If you own or work for a business-to-business company, exhibiting at trade shows take up a significant part of your marketing budget. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), b2b exhibits at trade shows account for approximately 40% of the average company’s marketing budget. Given that so much money is being spent on this activity, it only makes sense to ensure your participation in a trade show delivers an equally impressive return.
To help you toward this end, we’ve put together a series of blogs full of suggestions on how you can make every show more productive for your business. The first topic we’ll cover is how to turn potential exhibit contacts into probable future customers.
Pick the right shows for your company’s goals
With over 13,000 different shows to choose from, selecting the best ones to participate in can be a challenging task. Begin by answering some important questions. What are you trying to achieve at the show: introduce a new product, establish your brand as an industry leader, break into a new market or increase awareness of your brand? Do you want to focus on customers within a certain area or to expand beyond your current sphere of business? Which shows do your top customers attend most often? What will the costs be versus the value offered? Is the timing of a show advantageous for your business?
Start by making a list of all the shows that fit your product, services and target market. The Tradeshow & Convention Guide (BPI Communications) and the Tradeshow Week Data Book (Reed Reference) are helpful resources. You should also contact your industry association, local Chamber of Commerce and convention bureau for information about upcoming events. Don’t forget to do some research close to home including asking your current customers which shows they are most likely to attend.
Once you have a list of potential shows, research costs, past attendance rates and details about the type of exhibitors and attendees they attract. Finally, estimate the costs involved in building and staffing an exhibit at each venue so you have a real basis of comparison.
Buy the best (not necessarily the biggest) booth for you
Trade Shows in the U.S. have certain standards for booth size and configuration. Generally, booths fall into three categories: standard linear booths, perimeter booths and island booths. Standard and perimeter booths are usually 10’ X 10’ with the difference between then being the standard booth backs up to another booth while the perimeter booth backs up to a solid wall and may have a higher back wall. The Island booth is exposed on all sides to traffic and may be 20’ X 20’ feet or larger.
However, there’s more to a booth than its size. A small booth in a location near an entry point may get more traffic than a larger booth further back. Check out the floor plan of the show before you commit to a site. Spaces near the doors, food concessions, rest rooms and seminar locations are good spots. So is a location near major exhibitors, assuming they’re not your direct competitors. If possible, try to avoid locations near loading docks and large columns that block a view of your booth.
Generally, the cost of the exhibiting space should comprise about 30% of your budget with services needed to install, breakdown and store your booth adding an additional 19%. Design costs account for 10% as do shipping and drayage. But remember, while a well-designed booth may attract visitors it’s still your staff that will turn show attendees into customer accounts.
Train Your Staff How to Work the show
A trade show is a unique opportunity to reach the very people who are either currently using your product or who might consider doing so in the future. Show attendees are there because they have a real need or/and interest in what you’re selling. That makes a hard sell approach one that will probably be unproductive and, in fact, be harmful to your brand.
Equally harmful are representatives that seem more interested in their cell phones and each other than in booth visitors. Anyone – and everyone – in your booth should not only be knowledgeable about your product, but also seem to be genuinely proud of being associated with it. During the show, visitors will regard your booth and the staff that work in it, as your company. Therefore, your booth should always offer visitors accurate information about your product, advice that reflects a high level of industry expertise and interesting, relevant conversation with other professionals in their field.
Research shows that 85% of the positive feelings visitors develop toward a brand are due to the people in the booth. So before you invest in taking your staff “on the road,” take the time to train them at the office. Make sure they know what to say, how to say it and to whom. Here are four simple steps your people can learn to attract visitors to the booth and turn them into prospects:
Engage (30 seconds) – get attendees to stop and talk by asking an open-ended question relevant to their interests that can’t be answered by yes or no. For example – “Hi glad you stopped by. What attracted you to our booth?”
Qualify (2 minutes) – determine if this is a serious prospect. Spending time with people who have no need of your product or who aren’t in a position to make a sale or influence one, is pointless. Without being rude, you really should move on to other more productive prospects. (More on this in tip #4).
Present (5 to 8 minutes) – discuss or possibly demonstrate how your product or service answers the customer’s specific needs. Anticipate questions and objections and prepare answers.
Close (1 minute) – Make sure you get the prospect’s contact information and some notes jotted down on a lead card about your conversation. Thank them for their time and consideration and let them know that you or someone else from your company will follow up with them soon.
One more thing – everyone in your booth should learn how to fill out a lead card for each person they talk to, jotting down notes on what the prospect asked about and seemed concerned about. They should also note any personal comments these prospects made about their companies, the show, the city, hobbies and their families. When the time comes to follow-up with these folks this information will be invaluable in warming up the relationship, conversation and prospects for a sale. (More about this in Tip #6)
Plan on a pre-qualifying strategy for your prospects
Qualifying leads can begin well before the show opens by pro-actively contacting potential attendees several weeks ahead. Just consider this – according to the Trade Show News Network, 81% of all attendees at a trade show have the authority to make a purchase. Here’s another statistic you should know – 70% of attendees make a list of booths they intend to visit before they get leave their offices! The CEIR found that marketing your exhibit beforehand could raise the conversion rate of booth visitors to qualified leads by 50%.
In addition to this pro-active activity, you can also have your staff quality visitors at the booth just by asking a few questions. These questions should let you continue the discussion without engaging in a hard sell while confirming the visitor’s interest in your products:
What are some of the major challenges your business is facing this year?
What do you think is holding your back from a higher level of profitability?
What would give you the biggest impact or competitive advantage in your market?
Ideally, these questions will lead into a conversation about how your product can help their business achieve their goals. Moreover, if the prospect asks you about pricing or access to service in return, they should be moved to the top of the “hot lead” list.
Create or add all visitors to your customer database
Your participation in a show is an ideal opportunity to touch base with your current customers and prospects. Just consider this CEIR statistic – 88% of trade show attendees haven’t seen a member of their vendor’s company for at least 12 months! Offer those who are already in your database a special incentive to drop by your booth. (“Come to booth #—with this email/post card and claim your FREE tote bag!”) While they’re at the booth, you can introduce them to new products, ask if they need to reorder what they’re already getting, etc. Build on this connection after the show with an emailed thank you note. If warranted, suggest a date and time for an onsite visit within the next month.
For new visitors, make sure you get their contract information via a sign-in sheet or/and business card collection container. (Perhaps you can offer a give-away as a thank you for their card.) Add these names to your database and follow up with a “thanks for stopping by” email immediately after the show. If they’re hot leads, put them on a “Must Call List” to set up face-to-face meetings with them ASAP.
Follow-up personally with likely buyers
Here’s another mind-blowing factoid from CEIR – almost 80% of leads generated at shows are never pursued. Think about that. That’s like finding a gold mine, digging the ore out and then going home WITHOUT it!
Have the person who actually met the customer at the show make the first contact even if it was someone from the office who was just there to work the show. After all, at the show they were functioning as that prospect’s liaison to your company. Once your staff member greets the prospect and reestablishes the connection they made at the show, they can determine their immediate interest in placing an order. If appropriate, they can introduce the prospect to a salesperson to place an order.
Don’t forget to make time for the existing customers
Existing customers are the bedrock of your business. Since you no longer have to invest in marketing to them, they provide your highest possible ROI. If you are in a business where service is your product, holding on to these people and keeping their trust is essential to the stability of your bottom line. Yet all too many companies take these accounts for granted. Inviting your customers to your booth, perhaps treating them to a meal before, during or after the show, is a great way to strengthen your relationship, becoming a business partner instead of just a vendor.
When you meet with these clients, don’t forget to ask for their feedback about the show and your presentation. You might also ask if they require any adjustments or additions to the service you’re now offering. Make it clear that you regard them as your company’s most valuable asset. (After all, they are!)
Continue to contact all attendees on a periodic basis
Trade shows provide you with the opportunity to connect with customers and prospects face-to-face. However, when a show ends communication should continue on a regular basis.
It may be via digital marketing – with solicitation emails about special deals or periodic newsletters covering information about the industry and product updates. You can also send post cards and direct response letters and brochures. Finally, last but definitely not least, are personal phone calls to check on the arrival of new orders, the installation of new equipment or to follow-up on a question or concern the customer had.
Keep in mind that customers are people as well as accounts. They like doing business with people they know, trust and regard as friends. Treating your customers like neighbors instead of numbers is the best way to ensure their loyalty. We know that investing time, trouble and even a few dollars in building these relationships is definitely worth the effort.
Please let us know if you’ve found this information helpful. We’d also like to hear about your own experiences as exhibitors – or attendees – and the concerns, problems or questions you may have about participating in trade shows.
Our next blog will cover how to calculate the true value of a Trade show. Please visit us again soon to find out how to determine the profitability of your next trade show exhibit.
Thanks for reading!