In-person networking events and trade shows are opening back up. The restrictions imposed by shutdowns, social distancing, and travel bans are lifting. Local government regulations prohibiting in-person gatherings have been dropped in many states. The question becomes, should we invest in a tradeshow and if so, what are the new best practices?
There is no question we have all missed in-person events. Meeting current customers and networking with new prospects face to face is what we do in sales. Taking clients out for dinner and building new relationships is an aspect of sales that will never change. Meeting virtual on Zoom or attending a virtual event will never fully replace the face-to-face interaction of live events. When you attend a live event, you can see for yourself what the audience is like. You can feel how excited people are to be there, walk the aisles and sense the energy in the attendees.
To answer the question frankly, are trade shows and in-person networking events still relevant post-COVID? The answer is a firm YES. Can we expect the same amount of business from the events as pre-COVID? Probably not, at least for the foreseeable future, and here is why.
Coming out of the pandemic many people will have health concerns and they might still be hesitant about gathering in large groups. Logistics and shipping are still a challenge which will have an impact. And let’s not forget the employee shortage in some industries. Therefore, we believe it is reasonable to predict in-person events will have fewer exhibitors as well as fewer attendees in 2022.
But we are not ready to discount the value of in-person events and trade shows. Yes, its possible trade shows may not generate the same amount of leads as pre-COVID but think about the quality of those leads. With attendance likely below pre-COVID times, what does that say about the visitors who do attend? These are the most serious in your industry and worth meeting face to face. Not the attendees that are just there to get the free swag. Less is going to be more.
The other impact of the pandemic is that there will likely be fewer exhibitors who invest the time and money to attend. Again, this can work in your favor. Attending your industry events, having a subject matter expert talk at a breakout session can bring domain authority to your organization, especially if you have been exhibiting at your event for years and don’t want to lose your preferred booth or placement. The continued presence at your industry event shows to your audience that you are weathering the storm with them.
Overall, there may be fewer visitors and exhibitors but the leads will be better. For anyone who has ever exhibited at a trade show, visitors will not just walk to your table and ask if they could please purchase the products you have on display. That likely never happened pre-COVID and it likely will not happen post-COVID. Sales will not just fall in your lap because you have a booth at an event. So, what are the best practices to handle visitors in a post-pandemic environment?
First rule of selling at live events is to be approachable: You don’t want to do anything that will make it harder for visitors to talk with you:
- Never turn your back to the aisle
- Stay off your phone
- Exhibit closed-off or negative body language such as folding of arms or not smiling at visitors
When I see sales reps reading their phones at the booth, I cringe. These are self-inflicted obstacles that prevent sales reps from maximizing their sales opportunities with attendees. In a previous article, Converting Trade Show Appearances Into Sales, we outlined suggestions for maximizing sales, and they still ring true.
In our opinion, the most important aspect of your booth will be your sales reps. The sales rep’s attitude at the booth is the number one way to influence visitor behavior. You can do everything right, have great signage, expensive giveaways, and the perfect location but without an engaged staff, the event will suffer.
Remember, your sales reps at the booth are not supporting players; they’re the stars. Visitors attending shows want to talk with industry experts, have personal contact and receive customized information they cannot find with a Google search. To convert visitors into sales qualified leads, reps must engage them like a typical discovery call, be proactive and have the visitor do most of the talking. Just like any sales process, you want this mapped out prior to the event. But unlike past events there will be less visitors, so each opportunity will be more valuable. This is the key take away for post-COVID events. Every opportunity counts.
One of the challenges about current live events is that many are using digital badges instead of the traditional paper lanyards. So unlike pre-COVID events you may not know who you are talking to immediately. But this means you just treat everybody as if they are the President of your best prospect’s company. This an opportunity to make introductions, build real rapport and get to know each other. One question we like to hear reps ask is “How familiar are you with our company?”
Another simple step, that some companies skip, is asking for the attendee list prior to the show. With this list your team can pre-set VIP appointments so your best prospects do not have to waste time. This is a great service to your prospect and helps you nail down a time so your top rep is not on a break or walking the exhibit when you best prospect walks up. We recommend booking the appointment no longer than 2 weeks prior to the event. One of the best things about trade shows is the chance to meet the actual decision-makers face to face.
Regarding safety protocols for your staff, its best practice to follow the local public health guidelines. Some common-sense approaches would be to bring extra wipes and hand sanitizer. Also, if you ask visitors to fill anything out, you might want to have pens that are giveaways. While each show will be different, the takeaway is to make sure your team knows what they are required to do in advance.
Connecting face to face will always be one of the best ways to generate sales. Trade shows and live events are still great opportunities to connect with prospects. Live events will allow you to accomplish three critical sales drivers:
- Get Noticed
- Drive Engagement
- Get Leads
To maintain top-of-mind awareness, connect with current clients, and develop new relationships with prospects live events are as relevant today as ever. Trade shows and live events will remain an important channel for sales organizations into the foreseeable future. If professional sports with sold-out stadiums are any indication, live events will be bouncing back big, be ready.