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: joannegore@rogers.com