The Truth about Trade Shows: Nine Tips for Marketing Success

by Jennifer Beever, Marketing Consultant
Copyright New Incite, All Rights Reserved

We hear from many of our clients that the trade shows they attend seem expensive and don’t yield results. When we investigate further, we usually find that trade shows are not being planned and managed adequately. Businesses are not researching the show prior to exhibiting, not promoting their exhibit in advance, not strategically planning their booth appearance and location, and not conducting the proper follow up on trade show leads. In fact, studies have shown that 79% of businesses fail to follow up on what leads they do get at a show.

If done properly, trade shows can yield some of the most highly qualified leads of any marketing activity. On average, it costs $233 to get in front of a prospect at a trade show, compared to $302 per prospect through a field sales call. Some studies have shown that buyers rank trade show information as a number one reason to buy, followed by articles and peer references.

The following are nine tips that will help you be more successful at trade shows.

  1. Be selective about the trade shows you attend. Survey your customers or potential customers about the shows they visit and the publications they read. Often, publications sponsor the trade shows in an industry. Investigate each show by visiting its web site, calling the management company, and getting reports about past show attendance. Call other exhibitors and attendees and ask how they liked the show. Ideally, you should visit the show the year before you exhibit.
  2. Plan for the trade show. Plan your promotion for before, during and after the show. Map out your exhibit and location ahead of time and note any changes that will have to be made to your booth. Create a budget for the show, and plan your staffing needs.
  3. Create or update your trade show booth. You have three seconds to get your point across to trade show visitors. Make sure the graphics on your booth get the attention of trade show visitors. Create a catchy tagline that explains what you do and place it with your logo. Remember that with trade show booth graphics, less is more. Furthermore, booths with interchangeable graphics provide the most flexibility if your company attends several different shows.
  4. Promote your exhibit before the show. Obtain a mailing list from the show management company or another source, and send an attention-getting mailer inviting people to visit your booth. If you sell high-ticket items, send an attention-getting package to highly qualified prospects. You can send the empty box for an expensive gift, telling the prospect to come to your booth to receive the gift (and then give it to them when they show up). You can send one of a pair or a part of a gift, and ask the prospect to come to the show to get the other part (one cuff link of the pair, the key to a briefcase). Post the show date and location on your web site so that visitors know you will be exhibiting.
  5. Train your staff. Most companies send their new employees to trade shows because they’re trying to avoid taking their top performers out of the field. What they don’t realize is that the right trade shows yield some of the most qualified buyers. Make sure your staff is knowledgeable, rested, presentable and friendly. Brief them on any new developments with competitors companies or products.
  6. Limit your spending on promotional items and handouts. 70% of promotional items and literature are thrown away by attendees after the show. Consider sending literature after the show as a follow-up instead of giving it away at the show. If you are going to give away promotional items, keep in mind that the most desired promo items are wearables (hats, t-shirts), followed by pens, mugs, calendars, and desk or office items. Ask visitors to leave their contact information before giving them one of your promo items.
  7. Disengage yourself quickly from unqualified prospects. One of the biggest problems is getting rid of unqualified prospects in your booth. You can offer to give them a promotional item as a close to the conversation. Or, end the conversation by holding out your hand to shake theirs as you thank them for stopping by.
  8. Follow up immediately on the trade show. If you know you’ll be busy when you get back to your office, stuff packets of information ahead of time to send out. Use the automated lead system that most shows now provide so that you receive electronic copies of all contacts. This allows you to get materials out faster than if you had to enter all contact information manually. Don’t stop with just one package of information in your follow up. Call, invite them to a seminar, webinar or demo of your product as well. Plan to send regular marketing updates to those who have visited your booth at a trade show: via email, snail mail and telephone.
  9. Track results, so you can better plan for the next show. You need to track the total number of leads generated at a show, the number of qualified leads, the conversion rate of leads to sales, the number of sales generated by the show, the dollar amount of those sales, the cost per lead, and the total return on investment (ROI) on the show. Without this information, your decision about whether to return to the show the next year will be subjective and could be misinformed.

In summary, trade shows can yield great marketing results. You just need to find the right show, create a great exhibit that is staffed by your best salespeople, and promote it adequately before, during, and after.

Sources: Data & Strategies Group Exhibit Surveys, Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Promotional Products Association International.

Author Jennifer Beever is a marketing consultant and founder of New Incite Marketing Analysis and Design. New Incite is the outsource marketing resource for growing businesses. The company provides marketing planning, implementation, results tracking and organizational development services for its clients. Contact Jennifer at 818-347-4248 or by email.

This article may be reprinted with permission of the author. Please contact Jennifer Beever at 818-347-4248 or by email for permission. Proper acknowledgment of the author, including name, company, and contact information, must be made with use.

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