Trade shows: lead generation, brand building or boondoggle?

Three years ago when Jules hosted her first trade show booth for her company, the experience was nothing like she expected. Poor planning, inexperienced promoters, lack of advertising; everything that could possibly go wrong, did go wrong. This was the first time her company participated in a trade show, which clearly reflected in the overall performance.

She decided to analyze the event with her Sales Manager and work up a plan for the next show. They charted a plan and stuck to it through every one of their consequent shows. It took them two years to establish themselves as a contender in their industry; and another year to build a solid influx of leads from their trade shows. Three years hence, today, Jules considers trade shows her best lead generation tool.

Why trade shows fail?
Many companies consider trade shows a boondoggle. At a typical national trade show, with 10,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors, you can realistically have 200 visitors per day. If you were making sales calls, you could not even approach that number. Keeping this in mind, you've got to consider trade shows serious business and plan days ahead in advance.

Before you start planning for a  trade show you need to understand that a successful trade show doesn't happen overnight. Patience, keen observation and and analytical approach are keys to understanding  what works and what doesn't work in your industry. Once you outline the basics, you can focus on the concrete aspect of generating leads.

Let’s look at a few reasons why trade shows fall apart:

1. You haven’t set up an objective for your booth: First things first. Before you are deep into deciding how you should go about with your tradeshow planning, you need to take a moment and ask the most important question, “Does my company need to attend this  trade show?”

It is a beneficial tool, yes, but not everyone will benefit from it. Once you decide whether or not to attend a trade show, the next important task is setting an objective for you booth. Do you want to establish brand identity? Do you want to build on your company’s image? Do you want to increase your customer base? Answering these questions will give you a direction to move forward.

2.    Lack of proper planning: Poor planning is the number one reason why your trade shows fail. Lack of planning can lead to
  • Limited promotional literature (due to inappropriate estimation of number of visitors)
  • Improper functioning of your display
  • Not maintaining an updated logistics record
  • Last minute set-up technical glitches: We know that you aren’t responsible for them, but you sure can be ready with a backup plan.  
3.    Not the right audience for you: Trade shows come in many shapes and sizes. Of the ones that are organized, do your research on which works for your budget. Keep in mind whether your target audience is expected to be  there.  

4.   Booth display: Your booth defines what your company stands for at this trade show. Pay extra attention to your booth space by keeping in mind:
  • Location: Choose a suitable location for your booth. Avoid a location that’s close to your industry leaders’ booth as that would be less. Find out whether your spot is a high traffic or low traffic area.  
  • Space: Booth space is important for the people who are going to exhibit at the show. Keep your booth simple and uncluttered. Too much clutter will result in people walking by without stopping at your booth.
  • Attractiveness:  Your booth’s signs and graphics should function like magazine advertisements. It should be visible from the aisle and should be something that invites your prospects to walk up to you.
Preparing well for trade show gives you ample space to focus on your brand building activities.

Building your brand

Building your brand must be an objective for your trade shows. You have thousands of people from your industry under one roof. Every one of them is here to see what’s new in the market. There is no better chance for you to create an identity for yourself if not here. Also, you aren’t spending millions in advertising here, which makes it highly cost effective.

Building your brand at a trade show means you have to make conscious efforts to put your brand in front of your prospects from time to time. Some effective ways of doing so are:

  1. All marketing activities should be consistent and repetitive. Trade shows are not a one-off event. There is building up, the event and the follow up for it. You must consistently market yourself to your prospects
  2. Pre show mailings are your advertising tools for such events.  It is important to promote yourself to your prospects before the event begins. This works more like a teaser campaign before the main event, so your prospects have something to look forward.
  3. Promotional gifts with brand name, logo and contact details- Tradeshow giveaways are a good idea to remind your prospects about you. Hand them something that’s small and something that they can use in their daily lives
  4. Dress up exhibitors in brand colors (also helps to distinguish them from the crowd)- How you dress your staff speaks volumes about your company’s image. You don’t need to dress in formals and high heels to make an impression. You can choose to wear smart casuals or shirts that use your corporate colors and display your brand name prominently.
  5. Your banners should be eye-catching. Your banners must reinforce your brand image with the right colors and consistent message. Apart from the usual contact information, remember to include your social media info on them.
For centuries, trade shows have been used as a means to generate clients directly and cut marketing costs. Brand building is an exercise that leads to the real motto of the trade show which is to generate leads. Building a brand requires a build up from before the event takes place. You need to undertake an event campaign for that.

Event campaign
Event campaign is a program designed to help companies promote webinars, lunch-and-learns, tradeshows, on-line sale or store sale and other events by setting up a drip campaign linked to promotional offer or a signup page.  Such events mostly have a start date, end date and time associated with it. For example, if there is an end of season sale in your neighborhood, and you are a registered member at that store, you receive SMS or email notification about the sale conditions, start and end date of the sale.

The stages of an event campaign
Like we discussed before, it is important to warm up your prospects for your exhibition. You will need to create an operative drip campaign that slowly nudges your prospects so that they register and attend your show.  

Typically, an event campaign consists of 2 different sub-campaigns namely:

Pre-event campaign—This campaign focuses on bringing prospects to a timed event; in this case the trade show

Post event campaign—As the same suggests this campaign is undertaken to engage potential leads that arise from the trade show

Why trade shows are one of the best places to generate leads?
  • People are seriously interested in the products
  • 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. 
  • On average, 76 percent of attendees ask for quotes and 26 percent end up signing purchase orders. 
  • Seventy-two percent of visitors say the show itself influences their buying decisions.
  • 87 percent of attendees will pass along some of the information they obtained at the show
  • It is highly cost-effective — it costs 22 percent less to contact a potential buyer at a show than through traditional field sales calls.
  • 67% of companies say that trade exhibitions increase brand recognition and corporate profile.
A few pointers for an ideal strategy for your trade show:
Pre-event
  • Start at least 6-8 weeks in advance
  • Space out emails
  • Offer something valuable along with the invite
  • Maintain consistent branding and messaging in all emails
  • Give them a gist of what to expect
  • Include some offer/ discount/ coupon
At the exhibition
  • Have an engaging booth, be the listener and interact with your prospects heartily
  • Offer something to eat/ drink to the visitors
  • Display a free sample/ demo of your product
  • Be cheerful and engaging yourself
  • Do not look tired or disinterested at any time
  • If you can afford it, sponsor something huge at the exhibition that brings attention to you
Post event
  • Immediate follow-up (within 24 hours recommended)
  • Keep in touch even if the prospects doesn’t show too much interest
  • With a qualified prospect, your email must sound more assertive asking about setting up a meeting. (tip: feel free to state a date and time)
  • If the person is close to your work, may be just drop by to say hello
 Measuring your trade show results
At the end of the day, your trade show is a success when you have generated a fair amount of leads for you. Profit is the key point when measuring your success. If you earned more than you spent (in terms of business or potential business), you can pat yourself on the back for having a successful show. Remember, it’s not about being the most popular booth, but the most revenue generating one.

However, if that doesn't happen, do not be disheartened. Evaluate with your team which of your tactics worked and think of how you can enhance them for the next time around. Drop the ideas that didn't click with the audiences at all.

Social media is reliable to measure success too. See if you have created a buzz and generated followers, friends or promoters. This way you know who cared to know more about you and tap them as potential leads.

And finally, analyze, brainstorm, and create a plan to get ready for your next event.

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