Take Your Show on the Road

Exhibiting at trade shows is a race of many laps. But if you get a good start and finish strong, you’ll successfully win new customers.

In order to grow, your business needs to increase its client base. In B2B sales, this generally requires face-to-face sales calls. These sales calls can be costly, especially if they don’t result in the acquisition of new customers. Trade shows present an opportunity for your business to meet with multiple prospective clients who have a vested interest in the products or services you’re exhibiting. However, simply having a presence at a show doesn’t ensure that the exhibition investment will prove to be a win. To make your trade show appearance pay off, there’s plenty of legwork—upfront, preparing for the exhibition, and following up with client leads afterward—to be done.

So, strap on your running shoes.

First lap: Budget for success

After your business has determined that exhibiting—and exhibiting at a trade show that targets your prospective customers as attendees—is the right marketing move, start your planning by setting a budget. Evaluate your product and service line offerings, and consider how much you wish to spend promoting each and via which marketing channels. Equipped with that information, you are able to determine how much to allocate to your exhibition budget. Therefore, exhibition budgets will vary from one business unit to the next and from one product line to the next.

Bryan Wagner, director of exhibits, displays, and experiences at Saginaw Township’s Morley Companies, a firm whose services include developing exhibits and displays, suggests businesses research industry metrics to determine an overall exhibition budget. Once a budget is determined, Wagner advises separating expenses into four categories: exhibition space, exhibit design and fixtures, exhibition promotion, and travel expenses. “Companies often don’t understand all the budget areas involved in an exhibition or see the entire picture,” says Wagner. Listing and categorizing each expense helps.

According to an Exhibitors Magazine Online article, “2013 Economic Outlook Survey,” industry averages show that exhibition space is the largest individual expense to budget for, making up 36.5 percent of an exhibition budget. However, when aggregated, at 39.3 percent, the expenses that comprise exhibit design and fixtures are the largest overall costs, with construction/design costs being 10.8 percent; shipping costs being 10.3 percent; the cost of show services being 12.2 percent; and graphic design and production costs being 6 percent. Exhibition promotion, 6.1 percent, travel expenses, 13.5 percent, and miscellaneous expenses, 4.6 percent, round out an exhibition budget. Use this formula as a guide to spend wisely for an exhibition.

Second Lap: Think big picture

In preparing for a trade show presence, and toward appropriately allocating labor and resources, you need to look at the big picture. What all goes into an exhibition? Consider booth design and construction; pre- and post-show marketing campaigns; brand messaging before, during, and after the show; promotional giveaways to be distributed; training for staff to represent your company at the show; and more.

In designing a booth or display, Beth Bauer, marketing and sales manager at Freeland’s ZENTX Media Group, a company specializing in developing visual solutions, says three key things need to be considered: does the display design draw in visitors; does it effectively represent company marketing/messaging; and is it functional, meaning does it serve as an extension of the company itself.

The display design can be simple or complex, as long as it effectively conveys your company/brand ethos. And it’s prudent to implement a design that can be used for multiple exhibitions; this will provide a greater return on your investment. Additionally, Bauer notes that it’s beneficial for companies to stay apprised of design trends. For instance, structured pole systems with stretched fabric are trending. Why? Because these fixtures are lightweight, easy to assemble and store, and cheaper to ship to trade show locations than plywood and laminate structures. Other design trends include using white space and bright colors, and incorporating electronic monitors that can inform visitors of featured products or services. The latter can also serve as an interactive tool for capturing visitors’ information.

Trade show attendees are not strangers to the practice of taking home a branded souvenir from each exhibition booth they visit. Businesses use these themed promotional items to help attendees tie a marketing message back to the company after the show. When deciding on what type of promotional item to purchase, Tracy Zaplitny, promotional sales specialist at The F.P. Horak Company, a comprehensive printing and marketing solutions provider in Bay City, stresses two key points: The giveaway should draw visitors to a booth, and it should have staying power. That means “giveaway items that can clearly reflect company marketing, but are also useful,” she says. Practical items such as mugs, notepads, and pens work well.

Zaplitny also suggests giveaways that can be followed up with another giveaway, such as a notepad folio that can be followed up with pad refills. Replenishing a supply can become a way for your sales force to break the ice for post-show followup. Other giveaway ideas that attract visitors to your booth are caricature drawings and a spin-to-win wheel. Your company’s branded marketing messaging can be placed on the border of caricature drawings, and a spin-to-win wheel game, where a prospect’s business card is required in exchange for each spin of the wheel, is an easy way to capture client information.

“What’s most important is that businesses don’t just give stuff away to give it away,” says Zaplitny.

Eye-catching displays and intriguing promotional items can certainly attract visitors; however, a focused pre-show marketing campaign is possibly the best way to drive traffic to your exhibition booth. Generally, a list of people registered to attend the show is readily available weeks before the exhibition date. Armed with that information, Paul Adler, F.P. Horak’s director of marketing solutions, suggests that businesses conduct research to pare the list down to only those attendees in their target demographic. “The [registration] list might contain 400 names, but perhaps only 100 of those should be targeted,” Adler says. With list in hand, Adler advises reaching out to your targets, especially by using personalized and relevant direct marketing, with an offer of an incentive to visit your booth at the show. The incentive could be a discount on an order placed from your booth, or even a special gift.

In addition to directly marketing to your focused target audience, you can use social media to get the word out that your business will be exhibiting. “This is a great way to start a pre-show conversation and drive traffic to a booth,” says F.P. Horak’s Jennifer Brinks, a social media consultant. She cautions, though, that a social media specialist, working on behalf of your business, should monitor trade show hashtags (#) and enter any conversations taking place, all to assure that the social media interchange is legitimate and that your brand reputation is protected. Brinks also suggests deploying social media during the exhibition. Use Twitter to invite visitors to your booth and to thank those who have visited. This personalizes the experience for the attendee, and increases the chance of turning a lead into a sale.

Victory lap: Follow up with leads

Of course, producing actual sales during an exhibition is a best case scenario. However, the reason most businesses exhibit is to develop client leads, which requires following up with those leads after the show. It’s ironic, then, that Adler says many exhibition attendees say businesses often don’t follow up with them.

“Trade shows should be seen as a holistic experience,” says Adler. “Preparing for the show, attending it, and following up with leads are all integral to overall success.” Although each aspect of exhibiting is important, Adler asserts that failing to follow up with leads is most damaging to overall exhibition success. “It doesn’t make sense to put the resources into preparing for and attending a show and not follow up on leads,” he says.

Adler suggests following up by categorizing leads as “hot,” “warm,” and “cold,” and then reaching out to them in that order. A hot lead may be someone who responded to an invitation to visit your booth and then showed up for a one-on-one conversation. This lead warrants your priority attention. A warm lead is someone who responded but didn’t visit your booth. Reaching out to this lead with a special show offer might prove fruitful. Cold leads are those who neither replied to your invitation nor visited the booth. Adler notes that while cold leads garner the lowest priority, they should remain on the radar and be reached out to within 30 days of the show.

When following up with leads, personalization, no matter the method of communication, is important. In contacting a hot lead, Adler says, whether it’s via Skype, an email, or a postcard, be sure to address the lead by name and title, and try to incorporate specific information from your initial conversation at the show. With warm and cold leads, address leads by their professional title, and include information about products and services that will appeal to their needs.

Do your pre-show planning. Interact with potential customers when they visit your booth. And diligently follow up on all leads after the show. Run these laps—and your business can win!


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