Trade shows are great places to build out your network and connect with potential customers — if you come prepared with a real strategy.
Many participants and attendees don’t, however. These are the teams you see bumbling about on the last day with towering stacks of business cards, content that they’ve satisfied some vague notion of networking.
Don’t be those teams. Instead, show up at your next trade show armed with a plan to book appointments and give live demos to qualified leads.
Here are some solid tips to help you do just that.
What to Do in the Weeks Leading Up to the Trade Show
Early preparation for a trade show is key. Just glancing at the list of other companies on the plane ride in won’t cut it. You need to make a dedicated effort to connect with people well before the week of the show.
1. Attendees might be higher quality leads than you think.
Mike Thimmesch, director of industry relations for Skyline Exhibits, points out at Trade Show News Network that
- More than three-quarters of trade show attendees travel at least 400 miles to attend the event, and
- 81% of attendees have buying authority.
This means most people have spent a decent amount of time, money and energy to be standing in front of your booth, and they’re in a position to make buying decisions.
2. Be selective and strategic about what trade shows you attend.
Jamil Bouchareb, co-CEO of Restaurantware and CEO of Genman Corp., says to “pick your shows wisely” because there are so many that might be tangentially relevant to your business. Instead, focus on the ones that are a perfect fit.
And when you identify a perfect fit, map out your company’s specific goals for attending. “Are you focusing on attracting new clients, luring in new distributors, establishing your brand, or to gather tips on improving your marketing further?” Bouchareb writes. “Giving all you can towards one goal will help ensure you accomplish it as well as possible.”
3. Contact trade show organizers to get intel on attendees.
UK company We Brand It, which creates promotional products for other businesses, notes that trade show organizers usually have stats and other information on people who have attended their shows in previous years.
This data is a treasure trove of customer insights. Knowing attendee’s specific interests and business challenges will help you focus your own message and craft a better pitch.
4. Email your existing customers and invite them to come by your booth.
If your team is travelling to attend a trade show, this is a good opportunity to connect face-to-face with some of your customers in the area, Quality Logo Products says. That outreach will look something like this:
- First, send out a coupon or some other promise of a freebie to customers who stop by your booth.
- Book meetings with customers who respond so they don’t have to wait to speak with you.
- Then, send out a wider email letting all other customers know you are participating. “Even if the vast majority doesn’t attend, they will see you as a significant player in your industry for participating,” Jana Quinn at Quality Logo Products says.
5. Start reaching out to other attendees via email or social media.
Organizers will provide a list of what other companies will be at your trade show, and usually who the individual attendees are, too. This, effectively, is a list of prospects. Go get in touch with them.
HackerRank‘s Poya Osgouei writes at Sales Hacker that one of his team members reached out to each attendee via Twitter, LinkedIn or email before a specific conference, and a full quarter of all attendees dropped by the HackerRank booth as a result.
6. Or, use snail mail to both add a personal touch and qualify recipients.
B2B marketer Ruth P. Stevens has an excellent tip for engaging with a trade show’s attendees well before the event. This is an especially useful tactic if the list the show’s organizers put together doesn’t include enough information about each person to qualify them.
Here is Stevens’ tactic:
- Create postcards that will go out to every registered attendee. These postcards will clearly communicate the benefits of visiting your booth.
- Speak directly to the people you would like to reach as a measure of qualification. Her example: “Attention, purchasing managers! Come find out how you can save time and money in your search for the best widgets.”
- Send these out as first-class mail so they arrive 10 days before the show — soon enough to keep you top of mind, but not so late that people will already be en route to the event.
Showtime: How to Maximize Your Time at the Event
With a plan in place and a schedule already partially booked with appointments, you’ll be primed for a successful few days at the event.
7. Engage with other attendees online the night before.
One more touchpoint just before the event kicks off, while you’re all on location, can be a helpful way to keep your booth on prospects’ radars. (Just remember to mention your booth number.)
Rachel Nevers at event marketing platform Splash recounts how her team made this tactic work:
“The night before the expo (when everyone was settling into their hotel rooms), we promoted a Facebook post that invited attendees to swing by our booth to watch live demos and to enter our raffle. The expo hashtag was clearly displayed, and the location of our booth was front and center. We found it to be one of the best ways to invite our existing user-base to come meet us face-to-face — AND to pique curiosity from new prospects.”
8. Design your marketing materials to reflect trustworthiness.
This sounds a bit abstract, but it’s important to remember that you’re competing with other companies’ booths more on trustworthiness than you are on potential or even past results. “Think about it. In any kind of business collaboration, where so many decisions have to be made, a million things can go wrong,” Tony Caccamo at Mirror Show Management says.
“Which is why you need to be dealing with people who really have your back. Without trust, the world’s most skilled vendor can never become the partner you need because you’ll always be looking over your shoulder.”
Caccamo has a handful of tips for gauging a vendor’s trustworthiness; the tips are actually intended for attendees walking around the show floor, but they’re equally useful for vendors:
- Make sure you are transparent about your company’s process and practices.
- Communicate your values as a company.
- Make a point to underscore your client retention rates. “Client retention really does speak louder than words,” Caccamo writes. “It’s concrete, verifiable and super-important because no company can keep clients for long if they can’t build a trusting relationship.
9. Design your booth with hospitality in mind.
Caterina Lui at the PR Newswire blog has a couple of excellent posts on trade show marketing and visual strategies for trade show booths. One recurring point of emphasis is simply being hospitable.
“Event attendees have a lot of booths to visit,” she writes. “Make their lives on the show floor as easy as possible.” There are several ways you can do this, including:
- Optimizing your booth for conversation — Make it easy for attendees to sit down and chat with you.
- Having comfortable seats — Give someone a chance to sit down and take a break, prospect or not.
- Having outlets and phone chargers available — This both solves a problem and invites booth visitors to linger while their devices charge.
10. The interaction your booth facilitates is more important than the environment it creates.
David Rich, SVP of client services at George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, writes at BizBash that while the look and feel of your booth is important, you should spend more time ensuring its design creates opportunities to begin and continue conversations. This is why you spent time in the weeks before the show understanding attendees’ needs and pain points.
“Think of yourself as a bridge builder, building a connection between organizational objectives/goals and audience needs,” he writes. “What does your audience need in the way of an experience to be motivated and enabled to act on your objectives? … Aim to give them an experience that will help them see themselves as potentially bigger heroes in their own stories — if they heed your call to action.”
11. Use the location of your booth as a strategic advantage.
Here is another instance where you can convey helpfulness and hospitality with your booth. “The more you know about an event, the more opportunities you’ll recognize,” Shuly Oletzky, president of Frigibar Industries, Inc., writes at The Huffington Post.
“One of the first things I do once the layout of an event is finalized is locating where my booth will be and learning about what booths will be close by, location of the bathrooms, refreshment and information stands, and how to get to exhibit and presentation locations from where my booth will be.”
“If you’re near an entrance or the end of an aisle, knowing your surroundings will come in handy when visitors ask you questions. Being a resource to help make their experience as enjoyable as possible is beneficial to your brand even if they aren’t an immediate customer.”
12. Invest extra money in a corner booth if you can afford it.
You can direct traffic from any spot, of course, but a corner booth naturally attracts the most traffic in the first place. Jess Ekstrom, CEO and Founder of HeadbandsOfHope.com, says these booths typically cost $200 to $500 more than other booths but see twice the amount of foot traffic.
13. Keep qualifying visitors and convert as much of that traffic as possible.
Remember, the whole point here is to find qualified leads, not collect a bunch of business cards. For the Dreamforce conference in 2015, SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter says his company changed up its expo strategy a little, and doing so led directly to 183 qualified leads who booked appointments.
First, Porter says each team member on site set a quota for appointments booked. “Then we interacted with people,” he writes. “We asked them qualification questions. We avoided taking their cards or scanning their badges. We helped them determine whether we could be valuable.
“And when they said ‘yes,’ we asked them to take out their phone and find a time on the calendar that would work.”
14. Set a target for number of product demos per hour.
Marc Goldberg, partner and founder of Marketech Inc., writes at the Skyline blog that anyone with a product to demo should shoot for at least four demos per hour, whether those are on demand or arranged in advance.
However many demos you give, Goldberg recommends giving them one-on-one so you can ask pointed questions. “The booth staffer should not do all the talking,” he says. “Probing for needs and presenting benefits to fill those needs, then demonstrating how the product can fulfill the needs will be best received by the booth visitor.”
15. Take some time to survey your competitors.
Finally, use any trade show you attend as a chance to gather some competitor intel. “This is a unique opportunity to personally browse case studies and business models at other exhibits,” the team at Exhibit Network in Houston says. “Take note of the new products or services other companies are offering.”
What to do After the Trade Show Ends
In the days after the trade show, this is the time to follow up on leads and nurture the connections you built.
16. Pull together any information you’ve collected on potential partners or vendors.
With enough luck, you’ve identified a few companies that could help grow your own business.
Frequent trade show buyer Art Santos tells ASD Insider he makes sure to take notes about the companies he interacts with during a trade show, especially the ones who might make good partners or suppliers at a later time.
“When I speak with a company and think there is the potential to do some business with them, I make a note of their company name, booth number, and a brief comment about what it is I like about that company or their products on my phone,” he says.
17. Follow up with leads quickly so those lines don’t go slack.
Finally, it’s time to move forward any relationships you’ve created with potential customers. Robb Clawson at Dealer Marketing Magazine has a few especially useful tips to structure your follow-ups:
- Be strategic. “Send thank you emails with a marketing brochure one to two days after the show (if not sooner) to keep your company top of mind,” he says. “Add a personal note, and schedule times to follow-up with tangible ‘asks’ one or two weeks later.”
- Connect via social media where appropriate. Clawson recommends posting photos from the event to your social channels and sharing those with other attendees. You could also host additional photos to drive those leads back to your website.
- Follow up on specific questions. Review the notes you took on each booth visitor, and send a message addressing the unique questions, issues or concerns they had.
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