MarketingProfs recently had an excellent thread in their forum on how to make effective use of your trade show investment. You can access MarketingProfs if you are a member and even their basic free membership will allow you to access the forum. I am not affiliated with this site. I’m just a fan.
I suspect a lot of you are like the questioner. You are spending a significant amount of your marketing budget on trade shows. You feel you need to be there even though you can’t trace a single sale back to the show. How many times have you said to yourself, “If I can just get one...”
As the economy slows down, the money you’re sinking into trade shows is going to come under even greater scrutiny. If you do decide to continue to do trade shows, the forum responders had some great ideas for how you can make the most of it. My favorite ideas are listed below, and I’ve added some of my own perspectives as well:
1. Attend the show as an attendee instead of exhibiting. Make sure you send your most outgoing sales person to the conference. If it’s an educational conference, as so many are, be sure to sign them up so they can attend the sessions. You need them sitting next to potential prospects and talking shop. In my experience, you’re just as likely to find opportunities this way as you are by sifting through hundreds of unqualified leads.
2. Cut the number of people attending. No one likes to go to a show alone, but does everyone need to attend? IMO, marketing babysits far more often than they need to. Do you really need to be there in order to make sure everything is done properly? Sales people aren’t children. On the other hand, marketing sometimes doesn’t do effective pre-show marketing ahead of time and ends up with too many sales people at the show. It's tough to know what you're going to get, but it's better to have too few people and look busy than it is to have sales people just hanging around.
3. Rent a SoftServe ice cream truck. This brilliance of this one is self-evident.
4. Set up appointments ahead of time. You can do this through pre-show mailings and telemarketing. Give them an incentive to set up an appointment for a demo at the show. E.g. a gift card for a bookstore. They get the incentive after the show-meeting.
5. Make sure you also set up appointments with your current prospects. If you’re releasing a product that they haven’t seen yet, do a call down to invite them to stop by for a showing. Better yet, make it a “sneak peak.”
6. Use the show to do market research. I wrote about this one in a previous post.
7. Don’t exhibit but rent a conference room at a local hotel. Invite people to this meeting room in your pre-show marketing. Even providing food, which can be costly at a hotel, is often a lot cheaper than the cost of exhibiting.
Here’s some additional ideas that I didn’t see mentioned:
8. Work with the show organizers to see if there is some incentive you can arrange for your attendees. Many of these shows are seeing a drop in attendees and the organizers are feeling the pain as much as you are. Let them know you will proactively market show attendance to your prospects, but you want something to sweeten the deal.
9. Do the follow up. This was mentioned, of course, but I didn’t see anyone mention who should do the follow up. If you want to ruin your reputation with sales and completely waste your money go ahead and dump the leads into their lap. Read more about this in a previous post.
10. Set up meetings with your executives. If you’re selling to the c-level suite, see if you can get your own execs to attend and then set up side meetings with them for your key prospects. One word of caution: because many executive schedules can be unreliable, you need to be sure you have either an extremely committed exec or a backup exec of a comparable level. You don’t want to have your best prospects fly to a show thinking they are going to meet with the VP of Customer Services, only to find out at the lat minute that he or she couldn’t make it.
I’m sure we could come up with a list of 100 ideas if we put our minds to it. Let us know what’s worked and hasn’t worked for you.