The World Wide Web may have profoundly changed not only business, but the business of marketing, yet the face-to-face interaction of the trade show endures... in fact, it's thriving. In many industries, attendance is practically mandatory (think CES). If you're not there, you're nowhere.
For many seasoned companies, however, trade shows are less an opportunity to book new orders than a chance to strengthen existing relationships because everyone is so busy with the normal day-to-day. However, for those two, three or four days, you're all gathering in one place which can draw a lot of industry media attention.
Because of this attention, along with the draw of potential customers, companies often use trade shows to unveil new products, to show the marketplace that they are improving their business, and make a bigger/broader impression. Still, the trade show is a costly marketing tactic... sometimes the single most expensive medium choice a company can make. So, to make a commitment to maximize your investment months before the opening day. The worst thing you can do is show up at the show, set up your expensive booth staffed by even more expensive employees, and wait for the people to show up.
1. Lay the Groundwork: Set specific goals to acquire qualified leaders that can be converted to sales. Decide in advance how many prospects you want to acquire. If publicity is your aim, set targets for media interviews. Make appointments in advance by sending out advance invitations for key prospects and/or media to the show. Train, train, train your booth workers. Avoid wasting time with visitors who aren't serious and complete the interaction with a true prospect in 10 minutes. Take a few moments at the end of each day while at the show for a staff huddle. Review the successful (and not-so-successful) interactions with an eye on making improvements the next day.
2. Look Your Best: A small company at a major trade show can be easily overwhelmed by the competition. The trick is to become "a show within the show." For starters, consider upsizing from a 10-foot booth to a 20-foot booth. You double your billboard space and it looks like you could spend more than the minimum to get in. You then have enough room to divide the space between direct selling and relationship building areas. The rule of trade show design is that a person should be able to walk by your booth and in five or six seconds have an idea of what you're selling and whether or not it applies to them. Consider freebies... a smartly designed tote bag, for example, may actually get attendees to advertise for you... all day long! However, tchotchkes can be an expensive waste so at shows where much of the audience may be unqualified/unknown, keep the extras behind the desk and use them as a thank-you gift after a meaningful conversation.
3. Always Follow Up: The trade show encounter is just the beginning of the sales process. Immediately after the show, compile a register of everyone whose badge you scanned or who otherwise expressed interest. For those most promising prospects, consider sending out a personalized package with a small gift. Finally, be sure to track the results of your trade show efforts: how many leads resulted in sales worth how much and how long it took to close those deals. Not only will the data give you a sense of the return on your investment, but you can also use them as a benchmark against next year's show.
Excellent advice Wendistry - not only for trade shows, but local Business Expos, Chamber of Commerce mixers, and other opportunities to "strut your stuff". The more you do your homework and set realistic goals, the better.... 🙂