Trade shows are one of the top opportunities for networking and prospecting, and naturally can be one of the biggest single line items in the budget as a result. Yet far too many organizations and attendant sales reps fail to take full advantage of their trade show dollars — in many cases resulting in wasted time, money, and effort. There’s also this thought: In today’s digital marketplace, most communication is done remotely. At trade shows and conventions, it’s all about face to face contact to network, demonstrate products, and connect – and face to face is still the best way to get things done. In this post, we’ll give you the advice you need to maximize your trade show appearances and convert them into sales.
Pre-Trade Show Planning
It all starts well in advance of the show. This is a big event, and as with everything in sales, preparation is key.
- Try to obtain a list of show attendees.
If at all possible, try to get the roster of confirmed attendees from the organizers. This will allow you to narrow down your prospects pool and really hone in on your key targets. After all, not everyone there will be a potential customer. So you need to narrow down the people and organizations who are your best candidates for leads.
- Set goals for the show.
If you don’t know what you’re hoping to get from the show, you won’t accomplish very much. Objectives can range from a certain number of leads or sales to X number of booth visitors to highlighting a recently released (or upcoming) product or service. Everything involved in your trade show plan of action will revolve around the goals you want to achieve. Be sure they are measurable, and you are tracking results. Bonus Pro Tip: Trade shows are some of the best spaces to generate buzz and interest in a future product or service release. Prime examples can be found by checking out E3 booths and presentations – pre-release hype around a video game, for example, can make or break first week sales, which in turn affects the entire rest of the sales cycle.
- Leverage pre-show marketing and contacts.
Ramp up your presence and generate excitement across social media channels with regular, enthusiastic posts. Have your social media team find out the event’s hashtag and use it (or create one if one doesn’t exist – hashtags have to start somewhere and do go viral). It’ll let people know you’re there and that it should be a good experience interacting with you. Also, once you’ve identified your top targets (you got that list, right?), you can contact them 2-6 weeks in advance to try and nail down an appointment or presentation with them at the show.
- Practice, practice, practice.
One of the worst things you can do is send people to a tradeshow cold. Roleplay booth interactions, train your staff on tradeshow contacts and sales (especially if not traditionally in a sales role), and run rehearsals of any technology you’re utilizing. There’s few trade show disasters bigger than vital tech not working (for example, a mobile sales app or a touchscreen prospect data collection form). So make sure you’ve got the kinks worked out beforehand and your booth employees comfortable with holding information-gathering conversations with attendees (or sales if you have a product/ service that converts easily to short sales cycles).
While You’re at The Trade Show
So you’ve put that work in and are hitting the show with your shining lights. Your booth looks fantastic, and you’re ready to roll. Here’s some best practices to make sure all your hard work in the run-up pays off.
- Remember the 10 second rule.
The research shows you have 10 seconds to hook someone in. There’s a lot of booths, and show attendees have busy schedules of their own between sessions, meetings, and of course, the all-important lunch. That means you have to draw them in swiftly, and your booth employees will need to smile, say hi, and be welcoming. Also note that 10 seconds is less than 30. So while some people recommend refining your 30 second elevator pitch, we recommend you instead focus on organic conversation. Salespeople know an elevator pitch when they hear one, and it often sounds like the rote, mechanical recitation it really is.
- Qualify the people who approach your booth.
It’s very easy to waste a lot of time on someone who isn’t in your target range. In general people fall into one of the following categories: buyer, decision maker, supplier, competitor, and miscellaneous. To find out which they are, and if they’re a relevant prospect, ask them key questions such as, “What brings you to the trade show?”. Also look at visual cues like any badge, or ask for their business card.
Next Level Tip: Forget the fishbowl for business cards. Yes, it’ll generate you a lot of data, but they’re not necessarily going to be high value leads. It’s also better to personally collect the information of qualified leads to start building a relationship – it makes said leads feel more valued, and more likely to remember your company.
- Invest in tracking software.
As part of the qualification and information gathering process, have tracking software on hand that will allow you to quickly input and compile qualified visitor data. Be sure to include a field to mark your hottest leads that require immediate post-show follow up, and distribute the new prospects to sales after the show. There’s a variety of software options in the marketplace.
- Spend time with your best prospects at the show and after.
Sure, it’s tempting to explore the sights of your trade show’s city, or catch up with old friends who live in the area. But if you want to make the most of your time at the show, instead try to meet up with your most important targets outside of the noisy trade show exhibit hall. A quieter, less harried environment gives you the opportunity to hold a longer conversation and develop a deeper relationship. Also, follow up after the show with contact to keep the sales process going.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into the planning and execution of a successful trade show, and there’s even more we could say. But this will give you the basic blueprint for turning your next trade show appearance into a great success with excellent, sustained ROI.