Here are the top seven questions to ask yourself when you prepare to exhibit at a trade show:
What's your show objective? (Pre-Show activity) First things first: why are you going? Identify quantifiable show objectives that support your overall marketing plan and are aligned with your company goals. Remember, goals express a general direction (think world peace). Objectives are specific, measurable, do-able and prove-able. An example would be to meet 80 new prospects who are actively evaluating their (insert your product or service here), set up 40 follow-up meetings, which will lead to 20 proposals and 5 sales.
What are your show messages? (Pre-Show activity) Remember back to your childhood—and always being told to think before you speak? Turns out your mom was pretty smart. Think about your features, advantages, benefits and your unique selling proposition. What do you offer (features), why are your features important to your customer (advantages), how will your customer benefit and what is the element that sets you apart from competition (USP)? Develop a theme and/or one message. Make sure it's simple, so your exhibit, materials and conversations will be clear and uncluttered. And make sure your message ties back in to your strategic marketing plan. Your message will guide the rest of your show decisions.
Do your prospects know you'll be there? (Pre-Show activity) Even if there's nothing new, come up with a new angle. Reach out to your prospect database to let them know you'll be there—and that you'd like to meet with them at the show. Make it related to your message. Before the show, offer useful information through a targeted email and website download in exchange for information about the prospect, their company and their needs. A typical approach might be: --3 weeks out—guided voice mail with URL and suggestion to make an appointment, plus the first of multiple marketing press releases linking back to a landing page with a contact form for prospects --2 weeks out—email with an offer redeemable at the show, in exchange for a meeting --1 week out—direct mail piece (postcard, letter, etc.), another email --1 day before—another guided voice mail, reiterating the offer and meeting at show
Do you have a cool offer for them? (Pre-Show activity) Even though the plan may go out the window when the opening reception drink tickets are handed out, most attendees make a plan for visiting the exhibits. Make sure you're in it by doing some direct marketing before they leave for the show. You want your pre-show direct marketing to do several things. First, you want to make sure they know you'll be there. Second, you want to get some info from them—their buying timeframe, more detailed information about their company. Third, you want to invite them to your exhibit by offering them something in exchange for visiting your booth. This can be as simple as a "bring-this- coupon-with-you-to-receive-your-free-thumb-drive" kind of offer.
Have you taken advantage of the no-brainer show marketing resources? (Pre-Show activity) Check out the exhibit materials and exhibitor portion of the show website to make sure you're using everything they offer. Are you on their website and in their directories? Have you added show info to your website and your marketing press release so you pop up in attendees' searches? Get the show media list and find out about trade show editions of print and online publications. Believe it or not, people actually look at the material provided by show organizers.
Have you prepped your exhibit staff with show goals and talking points? (At-Show activity) Prepare the people who will work in your exhibit. Share the main message and talking points they should cover. Suggest some canned qualifying questions they can use to classify leads and to get a better understanding of prospects' pain points. Remind them to close each interaction with acommitment to follow up. The idea here is mass-customization; each conversation and interaction that your staff has with an attendee or prospect is unique, to an extent.
Do you have a follow up plan in place? (Post-Show activity) Minimize the amount of follow-up that follows exhibit staff back to the office. Record info about the people you meet, their interest levels and action items as the show progresses (it could be as simple as making sure you get a business card from each prospect), and send short, personal follow-up emails each evening. Have a process in place for ongoing follow-up, depending on the lead classification. Two days after the show, do a post-mortem meeting with your team and share the results. Track leads with a special tag as they move through the sales process, because the true ROI on a trade show investment might take months to fully shake out.