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In addition to thinking about the appearance and message of your booth or space, your pre-planning must identify the different ways you and your team will conduct outreach, to bring people into your space.

Bringing Marketing to Trade Shows

March 6, 2020
Before, during, and after the event, you can be targeting new customers, improving your message, and keeping your contacts informed. It's a three-step plan for success.

Many sales professionals dread the prospect of a trade show, viewing these three- or four-day assignments as a necessary evil — It’s expensive! It’s time away from the office, or from home! It’s unproductive!. But, they also know that a gathering of people with a single common interest is a valuable, and somewhat incomparable, source for new sales leads.

A trade show offers a singular opportunity for audience connection through multiple in-person opportunities filled with marketing possibilities. Done with planning, the marketing connections made at a trade show can start long before the show begins — and continue on after the show ends.

There are three distinct phases of trade show planning: 1) pre-show, 2) show, and 3) post-show. Each of these has its own opportunities and each can always be improved. Humans come to trade shows, humans are part of staffing the trade show - which means each interaction can always be improved.

Ultimately, the success of any trade show event is in the sales activities that follow from it, either immediately or from relationships established there. If sales are simply transactions conducted in order to solve a problem, then marketing is simply talking about that solution. Your goal at trade shows is to address the problem your customers or prospects have, and showcase how your business provides a solution as you go through the three trade-show planning phases.

1. Prior planning improves performance — Relying on the trade show’s planning team to bring the right people into your trade show space does not maximize your potential audience. The easiest way to waste time at a trade show is to passively wait for customers to come to you.

Therefore, in addition to thinking about the appearance and message of your booth or space, and what content you want in that space (banners, tablecloth, literature, giveaways), your pre-planning must include identifying the different ways you and your team will conduct outreach, to bring people into your space.

What is your marketing invitation to potential customers? As part of your invitation, will you:
• Have your sales staff call current prospects to set up consulting appointments during the event?
• Send an email blast to your current clients, or to your prospects (or both), inviting them to the trade show?
• Preemptively run social media ads targeting your prospects? Perhaps even geotagging for better accuracy?
• Mail a flyer or postcard, either to customers or prospects, announcing your attendance at the show?
• Is sponsorship of the trade show appropriate? If so, it provides additional advertising opportunities that have the “halo” of credibility bestowed by the trade show organizer.
• Will you advertise in the show guide?

Tip: In those cases of prospects or customers who will not be attending the trade show, all these activities will open up secondary avenues for conversation.

2. Planning what to bring, what you do — Before the event, but in preparation for the duration of the show, determine what you will display or showcase in your exhibit space. That begins with thinking about what you want people to experience while they are there, and what you want them to leave your space knowing. Are you imparting information to start the sales process? Are you directly selling at the show?

Here is a real life example of thinking through what you will bring to your exhibit space in relation to what you sell: A business friend whose company makes castings asked my opinion of what he should bring to a metalcasting industry trade show. Specifically, he was interested in how many screens I normally bring when setting up displays to present an industry ERP software. “I am showcasing software,” I said. “I bring screens to show people the ERP system. You sell castings. Screens won’t show people your castings! You exhibit castings in your company’s lobby? Bring those.” 

If you produce or sell a product that buyers can touch, bring it! Allow potential customers to experience your products.

Part of thinking about what “the experience” of your space should be is thinking about who your audience is, and with whom you want to speak when you’re exhibiting. Business owners? Design or process engineers? Human resources professionals? Potential employees? What would your ideal contact expect to learn in your exhibit space? What is the best way to showcase your product or service?

Tip: Consider how you can answer “What’s In It For Me” — WIIFM — for your customer or prospect within the square footage of your trade show space.

What you give away in your trade show also should resonate with your product offering or your company’s message. Does your product offer protection or coverage? Perhaps an umbrella would be a great give-away. If your business provides a precision service, consider giving-away a measuring tool. Whatever you select to give away — be memorable, be on-brand, and if possible be useful. The longer the item’s useful life after the show, the longer your brand is in the customer/prospect’s hands.

An overlooked marketing opportunity during trade shows is participation in show activities, like presenting the results of a research project or recent technical publication, or attending scheduled events. Presenting allows you to showcase the expertise your organization offers, to be a thought leader, and to enhance your individual or organizational reputation —without selling anything.

Attending events is an opportunity to talk about the industry without selling. If selling is your sole focus, rather than creating relationships that will build your audience beyond the current trade show, you are losing opportunities. Maintaining conversations builds relationships.

3. Create sales through relationships — The most critical part of trade show marketing happens after the show: The follow-up, or how you handle the leads and contacts collected and developed during the show. It’s best to make a game plan with your sales team in advance of the event, and to be ready to implement that plan, so that none of the leads fall through the cracks. Who on your team will follow up with hot leads? Who on your team will follow up with information requests? Who will follow up requests for demonstrations or in-person contact? How will your company or sales team stay in contact with people who are not ready to buy? Will you connect by LinkedIn? Email contact? Direct mail?

Each contact or request for information that you do not follow up is a potential sale lost. So, make follow up as easy as possible for your sales/marketing team. A good practice is to have available a stack of thank-you notes, appropriate business cards, and a list of your literature resources so you can match requests with interest. It’s also helpful to pre-script follow-up emails and provide those to the team.

I do not recommend blast emails to all attendees, as those kind of generic messages no longer meet the expanding expectations of today’s consumers.

To strengthen the follow-up plan, keep track of what happens with the trade show leads. Be ready to log updates from the show into your CRM system.

Tip: After many trade shows the exhibitors will be supplied a CSV-formatted list of attendees. If you are using a CRM, upload the attendee list to your database.  If you are not currently using a CRM system, this spreadsheet can become a rudimentary file for tracking show leads.

Your time is valuable. Your marketing program should be valuable too. When you spend time at a trade show, make sure it counts. Pre-plan the show to leverage contacts, showcase your solutions during the show, and keep in contact with prospects post-show. Three simple steps to trade show success!  

Alexandria Trusov is the Marketing Manager for B&L Information Systems, and an experienced marketing consultant to manufacturers and other B2B companies. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.truinsightsconsulting.com.