It’s trade show season. That time of year when you and other salespeople attend trade shows in hopes of gaining more leads.
Your bags are pack.
You’re ready to go.
But before you hit the road, you need to make sure you have a game plan in place to ensure your trip will be worthwhile.
While there is a debate in some corners on whether vendors should invest in exhibiting at trade shows for not, most companies will attend at least one event each year. There are hundreds of state and regional conferences each year, but unless you are working for a major corporation, most vendors will select at least one or two “must go” big events.
Exhibiting at a trade show is expensive. Besides paying the registration fee, you must consider transportation, hotel, and meal costs. Some trade show sponsors will nickel and time you to death, by forcing you to pay high prices in wi-fi access, rental furniture like chairs and tables, carpeting for your exhibit space, electricity and much more.
So, your goal is this – how do you get more bang for your buck? Or, to put it in another way, how do you ensure that you will attract as many high qualified attendees to your booth to convert them into paying customer later?
Here are some tips to help you –
1). Plan – you can’t wing it when it comes to exhibiting at trade shows. You need to review your plans at least two (2) months in advance. One way of doing this is to create a checklist. The list should include what you should bring (e.g., swag, power strip and extension cords, presentation media, business cards), who should attend, a summary of all expenses, where you will be staying and much more.
2). Target key attendees – if you are lucky, you will receive an attendee list at least a week or so in advance of the trade show. However, not all trade show sponsors provide these lists to exhibitors. And even if they do provide lists, sometimes you must pay extra to acquire the list. If you are fortunate enough to receive an attendee list, review it carefully and determine which attendees you would like to meet at your booth or in a designated area for private meetings.
3). You don’t have an attendee list, now what? Let’s say the conference sponsors are not providing attendee lists, or the lists are too expensive. No worries. As a skilled sales or marketing professional, you should already know who the key players are in your niche industry. Reach out to them at least two (2) months in advance and see if they are planning to attend the event. Sure, some may fall through the cracks, but hopefully, you will find enough to make your participation at the conference worthwhile.
4). Pre-Show Promotions – there are several ways you can promote your exhibit at the conference. Email campaigns will help. Plugging your attendance on social media, like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will undoubtedly draw a crowd. And don’t forget using YouTube to get the word out. And depending on your budget, you can send targeted direct marketing pieces to critical prospects. The underlying goal is to create buzz before the show begins. If you wait too late, most attendees will have already been overwhelmed with promotions from your competitors.
5). Flyers or Leaflets – most conference sponsors will give attendees a “goodie” or tote bag filled with conference agendas, trade show maps, and swag. For a fee, you can have your company’s brochure inserted in the bag, or available at or near the registration desk. And finally, you can hire a flyer distribution service to insert your brochures underneath doors at hotels where you feel most attendees will be staying. (I’m unsure if this is legal or not, but I know one of my employers used that tactic effectively at a few conferences).
6). Booth display – You need to stand out, but you don’t want to overwhelm attendees with your message. Your goal is to attract people to your booth, have a short conversation, scan their badge or acquire their business card, and determine next steps after the conference. With that said, avoid too many flashy or ostentatious signage. Instead, simplify your message so that when someone walks by your booth, they will immediately understand who you are and what you’re selling.
Also, make your booth inviting. Try to avoid having a table between you and attendees, because it makes it appear that you are setting up a barrier. Instead, go with open spacing and have tables on the side for handouts and swag. Having a monitor on the edge of your display showing a short video (2 minutes tops) will help. You can also use the monitor to provide a brief demonstration of what you are selling.
You must remember that the attention span of most attendees is short. They are dealing with information overload. They have a limited time to visit booths. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone plans their attendance on who they want to meet in advance. So, it’s your job to get their attention quickly and plan next steps.
7). Have someone walk around with a sandwich cardboard sign – yes, it’s tacky, but it works if you want to stand out of the crowd, especially at a significant event. The sign walker could also hand out cards announcing times for upcoming drawings, or special presentations. It wouldn’t hurt to have someone walk around with a funny or eccentric costume, and hand out cards describing your company and showing your exhibit location. Again, the goal is to get people to your booth.
8). Show sponsorships – For a fee, vendors can help sponsor themselves by purchasing Gold, Silver or Bronze sponsorships that will be displayed in conference literature or website. Sponsorships might also include promoting your company’s logo on an attendee name badge holders, lanyards, coffee or lunch break tables/carts, opening reception, outside tote bags, or charging stations for cell phones.
Also, trade show sponsors may receive special treatment, such as earlier access to attendee lists to help promote yourself sooner over your competitors. Overall, the goal of sponsorships is to enhance your company’s image and brand…and get more sales.
Exhibiting at trade shows can pay off by helping you attract the right prospects who you can convert into sales. Just make sure you do enough planning and preparation to make it valuable experience without breaking your budget.