Making Trade Shows Profitable

Preparation, execution and follow-up are three necessary actions to ensure trade show success.
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Trade shows offer an opportunity to sell your company to hundreds of prospective customers over a few days. While some companies have great success with trade shows, many find that their trade show efforts do not pay off. So, what is the difference between those companies that profit and those that fail?

Preparation, execution and follow-up are the three things needed to succeed with trade shows. Exhibiting at a trade show is a major project that must be managed accordingly. It cannot be treated as an item on your to-do list. Those that have marginal results consider the trade show to be a series of a few simple tasks: pay your money, stand in the booth, talk to people and receive orders. Those that succeed invest time and effort before, during and after a trade show.

Without preparation, execution and follow up, the odds of success are against you. Since trade shows are expensive, when you consider all of the costs of exhibiting, you cannot afford to show up and expect new orders. You must put forth the effort to make the trade show a success.

1. Prepare

The first step toward success is to pick the right trade show. If you do a great job at the wrong show, you cannot succeed. To pick a show, use historical information to find the right match. Evaluate the number of attendees; the industries represented; the titles of the attendees; and the attendees’ areas of interest. Use this information to select a show that has a high concentration of your ideal clients.

Months before the trade show opens, decide your goals. For those seeking new clients, this will mean deciding how much new business is desired. From this dollar amount, determine how many new customers are needed and how many qualified prospects are required to yield this number of customers. To convey the importance of execution and follow-up, determine the cost per qualified lead (see Trade Show Cost and Performance sidebar). Don’t be surprised if your math shows that each qualified trade show lead costs between $200 and $500.

Once you have selected a show and the set the goals, it is time to create a unique message. At a trade show, you have only a few seconds to grab the attention of an attendee. And once in the booth, you have only a few seconds to generate interest in your products or services. Therefore, you must have a clear, concise and unique message that conveys what you do and the benefits delivered.

After you have crafted the message, develop a plan for booth graphics and parts display that tell this story visually. Then develop a script for your booth staff that tells the story with words.

The last step in show preparation is to promote that you are exhibiting. Capitalize on any free promotions that the trade show offers. The show’s promotions will help to increase awareness of your company and assist in getting the attendees interested in visiting your booth.

You also should embark on your own promotion plan that will notify clients and prospects that you will be at the show. Send a letter or email to all of your customers and prospects within a reasonable driving distance of the show. Motivate them come to the trade show and stop by your booth. In an age of indirect contact, this face-to-face opportunity is a powerful way to get new business.


2. Execute

Ending the trade show with a huge number of leads is not your goal. Rather, you want to leave the show with a good number of qualified leads. When it comes time to follow-up, unqualified leads will waste your time and money. They are also an obstacle to contacting and following up on qualified opportunities that can buy from you.

Your well thought out message and booth will cause attendees to stop and consider your offerings. Your well-trained staff will seize upon on this pause to invite the attendee into the booth while delivering the well-rehearsed, scripted message. With the interest of the attendee established, your staff should proceed to qualification of the prospect, investigation of their needs and delivery of benefit statements that address the attendee’s wants.

For unqualified individuals, do not seek to get their contact information or offer any literature, information or promotional items. These are not opportunities, so don’t invest in them.

For the qualified attendees, close them by securing their contact information and an agreement on any opportunities or actions. As soon as this is completed, thank the individual for their interest and move on to the next opportunity. Doing so will allow you to have more conversations, capture and filter more opportunities and add more qualified accounts to your sales funnel.

While most exhibitors have piles of literature to hand out and some have promotional gimmicks, the seasoned exhibitor carefully weighs the value of these tactics. A simple way to get the contact’s information is to promise to mail the literature instead of handing it to them on the show floor. This also gives you a reason to contact the attendee after the show. While the successful exhibitor may have a few pieces of interesting information, such as a case study, they do not make all of the literature available. This tactic prevents attendees from doing a grab and dash.

Likewise, trade show professionals do not have a bowl of promotional items that are made available to anyone that passes by the booth. These promotional items waste your money on unqualified opportunities and block your valuable frontage with those that cannot buy from you.


3. Follow-up

If you are not prepared to follow-up on your trade show leads quickly and are not committed to work these leads over many months, do not exhibit at a trade show. Amazingly, marketing professionals report that 70 to 80 percent of all trade show leads are not followed-up. Without diligent follow-up, your company will have wasted thousands of dollars.

Within one to two days of the show’s closing, follow-up with each lead. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is with an email. Send the contacts a personalized email thanking them for their interest. Also, reiterate your show message and indicate what you will do next.

Within a week of the email, deliver on your promised activity. If it is to send them literature, get it in the mail so that they have it soon after the show. Once again, reiterate and expand on your show message with the included cover letter.

Within a few days of this activity, make a phone call to each contact. The goal of this call is to ask for the business, offer reasons to do so and to continue the qualifying process. If you find that the account is less than qualified, discard them. If they continue to be qualified, add them into your sales funnel. Continue to contact them with mail, email and phone calls until they decide to do business with you.

The final aspect of follow-up is to measure your performance. Calculate the actual number of qualified leads, new accounts and new business. Tally the actual cost of the show. Then, compare this information with that from your goal setting and planning. These measurements will assist in planning for future shows, highlight areas where improvement is needed and offer justification for future trade shows.

While preparation and execution are very important, follow-up is critical. Without the resources for follow-up and dedication to the action, you will have, at best, marginal results. With thorough follow-up, you can have stellar sales.


Being Profitable

Trade show success requires hard work, careful planning and good implementation. From past trade show exposure, both as an attendee and exhibitor, you will likely appreciate how poorly companies prepare, execute and follow-up. Make a commitment to be different. If you perform just a little better in each area, you will stand out, and you will reap more success from your trade show marketing. It is not easy, but exhibiting at trade shows can be very profitable.