Let’s assume that your company does a fair amount of
tradeshow marketing. Maybe a dozen shows, including two or three large national
shows and smaller, regional or more-focused shows where your product fits in.
Your first show of the new year is still a couple of months
away, so you’re probably thinking you have time to make sure all is right.
And you’re probably on the right track.
But it might be worthwhile to go over your checklist for the
new year one last time.
Let’s assume that you had decent results last year but would
like to improve on those results in 2020.
Here are a number of areas to look at and things to consider
as you plan your show schedule.
Know Your ROI
Return on Investment is critical for tradeshow success. Just
because you’re getting sales doesn’t mean you’re making money. Calculating your
ROI is, in theory, straightforward enough. You’ll need to know a few things,
such as how much it cost you to exhibit at a specific show. Add those numbers
up, including travel, booth space, any capital investments such as a new
exhibit, any samples you handed out, drayage, shipping – all of it – until you
get a final number.
Now, gather all the leads from that show, check with sales
to learn how much profit the company actually netted from those leads. Then do
Beyond your goals of making money, see what else you can do
to make your tradeshow investment worthwhile. Drive traffic to your website or
social media platforms, track the number of booth visitors, networking with industry
colleagues, launching new products and more – these are all valid and valuable
things to track.
Plan Some Surveys
A tradeshow is a great place to do a little casual market research.
Set up a survey on a tablet, offer a prize to people that answer questions, and
see what useful information you get.
Train Your Staff
Really, when was the last time you paid a professional to
come in and train your booth staff? The proof is in the pudding. A well-trained
booth staff is one of the most important things you can do to increase your
level of success.
Hire a Professional Presenter
Perhaps not every tradeshow booth needs a presenter, but if
you’re going to get serious about showing off a complicated product, having a
professional presenter that knows how to draw a crowd and distill the critical
bits and pieces of your product or service in invaluable. And worth every
Beyond these ideas, it always helps to keep your staff
informed on plans as appropriate. If your staff knows what you’re planning and
what the company’s goals are, and why, they will be much more likely to have
buy-in to the company’s success.
Yes, we know that your tradeshow exhibit tells a story.
Often, a great exhibit design will capture the brand so accurately that the
design is often all that is needed. But frankly, that’s the exception more than
the rule. But even without an iconic design that broadcasts what your company
is about, your tradeshow exhibit tells a story anyway.
Design: even an average design can be executed well
and tell a big part of your story. But a compelling story can come to life.
Tell the story of how you created the soft drink because your Grandma used to
make something similar when you were a kid. Or how you invented something to
help a friend. Doesn’t really matter, your product or service likely came from
some inspiration. Can you tell the story of that inspiration in a concise way
using graphics and 3D elements?
Graphics: here’s where most of the story is told, and
the weight of this rests on your graphic designer and marketing team that is
communicating the correct message to the designer. Get it right and you’ve done
better than most of your competitors. Get it wrong…?
Craftsmanship: not all exhibits are built from
scratch. Depending on where you purchase your exhibit, it may be something
that’s designed and built from scratch in the USA. Or it may be from an
overseas manufacturer and it came direct from a catalog showing thousands of
similar designs. With an overseas manufacturer involved, you will be
hard-pressed to know the quality of the materials used for the exhibit.
Cleanliness: at least this is something you have
quite a bit of control over during the show. But a clean booth tells a story.
So does a dirty booth.
People: the booth staffers are your front line. Are they
well-trained in how to engage with visitors? How to ask the right questions?
How to politely disengage? How to act in a booth (stay off their phone, don’t
eat, etc.)? Whether you like it or not, visitors will forget a lot of things.
But they’re very likely to remember an unpleasant or below-average encounter
with a booth staffer. Just like they’d probably remember an encounter that
Stories are told with every piece of your marketing and your
prospect’s interaction with your company. What story are your prospects being
told, and what are they remembering? And is that story in line with your goals?
Publicity Expert Joan Stewart – known as the Publicity Hound – joins TradeshowGuy Tim Patterson to talk about how to get publicity at a tradeshow: before, during and after. Keep a notepad handy – there are a lot of great ideas that you can put to use!
You’ve probably run into a tradeshow super connector and didn’t even realize it at the time. Not until later, when you got to thinking about that person you talked to. The one that knows everyone, and everyone knows him or her.
Billionaire Mark Cuban is known as a super connector. Peter Shankman is often thought of as a super connector. In his first book, Can We Do That, he describes how people would call him to recommend or connect them to someone specific. Peter knew everybody. It’s how he ended up starting HARO, Help A Reporter Out, and eventually sold the company.
What would make a tradeshow super connector? I think I have met a few along the way, although – not being one – I’m not sure I can easily spot them.
Here are what I see as seven traits of a super connector:
Outgoing; willing to talk to anyone, willing to introduce people.
They see connections where us normal humans don’t: Jill, meet Sam. He’s a money management book editor. She’s an author working on a new money management book. You can make some money and change people’s lives together. No need to cc me – just check each other out.
They’re willing to create gatherings at events that bring even more people together.
They follow up. Following up is quick and easy; even if they think someone is trying to sell them something. I can tell you from experience, lots of people never bother to follow up with something they aren’t personally familiar with. But a super connector doesn’t mind. She sees connections everywhere and is willing to connect.
They reach back to people they’ve become disconnected from in their past.
Super connectors are giving. They give their time, they give value, they create content that other people find useful.
Super connectors are helpful. Often, even during a first meeting where they have little to gain from knowing you, they’ll say “How can I help?”
And finally, in my view, super connectors usually don’t have a big ego. Sure, they’re confident in themselves, but there is a bit of humbleness – they’re always willing to learn something and don’t have the arrogance to think they know everything.
Keep a look out for the super connectors at your next tradeshow.
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.
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!
First, let’s define lead generation before we get too deep into this section.
All marketing is the activity of looking for either a new lead, or a way to bring current clients or customers to new products or services. Generating leads is a must to keep your business moving forward. No leads, no business.
When it comes to tradeshows, lead generation is the specific act of capturing contact information and related follow up information from your visitors so that you can connect with them again at a not-too-distant-in-the-future date.
Lead generation is NOT the act of having a fishbowl where you invite attendees to throw their business card in for a chance to win an iPad. Nope, in this case your lead must be someone who’s qualified to a) need or want your products or services and b) in the position to purchase soon.
All of your lead generation activity should spring from these two determinations. When a visitor enters your booth, they’re expressing at least a modest active desire to learn more about your product. At this point, you have an opportunity to quickly learn a few things: who they are, what their interest is in your offerings, and if they are in a position to purchase soon.
If you search Google for “lead generation” you’ll get hundreds of ideas for drawing a crowd at your booth and capturing their contact information.
Many of them will work well, and you’ll walk away from the show with lots of potential leads. I say ‘potential’ leads because you’ll often find that many of those business cards are from people that just stopped by to try and win an iPad or they spun a wheel, or some other fun thing. But that doesn’t make them prospects.
Instead, focus on capturing the contact information from people who are in a position to buy from you, and leave all the rest to the side.
This means that you must focus on your efforts to attract those potential clients and disqualify the others.
By asking one or two questions you will determine if the visitor is qualified. If they are, you dig a little deeper. If they are not qualified, you politely disengage so that you are not wasting their time or yours.
To start, your graphic messaging can help to qualify those visitors by being laser-focused on the benefits your company offers. This might mean a specific statement or a bold claim or bold question that gets that market thinking “hey, I need to know more!”
Look at lead generation activities as just another investment – and that it should be measured just like other investments. Are you getting good results from your investment? If not, change it up based on becoming more focused on what works and what is important to your audience.
If you’re selling a product or service, you must know what it is that keeps them up at night. What are they thinking about at 3 am that is keeping them from sleeping soundly? Dangle the bait in such a way that you address that problem. Perhaps that means a free white paper that they can get if they fill in a brief form on an iPad stationed at the front of the booth. Perhaps that means conducting proprietary research directed at that market designed to uncover exactly what bugs them.
There are hundreds of ways to catch a prospect, but they all boil down to this: are your products designed to solve their problem or satisfy a need? If so, you’re on the right track and your questions will spring from those platforms.
Next, you must have a proper method of capturing the information. You can go high or low tech, it doesn’t matter as long as the information is processed and passed on to the right people who are prepared to follow up in a timely manner in the way that your prospect expects.
At best, your information will include contact info (name, address, email, phone number) and will gauge their interest in your products or services. It will optimally have specific information on when they want to be contacted and their current stage of interest in your products. Beyond that, you’re probably wasting their time and yours. But for a valid and proper follow up, your sales person will benefit greatly from knowing all of that information.
Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using an iPad, scanning badges or a filling in a form on a clipboard, as long as it works effectively.
Finally, you must have a foolproof method of getting the leads back to the office! I’ve heard too many stories of companies who have spent thousands of dollars exhibiting, sending people to the show and then sending the leads back in the crates with the booth – and they weren’t able to track them down for weeks. At which point the value of prompt follow up was lost, along with thousands of dollars in potential sales.
Ideally, each day’s leads should be sent back that night to the main office and put into the follow up system. At worst, they should accompany the tradeshow manager or other designated person back to the office at the end of the show. Digital leads have the advantage of being able to be sent back quickly, but even paper forms can be scanned or photographed or turned into PDFs using smartphone apps and sent digitally, as well.
While your booth staff’s engagement is important (see part 5), bringing back the leads is critical to your show’s success.
When you remember that nearly 80% of all tradeshow leads are NOT FOLLOWED UP ON, if you can fix this simple step you’ll be ahead of 4 out of 5 of your competitors. So where would that put you?
One of the most pressing challenges for exhibitors is determining what shows to exhibit at on a regular basis. Just because your company has been going to the same show for twenty years doesn’t mean it’s the right show for you to go to. The exhibit industry changes and evolves. Audiences and interests change. Some shows expand. Others downsize. Some vanish altogether or are folded into similar shows. All of this means that you should examine what shows you go to on a regular basis and determine the reasons for attending – or not attending.
I’ve seen companies that exhibit at shows for years suddenly drop out because their business model changed. One company exhibited for years at the Natural Products Expo West and one year they just didn’t show up. It turns out that so much of their business moved online that it didn’t make sense to put out the large amounts of cash just to keep going to a show that didn’t give them the return they needed – and were clearly getting elsewhere.
Other companies have downsized or simply taken a few years off from certain shows as they re-examined their purpose in being at a particular show. So yes, it does matter that you take a look at the big picture of why you’re going to show in general, and why you are exhibiting at a particular show.
In the process of determining your ‘big picture’ of the shows you attend, those you don’t and might want to consider and your whole reason for tradeshow marketing, here are a series of questions to help you examining it.
What shows do you exhibit at on a yearly basis?
What shows did you used to attend but haven’t for several years?
If you listed a show(s) here, how long has it been since you exhibited?
What shows are you considering exhibiting at but haven’t done so yet?
What is your potential audience at each show? What is your overall potential audience for the year?
How many leads do you bring home from the each show?
In your opinion, what are the most obvious things you’re doing right?
In your opinion, what are the most obvious things you’re doing wrong?
What’s the biggest goal you have for tradeshow marketing in the next 2-3 years?
How much money is budgeted for the year’s events?
How much money is actually spent on the year’s shows?
How much business can you directly attribute to the leads that were gathered from the shows?
What’s the ROI on the sales leads you gathered from the shows?
Can you identify other benefits of going to the shows that don’t directly impact your bottom line, such as branding, earned media mentions, new distributors, strengthened ties with current distributors and more?
By knowing the answers to all of these questions – and by sharing that knowledge with your team – you’ll be much better prepared to answer the question ‘are my tradeshow marketing dollars well-spent?’ As you’ve seen me mention many times, one of the best things you can do for your company is to continue to increase the knowledge base of your co-workers. By knowing the answers to all of these questions and more, that knowledge base increases. In the long-term, you’ll be better-equipped to make good choices on which shows to attend, what to focus on at the shows, and which shows you might decide are simply not worth it.
You are an experienced tradeshow marketer. You probably have been to many more shows than most of your colleagues. You’ve seen it all – from the small mom and pop shows decades ago to the sophisticated shows with several thousand exhibitors. You’ve seen goofy musical acts, professional product or service demonstrators in booths, wolfed down tons of free food samples, pocketed hundreds of free giveaways until you finally decided they were mostly just worthless junk.
And it’s a pretty good bet you know what works. You’ve tested pre-show marketing, booth staff training, having your best sales people on the show floor and you wonder why your company’s sales staff still has a hard time following up on all of those leads once the show is over.
So let’s see it: let’s see the results of those years of experience. What did you get out of it? By now you must have figured out exactly where the wasted dollars are – and you’ve plugged those holes so that every single dollar spent on tradeshow marketing makes an impact. Right?
Yes, let’s see the records of all of those tradeshows. No doubt – with your experience – you can pull out a 3-ring binder for every show for the past decade and answer any question about the show: how much was spent on booth space, drayage, travel and lodging, pre-show marketing, etc. – and can show us what the ROI was on all of those dollars invested.
Heck, you can probably even show us in great detail with song and dance, the impact of your young social media team. No doubt they’re compiling stats on how many contests they’ve run through Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to the booth – and what the results of those contests or show specials are. They likely have a precise count of the number of photos and videos they’ve posted in relation to the show, and what the feedback was from them.
So: let’s see them. Let’s see all the results of your professionalism in action. If you can immediately pull those results up on your computer or grab a binder and hand to me – then you’re good. In fact, you’re awesome. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing before you started reading this letter. After all, you are the pro. You’re the expert – the veteran tradeshow marketer who’s been doing this for years. No one can surprise you. After all, you’ve seen it all.
But, if not – if you can scrunch up your face and say ‘Hmmm…I might admit that there are a few missing spots…’ I would ask: What exactly is missing?
Don’t have all the records you think you should? You’re not doing all that you really could be doing at each show?
Let’s suppose that it might be good to have a refresher on the various elements of tradeshow marketing – JUST to make sure that you’re not missing any pieces. After all, it’s not a bad idea to see things from a new perspective, right?
So, from my viewpoint, here’s a list of what you might consider keeping track of in your tradeshow marketing endeavors:
Overall Tradeshow Marketing Objectives
Shows You Attend and the Specific Objectives for Each Show
Public Relations Outreach
Exhibit Booth: size, age, layout, cost
Booth Staff: who are they; what’s their experience and training and overall level of knowledge of the tradeshow marketing efforts
Show and Booth Visitors: breakdown of each show in detail
Social Media Sharing: who’s in charge, what content gets shared, what are the results
Post-show Follow Up
Lead Generation: methods of collection, grading, distribution
Final Overall Assessment
These bullet points can be broken down in great detail and the more detail you have, the more educated you are – and the higher the chances that you will have a more successful show.
Remember this: your competition is out there and many of them invest heavily in booth staff training, pre-show marketing, public relations, and social media engagement. They’re not fooling around. If you’re not looking closely at these items on a regular basis and keeping your tradeshow marketing assessment current, you could be slipping behind because it’s a good bet your main competitors are. Those competitors want to win – and they want to take away your current clients and customers. No doubt they’re doing everything they can to achieve those goals.
What are you doing with your tradeshow marketing to keep one step ahead of your competitors? Are you investing in an upgraded booth when the old one is falling apart or do you limp along another year? Are you investing in keeping your booth staff on top of their game with regular trainings? Are you investing in creating a great experience for your clients and potential clients at the next tradeshow, or do you just cross your fingers and hope that the status quo will be ‘good enough’ for this year?
Do you think your competitors are settling for ‘just good enough’?
The following guest article was written by Chris Newkirk:
Tradeshows can be a huge expense for small business owners and although statistics show businesses can increase revenues and grow their customer base from events like these, many companies still struggle to attract attention and make trade shows worthwhile.
What are you doing wrong?
Networking involves a whole lot more than shaking hands and handing out business cards. If you view everyone as an opportunity and stop seeing them as people, chances are you’re going to strike out. Consider how you like to be approached. People can sense they are being targeted for a sale, opportunity or referral from a mile off.
Treat people like people and look to make friends and connections. Don’t approach people by asking them, ‘what do you do.’ Try asking questions that target them personally, can help spark a genuine conversation and can lead to a memorable discussion.
Ask open ended questions that are event specific and don’t bombard people with materials, information or sales pitches. After you engage them in conversation, before they leave ask them if they’d like to be added to your contact sheet, or what information they’d like you to send them.
Encourage visitors to find you on Facebook and if you have access to an IPad give people the opportunity to check you out your Facebook and Twitter profile. You can generate buzz by picking a hashtag for the event. Use banners to promote your hashtag—encourage people to help you get your hashtag and the event trending on Twitter!
Are you making a memorable impression?
Everything from the time you arrive and leave, the things you talk about and the way you use your display and products all can work together to make you memorable—or leave you dead in the water.
You’ve heard it a million times, arrive early and leave late, it really does work. Approach the early birds and try to become people’s ‘first friend,’ check back throughout the day and see how they’re doing. These people will remember you and can lead to referrals.
While you’re there make the most of your space. Do extensive preparation well in advance so you know what size the space you’re provided with will be and what regulations you might have for light and sound. Update your display if it’s old or if your banner stands are outdated or damaged. Consider spending more on displays that are less common and can draw attention to your booth. Even something as simple as a few laptops where visitors can browse products or the company blog will keep people at your booth longer and help draw a crowd.
A pretty booth won’t set you apart from the crowd though, they tend to be a dime a dozen. Try something fresh.
If you haven’t done it before, consider introducing the use of technology in your display. Informational kiosks are one way to remove clutter from your table and promote environmental ideals. IPads are a tool that you can use to display your entire product inventory or allow people to browse your company blog and interact on your social media sites. You can invite people to sign up for your newsletter or add their email if they’d like more information about your company, industry or product directly into a spreadsheet instead of using a paper sign-up.
The use of technology as allows you to engage with more people. If a larger group of people are visiting your space, you can invite some to use the IPad and kiosk while you engage directly with others giving you more time to form relationships without worrying about isolating other visitors.
Other ways to create an engaging space include:
-Enlarge your space using mirrors
-Use a projector to display video
-Take photos of your clients when they stop by and stream them on your projector or share them on social media throughout the event
-Suspend company products from the ceiling
-Incorporate lighting to illuminate your space
How are you following up after the show? Try reaching out through social media
If you have a company blog, writing a series of posts about the trade show and the people you met can be a great tool for networking. Share the post with people from the event and mentioned in the context via email and social media. Because they’re included they will be more likely to share the post on their own networks.
Don’t use follow-up emails to bombard people with a slew of sales information. Provide them with materials that demonstrate value like links to internet videos, industry information and special reports and educational white papers. Preface the email with things like, ‘I thought of you when,’ or ‘I thought you might be interested.’ The key is to keep in touch without coming across as pushy or simply trying to sell something.
Keep in mind some of your most valuable contacts may end up being people who have never been your customer, but instead end up sending a high volume of referral business to you.
The bottom line
Networking is about relationships. If you’re attitude, body language or display is unwelcoming or un-engaging people have no incentive to talk with you or form a relationship with you. Your end goal shouldn’t be to target everyone you meet to get their business. Instead your goal should be to form solid relationships so you can get business from everyone they know.
Author’s bio: Chris Newkirk works in marketing and sales consultation. Chris attends a number of trade shows a year and enjoys learning what methods work for companies in various industries and enjoys sharing his networking tips.