By Sandy Sloane

On June 3, Holly Barrett, Marketing Director of NextCorps, and Sandy Sloane, President of Solutions by Sloane and events consultant for Luminate, presented a workshop on making the most of trade shows. The webinar covered tips on how to exhibit at a conference and how to get the most from attending a show, including both live and virtual formats. These nine tips will help you make sure your participation results in a positive return on investment (ROI).  

  1. Determine if you want to exhibit or to attend by researching the show far in advance to assess its overall value to you and your business. Look at: 
  • Attendee lists from the past—Do they look like your customer targets? 
  • Potential opportunities to showcase your company—How can they help connect your brand with these targets? 
  • Competitors that have been or will be there—Is there a chance to pit your offering against theirs for consideration? 
  • Speakers featured at show sessions—Do show planners include topics you can speak about to submit for consideration? 
  • Journalists who cover the show (Google the show to read their coverage)—Can you meet with them to share your news to build a relationship and secure coverage?

This information will help you decide if there’s ample opportunity for attending.  Sign up early for the show to get discounted pricing, and identify early-bird discounts for hotel, airfare, sponsorships, and show advertising opportunities.

2. Create a show strategy for whom you want to connect with, for submitting speaking opportunities, for leveraging promotional strategies, and how you will communicate—before, during and after the show.  For example, before the show begins, inform existing and potential customers, partners, and the media that you will be attending to see if you can set up meetings. Include info about your show presence on your website and in email signatures.

3. Check to see what your competition is doing on the show site and determine points of differentiation to use when talking to prospective customers. If you’re exhibiting, consider doing a technology “face-off” to demonstrate the benefits of your innovation.

4. Contact desired company connections in advance using LinkedIn to see if they are attending and set appointments. When contacting them, do not just send a canned connection request. Succinctly personalize it for each desired connection, pointing to what they’d be interested in. If they respond that they are not attending, ask if anyone from their company is attending and request an introduction or, at the very least, email addresses to send them information. 

5. Create an elevator pitch and practice it so you feel comfortable when engaging with potential customers and new contacts. Have different versions for different audiences including customers, collaborators, and media. Update your collateral to offer different versions for each audience.

6. Map out a show strategy for visiting the booths of competitors and complementary services, and attend their sessions if they are speaking.  Determine your agenda for what seminars and social events will be most worthwhile to attend. Remember to sign up for after-hour events. These are great networking opportunities but registration often fills up fast! This is true of local restaurants, so if you’re headed out for a dinner meeting, make restaurant reservations in advance. 

7. For exhibitors, make your booth investment pay off with excellent signage, a branded tablecloth, fun or useful giveaways (think of things where your brand will be visible long term with usage), plenty of literature, and knowledgeable, professional staff.  Order your lead-generation tool from the show organizer and use it to collect data, but do not “scan and spam” contacts. Staff the booth with three people in order to be able to give one a break and still have two to handle booth visitors. Make sure staff asks open-ended questions to build rapport with visitors, and are comfortable pulling in people passing by.  Stand in front of your assigned area to engage with attendees in a friendly, approachable manner, and jot down areas of interest from prospective customers to be able to engage with them post show.  Identify press based on their badge colors.  Do not eat at the booth but do offer mints or candy to visitors.    

8. After the show, contact those you connected with or heard speak as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours.  Respond to questions that required follow up.  If you have their physical mailing address, send handwritten thank you cards as these personal pieces of mail get opened far more than emails that are one in dozens (especially when attendees are so busy catching up on email after they get back).  Send invitations to sign up for your newsletter and include opt-in options.  Add contacts to your CRM platform but only market to them upon receiving their consent.

9. Determine your ROI as best as you can from your participation. If your attendance yielded new business, new contacts, or potential long-term positives such as brand awareness and improved reputation, then consider this a good return.  If on the other hand, you cannot justify the cost relative to what you got out of it, then look for other opportunities.  But remember, positive ROI is related to what you put into it.  Make sure you’ve done your best before, during, and after you attend to help ensure your desired outcome.  There is no magic to successfully attending a trade show…It’s all about hard work, commitment, engagement, and follow up.  

Now, start researching which of the 19,981 trade shows and events scheduled between now and March 2022 are best for you and your business!

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