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Fairmont Commercial Engine Blog

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Three out of every four respondents to CMI’s B2B content marketing benchmark study of 2016 for North America said in-person events are effective. In fact, face-to-face interaction was the highest–ranked tactic on the list, higher than webinars, case studies, and white papers. Trade shows brings face-to-face interaction to a wide prospect audience.

Trade shows often get a bad rap due to their high investment cost. But I have found trade shows to be very effective for B2B marketers, especially those selling high dollar products. When done right, tradeshow ROI can be outstanding. Shows deliver more benefits than just lead generation. You get as face to face interaction with a wide representation of the market where you can gain insight into prospect needs, customer needs, and new markets. You can also obtain valuable competitive intelligence. And, trade shows are reliable – if you have exhibited at a show before, you can predict the number of leads you will get, which helps in the ROI analysis and justification.

Although they are effective, we all know tradeshows are expensive. The results of your investment in a trade show depend not only on your execution (which I cover below), but also on the behavior of the attendees walking the aisles. Small shows are usually designed for information exchange and relationship building. Attendees are usually in the early buying journey stages. Exhibitors are usually in small pop-up booths. Larger shows are full of visitors looking to learn, select a list of vendor finalists, and sometimes to buy. These shows will have vendors in larger booths displaying relevant products and services. Large industries will have multiple trade shows both large and small.

Attending a show in the USA with a small 10-foot x 10-foot show booth and simple pop-up portable display typically costs $3,000 to $12,000, including floor space rental and facility charges. With larger 30 x 50 booths, your costs increase to around $60,000. Double that if you will be demonstrating industrial equipment requiring rigging for delivery to the floor and trades for equipment installation and tear down. You will also have to add labor and travel expenses for your staff. Trade shows are expensive, so make the most of them.

Here are 14 ways you can make sure that the investment you make in attending trade shows pays off.

1. Attend the right trade shows

Before signing up as an exhibitor, test any new trade shows you are thinking of attending. Have your top sales and marketing people walk the show, study the attendee and exhibitor lists, evaluate the best floor locations and exhibitor booth sizes, note direct competitors attending, and evaluate their success. If possible, rent the attendee list from the show management and send a co-branded email campaign to the attendees to gauge response. These tactics will help you decide whether to attend the following year.

2. Create the right booth

Two factors are most important when designing your booth: ambiance and message attractiveness. You have one second to catch a passerby’s attention. The booth must be interesting and inviting, and needs to tell a story on its own, like a museum display. Consider areas where people will stand, provide thick padding so tired feet can get a break, and use sight, sound, and touch to attract and retain visitors.

3. Prepare your messaging carefully

You have one second to get your message across to a passerby – what you do and why they should care – so make your main message an effective phrase and clearly display it on the visual hot spot. Include secondary messages to explain your story, but don’t detract from your all-important primary message.

Use the Barbell Message Creation Exercise™ I discussed in a past blog post to help you create the best message for the show. Trade shows are the ultimate integrated marketing activity, so your in-booth messaging should be delivered by booth staff, prominent on your website, included in your invitations, and part of post-show follow up.

4. Use a multi-media presentation

Design your content for those prospects who respond to sight, sound, or touch. Manage the visual well, as it is the number one sense at a show. Video is a must – even for a small pop-up booth – as it provides movement, acts as a sales prop, gives an impression of credibility, acts as a conversation prop, and helps clearly communicate your message. When attending a large trade show that represents a significant investment, create your video specifically for the show and make sure to align with your trade show message.

It is not always feasible or economical to create a custom video for every show, so design a generic one to be used at smaller shows on a 24-inch monitor set on a tabletop. If your video has sound and you’re in a small booth, place the speakers near the aisle pointed 45 degrees upward, and keep the sound reasonably low but audible to a passerby. In big booths (30 x 30 feet or larger) you can increase the volume, but make sure you don’t hinder conversation with prospects or prompt a visit from show management.

If your offering supports it, consider giving live presentations at large shows. Presentations create interest and excitement, will generate more leads, and increase awareness to bystanders who are not ready yet to become a lead. Have staff available to pick off likely prospects from the presentation audience to answer specific questions and qualify them. Use the presentation as a place to send your low qualified leads to free up your sales staff. The presentations should be given continuously by an expert from your company, should be three to eight minutes long, and offer topics that match your messaging. The presentation should not dominate the booth, but instead should be placed in one end of the booth (assuming your booth is large enough) so that regular prospecting and selling activity can take place.

I have found it best to give the presenter a few different presentation props to work with including video, the product itself, and a handout of some kind. This allows the presenter to switch between these items as he or she moves through the presentation. Some presenters need a canned script to follow verbatim, while more expert presenters prefer to move between props to keep things more real and casual. Reinforce the call to action at least every 90 seconds.

If your booth is big, set up an event to draw a crowd – a product unveiling, guest presenter, or celebrity. Live stream the event on social media to make it appear even more special. Show events with cameras tend to stop passerby’s in their tracks.

5. Offer branded giveaways

A great way to extend the reach of your message is by offering a carefully branded giveaway at your trade shows. My favorite is a high-quality plastic or canvas logo bag with a shoulder strap. The quality is important. A low-quality bag will be replaced by a better bag from another booth. If you provide a shoulder strap or strings and other booths supplying branded bags do not, you’ll find prospects will stuff the non-strapped bags into yours – leaving your brand out there walking the hall for all to see.

Some shows are full of students and casual observers who have little chance of becoming leads. You can sometimes convince these visitors, especially students, to wear a free T-shirt with your logo prominently displayed, get their picture taken for your social media outlets, and walk the show floor for added exposure.

Other small giveaways, such as pens, pads of paper, or laser pointers, are good for helping the visitors remember you, but they don’t spread your logo around the show floor.

6. Don’t leave literature out for the taking

Although you need literature on hand in the booth for sales people to use when selling, I do not believe in having literature out and available to be grabbed at the show by casual passersby or handed out by booth staff. You want to make contact and collect information so the person becomes a lead, not to have the prospect walk away with your literature feeling they now have everything they need from you. Most literature doesn’t even make it to the prospect’s office, but instead ends up in the trash at their hotel or home. If someone asks for literature, tell them you’d be happy to send it to them so they don’t have to carry it around the show. Get their contact information and qualify them.

7. Use scanners wisely

I recommend the use of electronic badge scanners only if they are equipped with a printing function because you must have a place to add notes. Simply obtaining contact information is not enough – you need to qualify the lead as best you can on the show floor. If the scanner is not equipped with a print function, then either find a way to associate notes to each lead or don’t use the scanners. Blindly scanning badges, without qualification and notes attached, greatly reduces the value of the show.

8. Set goals and incentives

Your entire trade show team – all booth staff – needs to know the show goals and should be updated on the progress each day. Providing incentives for leads generated or sales made is key. My personal favorite is to pay each staff member $3 or $4 for each lead they obtain – an effective way to keep momentum and energy. Does such an incentive risk the generation of too many low-quality leads? No. I have seen over and over that if a prospect is willing to let you collect their contact information, then they are just as likely to be a hot opportunity as any other lead. The percentage breakdown remains consistent whether you stop attendees in the aisle or they approach you to talk. If they are not interested, they won’t let you gather their information. Another incentive to help you hit your goals is to offer a spiff to any sales person and support staff who actively participates in the signing of an order at the show.

9. Work trade shows hard

A company culture of hard work at shows will directly relate to your ROI. Walk a tradeshow and you can easily see which companies are sincere and which are not.

  • We have all been to trade shows and seen salespeople sitting near the back of the booth reading the paper, eating a sandwich, chatting on their cell phone, or working on their computer. Such appearances not only minimize your show ROI, but it hurts your brand. The booth is not a staff cafeteria or personal office area. It is a prospect and a customer engagement area. No one eats, drinks, emails, or phone calls from your booth floor (not even the CEO).
  • All people supporting your trade show booth (sales, marketing, technical, executives) need to be well-trained on how to stand, how to approach a prospect, how to qualify in 60 seconds, collect a lead, and make your booth environment welcoming and efficient. Never ignore someone who shows any interest – negative comments travel fast. Have your sales people spend time with high quality opportunities, handing off all low-quality leads. Extend your conversations into the aisle to slow traffic and make the booth appear to be a hot spot. You didn’t pay for the aisle space, but it’s still available for you to use.
  • Have a brief, mandatory meeting each morning before the start of the show with all staff to review and prepare. Review goals and booth rules. Launch each day with positive energy.
  • Your delightful, enthusiastic, and welcoming staff should have an icebreaker comment as well as a physical component or sample (not a piece of literature) to help them stop likely prospects in the aisle as they pass your booth.
  • Top sales people need to be working with top potential customers. Screen and distribute visitors according to their interest and potential. All visitors who are considering entering the buying cycle should be immediately taken to the appropriate sales person on the show floor. If the sales person covering the visitor’s territory is working the booth, take the prospect over to them and hand them the lead form. The sales person should then convert them to a sales qualified lead on the spot, or reject down a level as a marketing qualified lead. If the local sales person is not at the show or is busy, then take the visitor to the next available top sales person and email the lead form to the sales person at the end of the day so they can call the following morning.
  • An empty booth can be intimidating for a passerby. When things slow down, keep the staff and visitor balance by sending some of your people back to the hotel, scheduling VOC interviews with your customers in the booth, and keeping low quality leads longer than usual.

10. Qualify in 60 seconds

When the aisles and your booth get busy, your team must run at peak efficiency to maximize lead volumes and sales opportunities. In my experience, the target time to qualify a prospect during busy traffic times is 60 seconds. Train all booth staff on qualifying, including the executive and service staff.

Break the ice.

“Are you familiar with < product or service you’re promoting, or your company name >?”

If they answer “yes,” then ask them how. If they answer “no,” then ask them what is it that they do at their place of work. Don’t ask them, “May I help you?” The most likely reply is, “No.”

 Answer no more than 2 or 3 questions.

If you are lucky, the prospect will have a question or two sparked by your intriguing booth display. As you briefly answer these questions insert some key credibility building statements to educate the prospect or hit the high points about your company and products. Remember your purpose during this first interaction is to qualify him or her as a lead. After answering a couple of questions take control of the conversation briefly to qualify the prospect. Then you will know whether your time is justified answering additional questions. You might ask their reason for being at the show, whether they have an application for products and services like yours, their business and role at the company, whether they have budgeted for purchasing this year, or if they are attending the show alone. Your time is valuable, so spend it on the right prospects.

Collect their information.

Once you get an indication that the prospect could be a lead, interrupt the conversation long enough to politely ask to collect their business card and/or run their attendee badge – if the show is set up with badge scanning – so you have a place to write notes. It is a great way to get a reluctant prospect to take the plunge. Use the five key points of qualification – budget, application, need, timing, and familiarity – to help guide the conversation. Also, be thorough in writing down any pertinent information about the conversation so that the next interaction does not start from ground zero.

Give each prospect the right amount of attention.

If sales ready, get the prospect to the right sales person in the booth immediately. If a lower quality lead that will be nurtured by marketing, explain what they can expect from your organization next, take down pertinent notes, and politely remove yourself from the interaction to pursue the next prospect. When booth traffic lags, qualify slowly so that there appears to be activity in the booth. A booth that appears moderately busy booth is best.

11. Use social media at the show

Tightly integrate a social media plan for your trade shows. Post upcoming show schedules, talk about the booth message, post live video feeds of a walk through the booth, post video of customers who stop by and help promote their business, and put up blog posts about the show. Make it an exciting event for your followers.

12. Invite loyal customers – they are your best sales tool

Trade shows are a great opportunity to thank your key customers, have them meet staff, learn more about their current needs, and take them to dinner. Your loyal customers can be your best sales people so getting them to talk to buyers about their experience with you is the most powerful selling tool you can use. I recommend introducing your customer to the prospective customer, and tell them you’ll leave them alone to talk shop for 10 minutes.

13. Invite potential customers to your booth

Be sure to invite to your booth hot potential customers who have indicated that they are already going to the show, and monopolize as much of their time as possible upon their arrival. Schedule meetings and dinners. If they are not already planning on attending, it is best not to encourage them to come where they will see competitors. Instead, set up site visits to meet with these high potential opportunities, either at their facility, a local customer facility, or your facility.

As for lower quality subscribers and leads, invite them all. Moving them along the buying cycle is more important than keeping them away from other competitors at the trade show. Try to create an incentive to entice subscribers to come to your booth.

14. Follow up!

Effective follow up is the key to trade show success. Many of your competitors will be lethargic in their follow up, and a third of all leads won’t be followed up on at all (amazing but true). Follow up as fast as possible with relevant content and discussion.
Trade shows are expensive, but the ROI is easier to predict than many other activities. Make the most of these costly investments.


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Chip Burnham is author of MarketMD™ Your Manufacturing Business, co-founder of Fairmont Concepts, and experienced at marketing, selling, servicing, and developing high dollar products for small to mid-sized companies.

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