You don’t just show up… set up your booth…and pass out your business cards at a trade show. Unfortunately, many companies don’t maximize their exposure or presence at these events. Most of the work occurs before and after the show. The trade show is the easy part.
They key is to be strategic in the trade shows you attend making sure your customers and prospects are in attendance before investing time and money into the show. You can call other industry partners that have attended in the past to gain insightful and helpful information about the show. They will tell you the number, quality, and energy of attendees and vendors. Once you have determined the right trade shows for you, sign up as early as possible. Many times the earlier you sign up, the better booth location you will receive. Many shows even let you pick the placement of your booth. Being close to food, beverages, or the entrance are all prime real estate!
Two weeks before the show, see if you can obtain a list of conference attendees. Some associations will give you this information, enabling you to make contact before the show. Prepare an email (MailChimp or Constant Contacts – both great resources) letting attendees know that you will be at the show and to stop by to visit your booth. It’s always good to give away a gift certificate or the latest gadget to entice attendees to visit your booth. You can also send the email to customers in that particular industry. For example, if you are attending a school superintendent show, run a query in your database to pull all your superintendent contacts/customers and send an email to them. It’s also good to re-connect with past clients at these events, too.
If you do obtain the list of attendees, make sure you call your prospects before the show. Ask them to meet with you for 10 or 15 minutes sometime during the conference to learn more about them and see if you can create a partnership with them. If they aren’t able to meet with you, suggest they come by, talk to you, and enter for a chance to win your giveaway.
Another important factor is making sure you have educated all employees about the strategy and questions to ask attendees at the trade show. Employees need to be friendly and engage with everyone, even other vendors. No one should be “working” on their phones or computers while attending the trade show, because this loses focus and can be construed as uninterested.
Set up your booth at least two hours before the show, because it allows you to be proactive if you have forgotten something off your list. This allots some additional time to roam the show floor to look at other booths, especially if the show is only three or four hours long. If you haven’t been to the show before, it also allows you to do some additional research and investigating of the attendees, vendors, and conference staff.
If the trade show occurs over several days or has breaks where conference attendees aren’t in the show room, walk around and visit with other vendors. You will learn more about what they do, and possibly find a customer among them. This enables you to see what other companies are doing with their trade show booths. Other vendors might have a relationship with your prospect, so you could get warm leads on projects. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with not only conference attendees but other vendors.
Provide an interesting giveaway at your booth to entice people to stop by and talk to you. Don’t stand behind the table but put the table at the very back of the booth with brochures, business cards, and your giveaway on top. By putting your giveaway toward the back of the booth, attendees have the walk into your booth to obtain it. This gives you some time to engage and ask questions about their business. If you struggle with what to ask at a trade show, here are some good questions.
Make it about the attendee and their interests. Obtain their contact information through your door prize, and you can follow up later with a phone call and email.
There are several ways to obtain contact information for attendees that stop by your booth. You can have a fish bowl for people to place their business cards in, a paper form for them to fill out, or you can set up an electronic submission form that can then be uploaded into your marketing database. Personally, the last one is my favorite and preferred method. This sets up success for the marketing person or principal that will be following up with the attendees after the show.
Once the show has been completed, the real work begins. The employees who worked the show need to go through the list of gathered business cards and contacts to determine who needs a follow up call immediately. You should receive 2-6 HOT leads from the trade show that warrant a follow up call within a week after the show. Make sure you position yourself correctly to set up a meeting with your prospect.
The other attendees should be entered into your database (customer relationship management system) to be followed up with an email and phone call over the next two to three months. There are very few vendors that follow up after the show, so this will set you apart from the crowd. Even if they aren’t interested, they will know that you cared enough to follow up. You might ask them what their favorite part of the conference was. Again, make it about them not you.
Being strategic, having a plan, and being organized are the important keys to having a successful trade show experience. You can create the experience and results for your business just like designing and building a project.