Tradeshows – 6 tips for a successful event

I admit it…I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to Tradeshows. On one hand, I know that it’s important to attend, at some level, if you want to make your presence known in the market and, more importantly, if you are an established brand and “can’t afford” to not be seen. However, like all marketing arsenal, there is a time and a place.

The Tradeshow “hey day” of the 90’s is long gone. Yes, we all mourned the loss of Comdex. But lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence, dare I say a renewed excitement, for the tradeshows of today.

If you’re a B2B company, here are 7 tips I will share with you, coveted over nearly 20 years of attending shows as either a delegate or an exhibitor. So, even if you got stuck with a 10×10 booth in the bowels of the show floor, or your neighbours are lacklustre and unimaginative, you can still be successful if you bear the following in mind: 

1 – Know Why You’re There
Are you a new company or is this the first time attending the event? If so, you are probably looking to fill your pipeline with contacts (notice I didn’t say “leads”). Tradeshows are great places to fill your database with a multitude of potential prospects. Marketing will want to nurture the contacts; Sales will want to build pipeline. Both can be accomplished with patience and an understanding of what constitutes a lead. (see point #2) But be warned, some really did just come for the t-shirt. Are you an established company? (more than 5 years of consistent participation at the show). Then you are likely looking to connect with prospects already in your pipeline to move them along the sales cycle. Tradeshows are a great opportunity to meet with customers and prospects and grow the relationship.

2 – Make Sure Sales and Marketing are Aligned
When it comes to whether or not a show is successful, ensure you have established the criteria BEFORE you commit to the event. What marketing considers a “lead” and what sales does can often rival the Venus vs Mars analogy. As far as I’m concerned, Marketing’s job is to nurture any and all contacts for viability. If there is a real opportunity, intent to purchase, and budget allocation, then the “lead” can be handed off to Sales. Otherwise, let it stay in Marketing’s capable hands! Marketing will nurture that contact, provide them with information, content such as whitepapers and case studies, invitations to webinars, etc. Sales need not waste their valuable time on the “t-shirt” grabbers. When agreeing on your success criteria, establish whether participation in the event is to: foster existing relationships, generate leads (assign a number), strategic presence, competitive research. And when the show is over, do a post-mortem and document the results. I often find sending a simple feedback form to the folks who worked the booth is a terrific gauge. And it will make next year’s decision to participate much easier. Finally, agree on who shoul work the booth. In my opinion the ideal mix is 1 salesperson, 1 product/marketing person, 1 technical pre-sales person (depending on the audience, of course).

3 – Drive Traffic
If you don’t make a memorable impression, then all your efforts will be for naught. Are you doing a draw at your booth for a large ticket item (i.e. an iPad)? Are you giving away 200 “tchachkes” (i.e. pens, stress balls, etc.)? Are you running a contest? Do you have dynamic presentations and presenters? Are you issuing a press release? Most importantly, are you communicating this well in advance to your prospects? Find out if there’s an official #hashtag for the event and use it in your social media efforts. (see #5 for more)

4 – Integrate Your Messaging
If you have an Events section on your website (and really, who doesn’t these days), post your participation in the event as soon as possible. Make it prominent in your newsletter. Add it to the front page of your site the week before the event. If you’re issuing a press release, get the show’s media list and notify them in advance. Share the release under embargo if you can. Do an email blast to last year’s attendee list. If your budget permits, do a print campaign (yes….people open envelopes if the message is compelling). Run a contest. Use Social Media. Assign someone to tweet while at the show, take pictures, post them to your company page on LinkedIn and Facebook. Engage your prospects!

5 – Be prepared
I am amazed at how many companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on events, that don’t bother to spend the time ensuring that their presentation is clean, free of typos, and has been well rehearsed by the person delivering it. When you ship all the materials down, allow room for mishaps (see my post on “what can go wrong will go wrong” for more tradeshow pitfalls). Ensure your booth staff have time for bio breaks, competitive research, etc. Take the time to give them the show agenda so they know when to expect heavy traffic on the event floor. Arm them with breath mints and water. Invest in a lead scanner (or be prepared to scan/hand-enter potentially hundreds of business cards). Give them all the return shipping way-bills in advance. Make it easy for them to focus on a successful show, not all the minutae best suited to your events co-ordinator. And for goodness sakes, check the booth BEFORE you ship it. Are all the panels in tact? Do you need light bulbs? Is the messaging still accurate?

6 – Follow Up
After you’ve spent all the time, money and energy preparing for the show, marketing it, developing materials and presentations, don’t lose sight of your valuable “contacts”. Get them into your CRM database (or whatever you use to manage leads) ASAP. Yes…even the business cards that the salesperson insisted be put into their pocket for follow up (just be sure to return them to said salesperson!) Ensure the lead source is listed as the tradeshow. Have a follow up email ready to go, with a piece of content that was not available at the event, sent to them within 72 hours of the last day of the event.

So there you have it….my top six tips. To thank you for getting this far, I will now offer a bonus tip: Do more than exhibit. Are there speaking opportunities? Sponsorship opportunities? Can you partner with the Event Organizer to produce a webinar in advance of the event and get yourself in front of their attendees? All of these should factor into your decision to exhibit.

Good luck! And if you ever find yourself overwhelmed with upcoming events, if you need help implementing some of these tips, or if you simply want to bounce some ideas, please contact me at:

10 reasons why being an entrepreneur makes sense

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs.

When I was out on my own as a typesetter and graphic designer over 25 years ago, it was called “Freelancing“. Today, I am a “consultant“. But am I an entrepreneur?

I spent the last 20+ years working in the corporate world. I’ve worked for small business owners (entrepreneurs) and large enterprise organizations (founded at one time or other by….an entrepreneur).

Not everyone has what it takes to start, run, manage, sell, market, produce and deliver products and services. You have to be able to sell yourself, have a bit of a thick skin, and recognize when it isn’t working and to pack it in. It takes passion, dedication, organization, energy, time, courage, and of course MONEY.

It takes money to start a business. It takes money to sustain it as you build up your client base. It takes money to buy supplies, pay your staff (if you have one) and support yourself and your family. But if you can tackle that hurdle and set realistic goals for yourself. If you appreciate the benefits of being your own boss and doing what you are passionate about, then maybe, just maybe, you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Here are my top 10 reasons why I chose to go out on my own:

1 – The commute: I used to travel 1.5 hours each way to get to and from work. That’s 3 hours a day! Now my commute is 8 feet

2 – Wardrobe: As much as I love to shop, I must say I love the fact that I get to work in yoga pants and a t-shirt

3 – Cost Savings: I have saved money on makeup, gas, coffee, eating out and clothes (see #2)

4 – Exercise: I can go to the gym whenever I want. Typically, I go for a cardio workout in the morning and am back home, showered and at my desk by 9. On days where I am meeting someone for lunch, I will opt instead to go later in the morning, and head straight to lunch freshly showered and wearing REAL clothes. The bottom line is…it’s up to me

5 – Healthy Eating: Although some people may find the opposite, I find I eat better at home. I have a proper breakfast, a decent lunch, and a home-cooked dinner. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I choose to eat frozen yogurt and berries for lunch…but I can tell you it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than if I made that choice and had to purchase it from a foodcourt!

6 – Time for my kids: Most days I am home when they get home from school. I can find out how their day went and give them a hug. And then I can kick them out of my office and continue working until it’s time to make dinner.

7 – Time for me: I don’t have to do grocery shopping on Saturdays anymore! I don’t have to worry about the number of personal calls I make during the day. I don’t have to worry who’s looking over my shoulder if I want to check my Facebook status! And I can set my alarm for 8:55 am on the mornings that I don’t have to get my kids off to school! (see #1)

8 – Fewer politics: As a consultant, I don’t typically get embroiled in the office politics, the office gossip, the idle chit chat and the frustrations that can set in on a team that is strained and overburdened. That doesn’t give permission to be arrogant. On the contrary. I value and respect the people I contact and have the privilege of working with.

9 – Variety: I am a person who thrives on variety. Even if all of my clients want the same thing (i.e. a lead gen strategy), each is different. Different products, solutions, audience, offer, budget, goals, etc. It keeps me on my toes and keeps the creative juices flowing.

10 – Pride: I get to do what I love and share what I’ve learned the last 25+ years with people and companies who appreciate and value what I bring to the table.

Of course there are always days when I wonder what will happen if my proposal doesn’t get accepted, if my prospects dry up, how I’m going to cover the medical expenses with no benefits, whether I made the right decision to go out on my own while we are still in the tenuous process of recovering from a struggling economy. And I suppose for the foreseeable future I will often have those doubts.

But then I remember how I felt when my first proposal was accepted. When my first article was published. When I received payment for my first consulting job. And how proud I feel when I receive gratitude from a client and a referral to someone new. I also think of the amazing people I know made the very same decision I recently made and have thrived.

So, whether you consider me a freelancer, a consultant, an entrepreneur, or simply self-employed…at the end of the day…I am happy! (…and yes, I still have a rolodex of recruiters close by….just in case!)

Want me to answer the phone? Read on

Call it cold-calling; call it telemarketing; call it sales; telesales; call it lead nurturing. At the end of the day one thing remains common: you want to connect with the person at the other end of the line and sell them something.

Now I’m in a unique position as a marketing professional. Not only do I have the pleasure of working with “inside sales” and developing programs, scripts, etc., I also have the pleasure of receiving many of these “cold calls”. And although I am not the typical persona to whom my company markets, I still feel a kinship, heck even empathy, for those folks who are on the other end of the line/email when it seemingly appears out of the blue.

I have made it a personal rule over the years that if I don’t recognize the incoming phone number, it goes to voice mail. If I do happen to pick up the phone, in a momentary lapse of judgement, you’d better be on the ball. I can promise you, no matter what time it is, I DON’T have a few minutes to spare right now. Offer to book a time and send me some information in advance.

If you REALLY want to talk to me then I need to see the value in it. How will you make my job easier, my day better or my campaigns more successful? Know who you’re talking to, both from a business perspective and a persona perspective. Understand my challenges and offer a differentiating alternative.

On the other hand, I do tend to sympathize more than others, since I too am measured on the success of outbound marketing and lead conversion. This means that yes, I may fill out your survey, I might listen to your pitch, I will review (skim) the material you send me and I will probably visit your website.

I’m sure everyone has their own checklist of sorts, but here is my list of do’s and don’ts if you’re trying to elicit a response from me:

  1. Do speak slowly and clearly. Spell you name and/or company name if you have to. And for goodness sakes don’t whiz through your phone number!
  2. Do tell me why you’re calling.
  3. Do send me a proper calendar invite when I agree to a call. Make sure your contact details are included should I need to reschedule.
  4. Do spell-check your email and any attachments you send me.
  5. Do have a compelling subject line for your email and make sure the 1st paragraph supports it.
  6. Do make sure you know my name and the name of my company. I understand that Xenos may have been “different”, but Actuate is not a difficult name.  Yet I’ve heard it called Activate, Acutate, and even Acutane. C’mon people!
  7. Don’t leave a voice mail that says you want to discuss an “opportunity” without giving me some clue as to what it’s about.
  8. Don’t leave your whole pitch in a voice mail. If 10 seconds has passed and you’re still droning on, I will hang up.
  9. Don’t tell me you have done work with IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, etc. Apparently everyone has. It doesn’t differentiate you.

What’s on your list?

So you’re in Marketing! What is that exactly?

This happens to all of us at some point in time. You’re either at a party, or you’re meeting someone for the first time, or perhaps it’s your kids that ask the question: “What do you do for a living”. Now I don’t know about you, but some professions are a lot easier to explain than others. I mean if you’re a bus driver or an electrician, heck if you’re in retail sales for a shoe company…it’s pretty straightforward. But Marketing? Not so simple.

Everyone has their own conception of what Marketing is all about. “oooh…you get to travel and do tradeshows!” (and ftr…if you think that’s glamorous, take a peek at my previous post dated November 10). Or ” you get all the cool tchachkes (aka premium incentives).  Or the best: “you get to be on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn all day long!” Some people think all I do is write press releases. And yes, that has been known to take up a fair share of my time, but certainly not all that I do.

If you say things like “Well actually, I manage the brand”; or “I developed and maintain the social media strategy”. Yeah…makes marketers all stand up and take notice, but makes the average Joe’s eyes just gloss over. Especially when you try to be specific and add “I’m in B2B marketing for the tech industry”. Huh?

So I’m here to set the record straight: Marketing produces the stuff that helps the sales guys sell.

Yes, I write press releases (and datasheets and direct mail and case studies and web copy and scripts and promos….)
Yes, I work on websites. I develop site plans and work with the design team
Yes, I do creative “stuff”. I work with designers and tweak layouts and finess line breaks and help design templates
Yes, I work with vendors. All kinds. Printers, Magazines, Premium Incentives, List Rentals, Tradeshows, etc.
Yes, I produce webinars
Yes, I am on as many social media sites as possible
Yes, I am constantly doing research on trends, and best practices, why this or that is the best new lead gen “thing” out there
Yes, I develop demand generation programs (aka leads). And we help nurture those leads so that the sales guys can focus on closing deals.
And yes…I attend LOTS of meetings! Budget meetings. Sales meetings. IT meetings. You see, as a Marketing person, I need to interface with just about everyone in the company. I need to explain to THEM what it is the marketing department does. Because let’s face it; most people haven’t a clue what the marketing department does for their company….except spend money.

We make it look effortless. We get it done. We bitch and complain and gripe when there aren’t enough hours in the day, or when our computers are down, or when somebody uses the wrong PowerPoint template. But we are passionate about what we do. We are sticklers for detail and we make it look easy. We tweet, we create, we produce, we deliver. When an analyst gives us a rave review, or we get an article published, we smile. When sales basks in the glory of a great quarter we give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. When leads aren’t converted into opportunities we take the hit. We are Marketing.

How about you? How do you explain what you do?