Everyone wants to talk about digital marketing. It's fascinating, it's ever-changing, and you can track every detail. But for a lot of entrepreneurs and startups, events like trade shows and conferences are still lucrative occasions – if you play your cards right. How should you play your cards? Follow this 6-step process to make the most of any trade show.
1. Validate Why You Should Go to That Event
If you're still in that phase where you're trying to determine your ideal target, don't go. Unless it's a cheap, local affair, you'll spend far too much and receive little-to-no benefit. Once you know who your ideal target is, only choose events where decision makers in your target audience will be present, preferably in droves.
After display, travel, entry, and any other associated costs, going all-in at a trade show will cost you at least several thousand dollars. As a bootstrapped startup, you can probably figure out a way to do it for less, but that's still a good chunk of change! How much would you have to sell to make it worth the cost? How many people do you think you'll need to pitch to sell that much? Most of any trade show success is knowing who's going to be there and how much you'll earn before you even register.
2. Don't Keep Your Attendance a Secret
Tell everyone you're going to be there. Get a list of attendees. Get a list of exhibitors, if that's your target. Publish and distribute press releases and (guest) blog posts. Hit people up all over social media. Email them. Create a buzz around you and the awesome value you're going to bring! The more work you put into a trade show before you get there, the easier it will be to have people coming to you, and to close sales.
3. Be an Entertainer
If you're not a charismatic character, this one's tough. But it's crucial. Think of attendees as kids in Toys-R-Us. Most look at room full vendors and bounce around between whatever momentarily captures their attention. The
toy booth that stands out is who they'll go to. How do you stand out? What personality does your setup give off? What vibe does your team give off?
Nobody wants to be a part of what you're doing if you're slunk back in your booth or sitting down. But if you and your team are out all over the place, working enthusiastically to help people grow their businesses, others will want to be a part of that! The key is engagement. You've got to actively seek out and engage attendees.
4. Create Memories
If you can create a situation that will stick in attendees' minds as a positive, memorable experience, that's awesome. It's much easier to give them stuff. Give them something branded, relevant, and practical.
Any brand can do this, and it makes a particularly good impression if your brand has any connection to conservation or social causes. Give out branded water bottles. Do you know how much concessions are at these events? Attendees will love you. They will tell others to go find you. And people will see your brand all over the place because of it. It's simple, cheap, and a great way to both engage attendees and spark more conversations.
Our personal favorite thing to give out has been “screen clings.” They're a square inch, branded, used for wiping clean any glass service, and stick to the back of your phone. People love them! And they're relevant for us, because we're a mobile-focused company. T-shirts are also great, particularly because very few do this. Food/snacks/candy is always a winner, as are stress balls.
Whatever you choose to give out, it needs to be relevant to your brand. Ideally it will also be something reusable, so that attendees still think of you when they go home.
5. Close the Sale in the Booth
You do not go to a trade show to meet people. You do not go to a trade show to get leads. You go to a trade show to close sales and acquire customers. If you need some extra help closing sales, check this resource. For those that still don't purchase, have a lead form, collect business cards, ask them to text you – have some process for capturing leads. Your goal is sales, but more people will give you their contact info than will buy on the spot.
6. Follow-up Like Your Life Depends On It
The goal is to close sales in the booth, but there's going to be a lot of interested attendees who don't close on the spot. That's okay. You just need to be really good at perhaps the most overlooked aspect of any trade show: follow-ups.
Sort your leads into A, B, and C leads. When following up, start with your A-leads. These have four qualities: they recognize the need for what you provide; they're decision-makers; they have the budget for what your product costs; and they're ready to implement. Reach out to these first, and stay on top of them until they either purchase or tell you to go away. Then go to your B and C leads.
B-leads hold 3:4 of A-leads' characteristics. This means there's another hoop to jump through. Maybe you have to prove your value more thoroughly, maybe they permission from their boss – something. They're valuable, but it's a longer cycle. C-leads on the other hand are generally those people who sign up for a free raffle. They gave their info to get something in return, but they don't really care. These tend to go straight to email campaigns for the sake of time.
Trade shows are often low-tech, without all the big data and analytics that people in the tech world crave. That doesn't mean a trade show can't be valuable. They really can be! You just have to know why you're there, and what you've got to accomplish.