One thing is for certain about trade shows. They are expensive.
The costs of sending your people to a show or conference – including transportation, trade show booth and registration fees, entertainment, and related expenses – can easily run past $10,000.
Is it worth it? It definitely can be. But you need to be smart and aggressive. You can improve your chances for a successful trade show experience with a little advance planning and by setting realistic expectations.
Here are some ideas for getting started:
Get a Trade Show Booth at the Right Event
When it comes to trade shows and conferences, there’s no off season anymore. With the possible exception of the second half of December, you could – depending on your industry, and assuming you have a live credit card – attend a relevant event just about any week of the year.
While it’s good to have a lot of options, you obviously can’t afford to be everywhere, in terms of both money and time.
There is probably that one industry event you must attend….to see and be seen, wave the company flag, catch up on news and rumors, and look for potential prospects – in terms of customers, strategic partners, and even employees. That could be the annual conference organized by your industry’s primary trade organization, a regional event sponsored by a heavy-hitting chamber of commerce, or a vendor showcase run by a publication that reports on your industry.
You probably know what the “must-go-to” event is. If you don’t, ask your sales people. They’ll know.
If your budget allows, secondary events – perhaps where you’re hoping to build business in a particular product or service area, or move into a new geographic market – should definitely be considered. But before you sign on, find out who else from your industry will be there. If the trade show has 100 booths and 40 of the exhibitors are direct competitors, you might get lost in the crowd. If, on the other hand, there is no one representing your area of business attending, then it’s likely not a great opportunity. (Or you just might be the first one smart enough to see the potential. Move ahead with caution.)
Tip: If you have a choice, always choose a booth at the corner of an aisle. It usually costs more, but the extra visibility and traffic are worth it.
Work Your List
After you have registered as an exhibitor, most events will provide you with a spreadsheet listing names, titles, company affiliations and contact information for pre-registered attendees. Use this information to make contact with prime prospects before the event.
You won’t be able to reach them all, but you could certainly narrow it down to a manageable number. A polite email inviting them to visit your booth can make for an easy introduction. As is the case with any business correspondence, it helps if you show some knowledge of the prospect’s company and the industry it competes in.
Tip: Use can use last year’s list. You should still have it around if you attended. If not, then the event staff can provide you with one. This can give you a head start, since the pre-registration list usually isn’t mailed until about a week before the event. A phone call to a prospect asking if he’s planning on attending this year’s conference can set you apart from your competition.
Be Realistic with your Trade Show Marketing
What do you want out of the show? Fifty prospects, with the hope of turning five into new customers?
That’s great. At least it’s a plan to work with.
Make sure you have a definite system in place to follow up after the event. Track and measure everything. Over time, you should be able to trace certain accounts and sales directly to trade show activity. This will let you decide whether or not the event was cost effective.
Trade Show Presentation: Get to the Podium
Nearly every industry trade show or conference needs speakers. Why not you?
Speaking at an industry event brings you and your company instant credibility. You don’t need to be Churchill or Lincoln – you don’t even need to be the most knowledgeable person in the room – but you do need a set of experiences to draw on, and definite opinions or ideas that you can articulate that are based on those experiences.
Most events book their speakers months, or even a year, in advance. Contact the event planners as early as possible and find out how speakers are selected. You will probably have to submit a detailed outline of your proposed trade show presentation. Don’t be afraid to be somewhat controversial. You won’t score points by saying puppies are cute, or sunsets are beautiful. But you might score points by pointing out where your industry has fallen short in certain areas (e.g., embracing technology, or implementing effective compliance standards).
By the way, the prime speaking slot is the second spot on the first day of the conference. Attention spans and attendance are at their highest levels during this time.
If taking on the podium to give a trade show presentation yourself isn’t for you, consider participating in a roundtable discussion. You still reap the benefits of exposure to a prime audience, but without the trouble of preparation.
Tip: Always provide your own written bio for use when you are introduced as a speaker. And consider having your remarks digitally recorded. You can critique your performance and – if it’s good – place the talk on your company’s website.
For More Great Ideas for Entrepreneurs from MP Star Financial:
Is cash flow a constant problem for your company? MP Star Financial can help. Call for more information. (800) 833-3765, extension 150.