Written by Brian Gordon.
The Oxford Dictionary defines strategy as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” So, is your trade show plan helping you achieve your sales and marketing goals?
Let’s tackle this two ways. First, discuss the 2 least-effective “strategies” that are the default strategy for too many exhibitors, and second, what strategies work best for the most common trade show sales and marketing goals.
FAULTY DEFAULT TRADE SHOW STRATEGY #1: KEEP DOING THE SAME THING FOR YEARS
Some trade show exhibitors (hopefully not you!) are stuck in a rut. They go to the same shows, they bring the same booth staffers, they offer the same promotions, they have the same booth design, no matter what show they go to. This is the strategy driven by inertia.
There is no measurement of past shows or research of potential new shows to alter their show schedule. No measurement of qualified lead counts from booth staffers to identify keepers and staffers to stop bringing to shows. No changing of booth graphic messages to adapt to different industry shows. No testing of anything to find a better way.
FAULTY DEFAULT TRADE SHOW STRATEGY #2: LOGISTICS OVER MARKETING
Whoever manages your trade shows must handle hundreds of minute details about shipping, hotels, plane tickets, vendors, executives, timing, and more. It’s a lot to keep track of, and without it, the show doesn’t go on. So, all that must-do activity crowds out the optional, but actually essential, marketing activity.
What gets put on the back burner, and then often not done, is training the booth staff on how to take more leads and then qualify them in the booth, creating a marketing campaign with promotions that get more attendees into the booth, better lead management to ensure better follow up, and more measurement to then decide what is generating sales and marketing results and what needs to be improved.
MOST COMMON TRADE SHOW GOALS: GENERATE LEADS, INCREASING AWARENESS, STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS
Do you already have a primary business goal that you are trying to achieve by your trade show activity? It helps to hit a target if you know what you are aiming for. It may be that your trade show goal has also been stuck in a rut, and it’s time to reevaluate why you are exhibiting at trade shows today, as your company – and its place in the marketplace – may have changed substantially.
The most common goals are generating leads, increasing awareness (of your company, of a new product, in a new industry), and strengthening relationships (with key clients, dealers, business partners). To achieve your primary strategy involves excelling at several trade show tactics, and adapting them to your specific needs.
WAYS TO GENERATE MORE TRADE SHOW LEADS
To get more leads, you need more booth traffic, and then have your booth visitors want to continue the conversation after the show. To get more booth traffic, you need to be at shows where your buyers walk, an attractive exhibit, desirable promotions, and most of all, more and better staffers to get people out of the aisle and into a fruitful dialog. So, do you know what shows have a higher number and percentage of attendees that match your buyer profile? Do you know what kinds of promotions appeals to their demographic? Does you exhibit have enough visual impact to stop attendees? Have you trained your booth staffers how to convince attendees your company offers a viable solution to their problems? These tactics will boost your lead counts.
WAYS TO INCREASE AWARENESS AT TRADE SHOWS
While the tactics you use to generate more trade show leads will also help increase awareness, your focus alters some if your main goal is to increase awareness. Increase your company visibility with an entertainer or activity in your booth that creates a buzz. Or use a promotion that will get talked about, or a giveaway that everyone will see, like a bag or a sponsorship. Run ads, send email and direct mail, and interact on social media promoting your at-show presence. Try to get your top management or subject matter experts placed as speakers at the show. If you are launching a new product and want to increase awareness of that, then enter any contests or special show floor areas or public relations opportunities the show offers around new products. These activities may also bring you leads, but they will boost awareness even more.
WAYS TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS AT TRADE SHOWS
When your goal is to strengthen relationships via trade shows, you are almost always deciding to focus on a smaller audience than when your goals are awareness and leads. That means a shift in scale. Your exhibit may be designed more like a lounge or an office, with spaces for comfortable meetings to honor your key contacts. You may even have a double-deck exhibit with a conference room on top. Your promotions will be fewer, but more expensive, and your booth staffers must be top-notch, either part of executive management, or the best people-persons you have. When your goal is relationship-building, your show plan extends beyond the booth, to include meals (dinners, breakfasts) outside exhibit hours, and even special events (a fun activity in the show city, a night on the town) with the most important people you want to bond with. And your promotions will be more personalised, with account managers contacting their clients, or channel managers inviting their partners.
For business-to-business marketers, trade shows are perhaps the best medium to achieve your business goals. I hope you now have better ideas on how to focus your trade show strategy so that it aligns to reach those goals, to ensure your trade show strategy is working.
About the Author:
Brian Gordon is a founding partner of Skyline Toronto, helping companies communicate their message through trade shows, events, and related displays.