Friday, May 14, 2010

Trade Shows Still Work - -

Trade Shows and Conferences can bring great value in the Age of the Internet - -
Ignore them at your Peril.

No argument, when it comes to lead generation and filling the sales pipeline, trade shows can have a reputation for being inefficient, wasteful, and costly... with high-cost-per-lead when compared to effective online marketing. When web-marketing is done right, every day is a successful and global 24/7 trade show, and million dollar leads may just cost pennies to acquire!

But trade shows still have tremendous value. If done right, with strong planning and guidelines, companies can still greatly benefit with face-to-face trade shows and conferences. These industry events are an important way to meet potentially valuable customers face-to-face and get the pulse of the industry. Trade Shows spark conversations that otherwise would never have happened, develop new business relationships, and reveal latent business needs during extended discussions. Business needs which your company can fill at a nice profit. On-site trade shows help fill out B-to-B marketing and business development campaigns. We need them. Depending upon the venue and the clientele  capturing even one good lead may result in business which will more than justify the investment made in a trade show.

My major complaint about trade shows is the risk from waste and low productivity. Trade shows, if done in a casual way, really waste people's time, resources, budget (money), and impose the penalty of high opportunity costs (i.e., I could have been doing something else which was far more productive with my time.).

BUT if one manages the time, goals and costs, and maximizes the opportunities, then trade shows can have a strong positive bottom-line effect on business. It can even be game-changing, such are the strategic business development opportunities available. You can strike gold at a trade conference. For smaller business in particular, it is vital to choose and manage trade shows very carefully, your budget and your limited resources cannot handle too many 'waste of time' conferences.

Trade Show Exhibiting captures new high value prospects and
allows valuable opportunities  to re-connect with
old and loyal customers. 
Here is some advice on Trade Shows, based upon my years of successful experience in planning, managing, working and manning exhibits at conferences, large and small, on three continents and across a multitude of cultural, regional and industry niches.

Choose Conferences and Trade Shows Wisely:

Determine if your customers and potential customers will attend the event. Ask clients and your industry peers about the event, and industry events they like to attend (and why). If your potential customers are going to these events, then these conferences are candidates for consideration. 

Be careful with your budget... and prioritize. Trade shows can suck up a huge amount of costs (show space, rentals, power, construction, booth design and fabrication, booth transport and assembly, customs and brokerage fees, graphics, hotels, meals, travel, client entertainment, promotional items, etc). Whatever you do, don't let trade shows steal funding from your web marketing efforts... this would be self-destructive to your lead generation on balance, and very harmful.

Pick Your Trade Show Team Carefully:

1. Pick personable, outgoing and knowledgeable staff. Pick professionals who have high-energy, are team players, know how to apply consultative selling techniques, follow directions, don't mind putting in marathon 16 hour days or worse, and can stand being on their feet all day.

2. Take a select team and limit participation - - avoid over-staffing, and don't bring people who treat a trade show like it was a semi-vacation. Bring the focused talent appropriate for a specific event. Even if you have to fly the right person to that conference, instead of using a local person, the ultimate lead generation results produced and the subsequent ROI is worth it.

3. Train your team and cross-train them. Have 'cheat-sheets' available for all team members. They should be familiar with the range of services and products on display - - not just select niches.

4. Work the Conference:
Keep the 'off-duty' team members out of the booth to avoid a crowd. The booth 'off-duty' folks can a play an extremely important role - - roving the conference and making additional contacts. Some of the best trade show leads come from prospective clients escorted to your booth by your 'off-duty' people.

Promote Your Participation at the Event:

Companies benefit from promoting before, during, and after an event to let clients and potential clients know they will be exhibiting at a targeted conference. If you have personnel presenting papers or are on panel discussions, this is important news you'll want to share with your potential and current clients.

Promotional tools which can be used include:

a. Webpage promotion (at least one month ahead - - get listed in search engines)
b. Adwords and paid search promotion (at least one month ahead)
c. Targeted email promotion before the event (the week before). Consider a print mail promo as well.
d. Press release (just before, or the first day of the event)
e. Targeted email promotion after the event (Obtain or buy the conferee attendee list)
f. Effective and decent promotional items for giveaway - - pick things that will be used by the prospective client, things not thrown away, not easily broken and not given away. (Look at novel items which will be popular and create a 'buzz' at the event and beyond. Also look at functional items like calculators, timers, pens, memory sticks, etc. Include your logo and website domain on the giveaway.)
g. Have a conference promotional give-away for a higher value item, with booth visitors having to register to have a chance to win.
h. Booth Graphics, Layout, and Multimedia should be optimized to grab a conference attendee's attention. Customize your booth to fit the event, if possible. Target your audience. Don't use 'generic' unchanging vague booth messages and images. Having your booth tailored to that event is more effective at getting people to stop at your booth.
i. Exploit the Conference Event's website and print program as much as you can. Make sure your company name, description and booth location are listed. Use every available show online tool available. Some conferences are getting more aggressive with social media type applications... use them also ahead of the event to connect with attendees and even set up meetings.
j. Use social media to broadcast your participation at an event. Sites like LinkedIn and Twitter can be effective for this. Some conferences are starting to 'tweet' on-site during the event.

Follow-up on the Leads:

Extremely important. It seems obvious but very often busy or distracted people jump into the next big thing and let these contacts become stale with age. Don't let the priority contacts made at the event grow old, follow-up immediately. Use the attendee lists obtained at the booth and from the event management, put them to good use. Follow-up with 'thank you' emails with key links to services the visitor has interest in. Make phone calls. Business Development should own the promising contacts that justify additional follow-up. Track and nurture the leads, to help determine if the event is worth returning to the next year.

Trade Shows are a Work in Progress:

Successful trade show management is a constant challenge... there are hundreds of books and many experts out there who make a living training their clients how to optimize trade shows for better results, and with good reason! Every trade show is a learning experience, with lessons learned, opportunities sighted and improvements identified for the next time.

Don't sacrifice your online marketing budget in favor of trade shows, but exploiting industry trade shows can enhance your online efforts, and help ensure you capture as much business as possible. You need both.

For more resources on trade shows, go to Google and search for "Trade Show Consultant" and "Trade Show Coach".... there are plenty of resources out there.

Managing International Trade Shows bring special challenges, which can be managed with success.

Don't forget 'cheap and cheerful' promotional give-away items. Promotional Items Attract Quality Leads At Trade Shows and Conferences. They work hard for lead generation!