I wrote this “Going to Trade Shows Like it Matters” memo as a board member after I saw our company at a trade show. Part 1 of this post offered some suggestions on going to trade shows to generate awareness. This post offers suggestions if you are going to a trade show to generate leads.
Ignore This Post
The same caveat applies as in the first post; If you’re selling via the web, and trade shows seem hopelessly anachronistic, ignore this post. If you’re in markets that still exhibit at them (semiconductors, communications, enterprise software, etc.,) this may be a useful read.
To: Marketing Department
Subject: Going to Trade Shows Like it Matters
If your company is going to a show to generate leads, then sales owns the show. Marketing is at the trade show as a support organization. Marketing may be physically “staging” the booth, and may even it “man it,” but don’t be confused, this is the VP of Sales party. While one could argue that a trade show is just another demand creation activity akin to advertising or PR, trade shows are the closest eyeball-to-eyeball contact you’re company is going to have with customers, competitors and partners.
While the industry average says only 20% of show leads are followed up, that only happens in other companies, not yours. Going to a show to get leads is a sales function, if the leads aren’t followed up marketing won’t be supporting these kinds of trade shows out of their budgets. Period. This is worthy of an open and honest discussion with sales up front. Just as marketing needed sales agreement that it was worth going to shows to generate awareness, sales needs to commit to marketing that leads will be followed up.
Remember your goal is to get qualified leads into the sales pipeline. You want to maximize the number of people who give you their contact information, and gather enough information so a sales person can prioritize who to call first. This can’t happen unless you sit down with your sales team before the show and agree on who are the likely prospects. What companies should they booth team be looking for? What titles? Will there be a salesperson manning the booth so important prospects can talk to them immediately?
Promoting Your Presence
The best trade show planning will fail if nobody knows you’re there. Three-quarters of show attendees know what exhibits they want to see before they get to the show. Strong pre-show promotion will let your customers and prospects know about your exhibit. Are you twittering your appearance at the show? Did you create a Facebook page for the show? Are you buying Google adwords and adsense for the show? Direct email or snail mail to the pre-registered attendees is essential. Companies that don’t do this are the same ones who would have a party without sending out any invitations.
Many people arrive at a show with a schedule of what they want to see and have little or no time for other booths, so it’s important to get on that schedule. If sales is committed to the show, they will be contacting prospects and suspects reminding them you will be there. And inviting to the booth/dinner/private demo. While marketing can help, if sales isn’t fully engaged in this activity it’s a bad sign.
Follow-up as a Priority
While 80% of show leads aren’t followed up in other companies, it doesn’t happen in yours. Lead follow-up is your number one priority after a show, taking precedence over just about everything else — including catching up on what you missed while you were out of the office. Rank your leads by level of importance and interest, and base your post-show efforts on these priorities. Make sure that sales is emailing/ phoning/ texting the hottest prospects within a week after the show ends — the longer you let them sit, the staler they’ll become.
Send everyone else who gave you a lead some kind of follow-up email/paper mailing. Your post-show email or mailing can be as simple as a thank-you note or a brochure with a cover note. Write it before you leave for the show, so you can send the mailing immediately upon our return. Send PDF versions of brochures and product sheets as soon as you get back to the office. Have enough dead-tree brochures and product sheets on hand before the show so you can snail-mail out the information after you emailed it. You’d be surprised how effective sending a paper followup to a PDF can be.
We measure everything. Particularly leads. It’s pretty simple. a) How many overall leads did you generate, b) how many leads ended up in the sales pipeline, and c) how many leads ever turned into an order.
To close the loop between leads and orders, always offer a sales commission bonus for orders that came from leads followed up from a show. It’s amazing how effective how a bonus can be. If leads from this show do not turn into orders, why are we going again next year?
General Comments for both Awareness and Lead Generation
I don’t care how small the booth or trade show is, do a canned demo every 20 to 30 minutes regardless of whether anyone is at your booth or not. The demo repeats the one or two key messages you decided were most important. Assume everything you’re showing will be seen by every one of your competitors, so this is not the place for showing the “secret new release.” You can do that in a private hotel suite for important prospects.
Demo’s are the heart of the booth. Without one, you’ll be having your booth staff standing in the aisles mournfully waiting for someone to walk up to them. Or worse, your salespeople will be talking to each other looking like they’re too busy to be interrupted. In both cases, that means you’re broadcasting “nothing interesting is in this booth folks, keep walking.” A continual demo lets you act like you have something important to share. Your sales people can gather the crowd, work the crowd and use their sales skills to see if prospects in the audience have interest. The difference between booths offering a demo and those without one is striking. One of them is a loser. It isn’t going to be your booth.
Unless you are at the wrong show your competitors will be there as well. Someone from your company has to be designated the official competitive intelligence officer for this show. They are in charge of coordinating collection of competitive data, and preparing a summary report which contains facts as well as analysis. Get competitors literature, press packets from the press room, sit through their demos, and don’t come home until you know everything they’re saying. At the same time keep an eye out for competitors at your booth, (they may not be wearing their own company’s badges.) Welcome them loudly and openly. Put your arm around them and walk them around your booth. Make sure the staff is trained to never disparage a competitor. (Either at the show or anywhere else.)
At any show you are attending there has to be tons of opportunity for business to business relationships you hadn’t thought about. Everyone should have a chance to walk the floor looking for deals, technology, distribution, customers, etc. Someone from your company has to be designated the opportunity monitor, responsible for coordinating potential partner information and disseminating it in writing after the show.
No Literature at the Booth
Fancy brochures are expense, and most trade show literature ends up on the hotel room floor. Have sample literature under Lucite and chained to the booth. Take imprints of badges in exchange for paper literature requests. Each imprint is now a lead. (Keep a stash of literature for real live prospects under the table, but they should be pulling out their wallet to buy before you let go of it.)
You can’t do it alone. Even if it’s a small 10-foot booth you will need at least one person to “spot” you when you leave the booth to take a break or to check out the competition. For bigger booths a good rule of thumb is to have two to four staffers for every 100 square feet of exhibit space.
Even for the smallest trade show, no one shows up without booth training. (Messages, themes, demo’s. Everyone should be articulate and agile in describing and demoing the products.) And if you don’t show up for booth training, work somewhere else. (I’ve always visibly sent someone home from a tradeshow for missing training or booth duty. It makes the point and becomes company lore. You’ll never have to do it again.) Everyone should understand your goals, your messages, your demos and your theme and know their role. If your don’t have enough employees on the payroll, hire relatives, friends, or part-timers and train them.
Trade Show Post Mortem
Evaluate the experience.
- Physical booth: What worked? What didn’t?
- Demos/Equipment: What worked? What didn’t?
- Messages/theme: What worked? What didn’t?
- Staffing: What worked? What didn’t?
Write it down and keep it in a tradeshow handbook for those who will follow.
Go to trade shows like it matters.