Sometimes your graphics will be scuffed or torn. Perhaps your flooring is ripped and mended. All of these are irritating, aren’t they, because you want to always have the best presentation at all times. But perfection is not attainable.

So, keep moving forward. If one of your staffers is sitting in the back of the booth with hands in pockets, put on a smile and ask them to move to the aisle where they can be helpful. And vow to schedule a trainer who can teach staffers better habits. If your hanging sign or large graphics look great but are outdated because some minor branding thing changed, take a photo and plan to get together with management to find the dollars to make upgrades.

There are times that you’ll come up short. There may even be times you consider your tradeshow efforts a failure.

Improvement doesn’t happen all at once. But keeping tradeshow best practices in mind every time you’re involved in setting up the booth, planning upgrades, scheduling your booth staff and related show logistics, you will see improvement. But chances are you won’t see perfection.

Inside Game of Tradeshow Marketing Success

Is there an inside game of tradeshow marketing success? Hey, it could be just a catch phrase designed to get you read.

But let’s explore for a moment.

If you’re a baseball fan, you might be familiar with the phrase “inside baseball.” It’s a term used mostly in the United States, that refers to detailed knowledge about a subject that outsiders are usually not privy to. Deep knowledge about any subject down to the minutiae often means that unless you have spent years doing whatever it is, you are not going to understand a lot of the talk. Hence, “inside baseball.”

Even though the term was around since the 19th century, by the mid-1950s the term was being used outside of baseball, particularly it was used in politics. To use the term in another field, such as business, technology or science is not unusual.

In using the term as applied to tradeshow marketing, let’s think about what that means.

  • Knowledge. You have the knowledge of what it takes to go from Point A to Point Z with all of the twists and turns.
  • Discipline. Not only do you have the knowledge, you have the discipline that it takes in the event industry to organize all of those moving parts in a coherent and effective way.
  • Skill. Skill comes with doing something over and over again, learning what works and what doesn’t, ironing out the rough spots and then learning some more so that you know what to expect, you know how to deal with issues as they come up because – hey! – they’re not that much of a surprise.
  • Networking. The event industry – like most industries – is a people industry. People make it run. People know how things work. People ask for and offer help. And face it – the events / tradeshow / exhibiting industry is built on getting far-flung people together under one roof face-to-face to do business. Networking skills are at their highest level and their most useful in this industry.

Inside baseball means you know why a pitcher is throwing a curve ball when the count is 3 and 2. You know that between pitches, players and coaches communicate strategy by pulling on an earlobe, brushing their thigh or arm, and of course keeping an eye on the opposing team’s silent communication to try and suss out the essence of the message.

Inside tradeshow marketing has to do with, for example, knowing how to position your brand in the marketplace, how to talk to booth visitors, when to book travel and hotel rooms, what restaurants are the best near any given conference venue, how to take advantage of those three or four days when the exhibit is set up in a competitive marketplace where thousands of potential clients are roaming the aisles. Having the right graphics and messaging can mean the difference between 250 and 350 leads. Having a booth staff that knows how to ask the right questions of visitors can mean the difference between and ROI of 10% and 100%. It all makes a difference.

And if you’ve done this for years, you know what works and what doesn’t. You know what companies are putting up a great exhibit and have a fantastically enthusiastic and well-trained staff and which competitors are just showing up because they think they should.

If you know all of that stuff, you know inside baseball. In the tradeshow world.


Photo used by permission. By own work – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.  Creative Commons License.

 

Empathy as a Marketing Tool

Selling anything, whether in a clothing store, a car dealer showroom, or a tradeshow, means in some sense you have to understand your buyer. You must have empathy for what they’re going through or the sale will be much more difficult.

Empathy Marketing

When you put yourself in the shoes of your potential buyer, you feel what they feel. You understand what they understand. You know what problems they are facing. You know what it would feel like to have a solution to the problem that your product or service would provide. You must know what makes them feel good, what makes them feel hurt.

Your marketing strategy should include efforts to understand those potential clients or customers. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you really understand how they feel prior to learning about your product or service?

What is the perspective of your customer in regard to your product or service?

How do your prospects view the world?

What challenges do they face?

How do they view companies such as yours?

There are other related questions that will come up, but the goal is to see the world from their perspective as best as you can. The more you’re able to do this – and the better you’re able to communicate that understanding back to them – the higher your chances of converting them from a prospect to a client.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: November 13, 2017 [video replay/podcast]

One great thing about doing a weekly podcast with guests is that I meet a lot of people. This week it was a pleasure to meet and talk with Roger Courville, who helps learning leaders prepare to reach, teach and lead in the Connectorship Age.

It was a fun conversation about events and tradeshows, how to bring value to attendees and much more. Take a look:

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING is the reggae-tinged band Noiseshaper. I’m not sure if the band still exists or is active, and the website looks to reflect that: the last update looks to be about 8 or 9 nears ago. But they left some great music behind.

5 Things to Uncover About Your Tradeshow Competitors

Exhibiting at a tradeshow is a great way to show off your wares, but it’s also an excellent way to uncover things about your tradeshow competitors. Let’s take a look at a half-dozen things you can find out.

  1. Exhibit presence. Of course, the most obvious thing. You can tell at a glance what they want people to see and feel when they set up a booth. But look closer: is it bigger than last year? Is it newer? Have they made changes, or are they using the same old exhibit? Are they growing in their exhibit presence or are they downsizing?
  2. Products/Services: Naturally, this would be the second-most-obvious thing. Are they hawking something new, or does it all look like familiar products with nothing new?
  3. Attitude. Do the booth staffers smile and engage rapidly with passersby? Or do they sit in the back with their eyes on their phone or are they eating? Booth staffers often violate many rules of engagement at tradeshows without thinking, and it may mean that dozens of people keep walking instead of stopping to talk. Other companies exude a great spirit at all times – their staffers are wearing branded shirts, are doing activities designed to engage attendees and more. What’s the attitude of your competitors?
  4. Management. Does the company send managers to assist in the booth? Or are they offsite taking meetings. You may not find this out without an inquiry or two, but you should be able to find out how involved management is in the show.
  5. Job openings. Some companies will openly advertise job openings. Others will let you know if you make a discreet inquiry. Lots of openings usually mean the company is doing well. But it might also mean they have a lot of turnover.

No doubt you can uncover other things about your competitors if you keep your eyes and ears open. There’s probably a little gossip to be had if that’s your thing, along with changes in various departments that you might be interested in. Whatever the case, don’t let the opportunity to check out your tradeshow competitors pass you by!

 

9 Tips for Closing More Tradeshow Leads

This is a guest post by Charles Dugan of American Image Displays


There is no such thing as a closing a sale by luck at a trade show. The process of generating and closing leads is defined even before the event begins. Believe it or not, although most exhibitors collect leads during the trade show, many of them have no plan in place for following up. According to a study by Exhibitor Media Group, 98 percent of trade show exhibitors collect sales leads at trade shows, but less than 70 percent have a formalized process in place to follow up on those leads.

Trade show success is a result of strategic actions taken before, during, and after the show.

closing more tradeshow leads

Before the Show

The actions you take during the pre-show phase will directly impact how effective you are at generating quality leads. Here are four  pre-show tips:

  1. Choose the right show

When it comes to choosing which shows to attend, think quality over quantity. It’s better to select a show that has one hundred attendees with a need for your product, than a show with thousands of attendees who aren’t looking for the type of solution you offer. Select trade shows based on industry, location and size; events where there are high quality leads that fit your customer profile.

  1. Perfect your pitch

Make sure to practice your pitch before the show. You should be able to answer questions fluidly and naturally, building attendees’ trust in your knowledge and authority.

  1. Reaching out to attendees

View the trade show’s mailing list (if available) to see who will be attending the event. Reach out to these individuals and introduce yourself through email or social media. LinkedIn works especially well for this.

  1. Implement a lead collection system

Whether your system is as simple as jotting down each lead’s information on a clipboard or as complex as using a full-scale CRM software; be sure it allows information to be recorded efficiently and in an organized manner. Collect as much important information as possible. These details can come in handy later during the follow-up.

During the Show

Follow these steps during the show to build rapport and set the stage for a successful close.

  1. Reserve a private room

Consider renting a private room. Trade shows can be noisy and busy. By reserving a private room, you will have a quiet place to bring leads to answer their questions, discuss pricing, and even draw up contracts; without the distraction of the surrounding convention.

  1. Utilize call to actions

Use every appropriate opportunity to prompt attendees to complete a specific action. These call to actions could include signing up for a free trial or a demo, or scheduling a consultation. At the end of each interaction, let each person know what to expect for the next steps – whether it be an e-mail, a phone call, or another form of contact.

After the Show

The trade show may be over, but the job is not done yet! Follow these tips to close more leads post-show.

  1. Persistence

Be persistent in your follow-up, but understand there is a fine line between persistence and annoyance. If you can, mention something specific about your conversation during the first follow-up message so they remember your interaction.

  1. Network with social media

Invite leads to connect with you on LinkedIn or other social channels. This way, they are part of your network for the long-term and can become more familiar with your business.

  1. Tailor your message

Don’t use the same follow up message after every show. If your email looks like a form letter, it will be ignored. Instead, tailor your message to each lead. Be friendly and always make yourself available to answer questions.

Conclusion

If there is one reason to attend a trade show, it is to earn more business. Remember that successful lead conversion doesn’t start or end at the show. Have a plan in place to ensure you have the best chance of attracting quality leads to your exhibit, and closing deals.


About the Author

Charles Dugan is the President and Owner of American Image Displays, a trade show display and equipment company based in Seattle. He has over 20 years of experience consulting businesses with their trade show marketing.

5 Most Common Mistakes People Make with Tradeshow Post-Show Follow-Up

Tradeshow post-show follow-up is one of the critical keys to your tradeshow marketing success. In recent conversations with exhibitors, there often seems to be some hedging around the concept of complete follow-up. In other words, there are some missing pieces and the leads that are generated at a tradeshow – at great expense – are not always followed up in a timely manner, if they’re followed up at all. So let’s look at some of the most common mistakes people make with post-show follow-up.

  1. Not grading or evaluating the leads. If a sales person that is tasked to follow-up on the leads can’t tell the difference between a HOT lead and a COOL lead, it makes the task of follow-up that much harder.
  2. post-show follow-up

    Not being specific about the details of the follow-up. Some prospects want a sample sent next week. Others just want a sales sheet PDF forwarded in a month. Others want an in-person meeting in two weeks. Whatever the follow-up is, it should be noted on the lead sheet so that the person doing the follow-up understands exactly what is needed.

  3. Not tracking the response from the follow-up. Whether you use Salesforce, and Excel spread sheet or a custom CRM, once the follow-up is initially made, notes on what happened during that follow-up should be entered in detail. Most follow-ups require more than one step. In fact, if it’s a bigger sale, the process may involve several steps and more than one or two people. Keeping detailed notes along the way will ensure a better chance at success. With NO formal system in place to track the follow-up process, your chances of success drop drastically!
  4. Not following up in a timely manner. This mistake usually comes from not asking the prospect the question: when would you like us to follow up? If both parties understand when the follow-up is expected – and it actually happens at the right time – chances of closing a sale increase. In the event that no timeframe was addressed, it’s safe to say that the sooner you follow up the better your chances of making a sale. Some experts say do an initial follow-up via email within 24 hours. Others say that making a phone call within 48 – 72 hours after the show shows the prospect that you have a genuine interest in them. I realize that some people are just impossible to reach in a week, or two, or three, or more. In that case (which has happened to me), keep trying.
  5. Giving up. Even if you can’t get in touch with someone right away, keep in mind that you have no idea why they’re unreachable or unresponsive. It could be they’re suddenly wearing three hats at work and simply don’t have the time – or a personal issue may be preventing them from even working. Who knows? Don’t assume they don’t want to talk to you until you actually hear that from their own lips. I’ve made sales to people that were hard to reach for months – but when I finally did reach them, we made something work.

One of the first things I heard when I entered the tradeshow industry in 2002 was that “80% of leads are never followed up on!”  It astonished me then and it astonishes me now. It’s one of the most fixable mistakes that tradeshow marketers have. Do yourself and your company a favor and do your best to not be a part of that statistic. Make the effort and follow-up!

Before You Attend a Tradeshow, Read This!

Why should you read this before you attend a tradeshow?

First, let’s assume you’ve never been to a quality industry show that’s packed full of exhibitors and attendees. Oh, sure, you’ve been to a few regional home shows at the fairgrounds, or attended a chamber of commerce show with fifty or so small exhibitors. But that big show in Las Vegas, NYC, Anaheim or Chicago?

If that’s new to you as an attendee – there’s a first time for everything – let’s go over a handful of things to help prepare you.

before you attend a tradeshow, read this!

Get your travel plans in order. Flight, hotel, ground transportation. Know the location of your hotel or Airbnb in relation to the show site and the airport. In some cities, renting a car makes sense (Anaheim, maybe Vegas), in others you’re betting off taking ground transportation (SF, Chicago, Boston). If you’re planning to take mass transit, know where to get on and how to get to where you’re going. Mapping tools on smartphones are very good at giving these directions – so make sure your phone is charged, and even bring a small charger with you in case you can’t find an outlet on the fly. Travel as light as possible, but take all you need to function on the road – which is of course different (to a degree) than at home!

Double-check all show documents. Make sure you have the various bits of paper, emails, or whatever to get into the show. Bring contact numbers, not only of your home office (duh), but include a handful of contact numbers of show organizers.

Assemble a show plan. Most big shows have apps or online tools to allow you to create a plan. This allows you to add exhibitors and booth numbers to put together a list which makes it easier to find them all. Do this a week or so before the show. If there are educational sessions, create a plan for those you’ll be attending. When at these events, you’ll often have time to meet other attendees and do a little networking.

Depending on your show goals, make sure you have prepped your interaction with the various exhibitors. As an attendee, you’re likely going to be looking for products that you’re either going to sell or use, and perhaps recommend. Know what questions you’re going to ask, and be prepared to absorb information in whatever form is offered. Chances are exhibitors will have both electronic and paper sell sheets, for example, so you should be prepared to know how you’ll compile them. If an exhibitor wants to give you a paper sell sheet and you prefer digital, use an app such as Scanner Pro or Microsoft’s One Drive, which allows you to create PDFs of the sheets in an instant and upload them to your cloud account. Beyond that, as your company representative, you should be prepared to have the kinds of appropriate conversations to advance your agenda.

Plan some networking meetings, but be open to opportunities that will undoubtedly arise. Which means, don’t under-schedule but don’t over-schedule yourself!

Pace yourself. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, find a few moments if you can to look around. Try not to stay up too late to party with show-goers. Keep to familiar exercise routines as best you can. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

Finally, if it really is your first time to attend a large show in a far-away city as a company representative, follow the lead of your fellow employees who have been to the show before, and learn what you can.

And dammit, have some fun along the way! Not everybody is able to attend big shows on their company’s behalf, so consider yourself lucky!

How to Benefit from Tradeshows Without Exhibiting

You can benefit from tradeshows without exhibiting – it just takes a little planning.

How to Benefit from Tradeshows Without Exhibiting

For example, the simple fact of tradeshows means that there is an assemblage of buyers, managers, clients and prospects all at the same time. Consider scheduling an informal meeting with several of them. Perhaps it can be a dinner or an after-hours party or gathering. One show I attend regularly throws a party for all regional folks to see the best of the region. Several exhibitors are organized to gather their products for a state-specific gathering to show off the best-in-state (make sure that your activities are approved and sanctioned by the show and don’t break show rules).

Work with another company. Is there a larger exhibitor that you have worked with in the past? Perhaps it’s a good fit to co-exhibit with them and show off your goods at their booth. It might be marketing partners, customers, vendors or others that are complementary. For instance, if your co-exhibitor makes bread, that might be a good opportunity to show off your toast toppings.

Speak at a show. Larger shows in particular have ongoing training and seminar programs. Show off your expertise by offering to give a presentation or join a panel. It’s not really an opportunity to promote products (it’s frowned on, obviously), but if you can show your expertise and knowledge it’ll improve your standing in the industry, which can attract prospects. Work with noncompeting speakers: meet and greet and see how you might assist them in future projects.

Research products and competitors. Some shows are worth attending just to see if it’s a good fit for you in the future. While there, you can find what companies have the biggest footprint, find out what your competitors are up to (and maybe uncover some new ones), and get up close and personal with new products and services that will either compete with your offerings or complement them.

Other ideas that might let you benefit from tradeshows without exhibiting include purchasing a mailing list of exhibitors and/or attendees from show organizers. Consider purchasing ad space in the event newsletter, website or app.

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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