Although attendance at trade shows has decreased, trade shows continue to attract key providers and serious buyers. What’s happening with trade shows parallels what has happened in selling. With a click, buyers can learn about your company and your competitors’ products. So why do they continue to come to trade shows? What is it they are looking for in one of the last bastions of face-to-face marketing? The answer is clear: ideas, insights, collaboration, and the connection that comes with a handshake.
The buyers who come to trade shows are highly prepared and strategic in their objectives. Their expectations are higher. They frequently participate in teams, which reflects the trend for decisions by consensus, and the number of team members a company sends can show how serious the buyers are. So, look for teams.
According to The Center for Exhibition and Research, 43% of participants say trade shows have improved in the past two years, which means fewer than half of exhibitors are stepping up to meet the higher expectations of participants and address their level of sophistication. It shows that there is room for improvement and opportunity to differentiate.
What hasn’t changed is the key metric for success for exhibitors to develop quality leads that produce results. Most exhibitors continue to send their A teams, but getting through all the noise has made developing quality leads even more challenging. In the past, more than half of the leads generated at a trade show were not followed up on, but with fewer leads, that is becoming less of a problem. The problem now is converting quality leads into results. The time-tested basics for trade show success, such as capturing leads; staffing booths with energetic, proactive, skillful, driven, and smiling salespeople; and creating an appealing booth and location, still hold true.
But there is something NEW, and that is what is drawing customers to trade shows. They are not just driven to learn about products. Of course, learning about products, and especially new products (launching a new product is a great way to attract activity at your booth), is certainly a factor (as is the hope of finding new providers, making new contacts, and checking in and on current providers), but none of that is enough to initiate the buying process. So, let’s look at what you can do before, during, and after trade shows to make the time, effort, and expense pay off for you.
Before the Trade Show
Reach out to attendees and potential attendees in advance to get on their calendars before their dance cards fill up. Most trade shows will provide a pre-show mailing list so that you can reach out to the attendees. In addition, your Marketing team can create “events” and send invitations using social media. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn groups are great for getting the word out. Richardson’s creative marking team uses a tool called Enthusem, which allows them to craft a customized message to the individual level through an online system that automatically sends out a traditional snail mail postcard containing relevant information specific to the recipient. Salespeople can do their part by personally inviting their customers and prospects.
Think about what you will do that is NEW and what your visitors will learn as a result of talking to you. Think about how you can incorporate social media and personalized communication pieces. As you look at the trade show plan, identify at least one WOW, and if you can’t find one, ask your marketing team to help out. Dare to be different.
I like the idea of an “Ask the Thought Leader” booth where buyers can get insights and advice on their business challenges. It would be a lot like an old-fashion kissing booth and buyers would love you for it. Some creative ideas companies have used include promoting a paperless booth, building an exclusive social networking community, using Pinterest so attendees could pin up what interested them, and advertising thought leadership through on-site consulting. Give prospects a reason to want to stop and look and more.
At the Trade Show
Initiate conversations. Change the conversation. Rather than probe for product interest, ask about the business challenges and desired outcome, and share insights. Back into your offerings, and set up specific follow-up.
Your message must be one of insights and ideas, and your goal is to add to what your visitors already know. Be prepared to share the highlights of key industry success stories. Customers don’t want to hear a pitch, but they are very interested to hear what other companies are doing and to gain insights from your experience or research.
If a prospect seems not to qualify, ask at least one more question to be sure. Make every visitor feel welcome and valued, and thank everyone who engages with you.
After the Trade Show
Post trade show activities are essential to reaping the benefits of all the expense of a trade show. Marketing can tweet, but sales leaders must clarify expectations for their sales teams and use technology to ensure timely follow-up and accountability. Once you have a good lead, response time is the first, and possibly the most important, factor in conversion.
Here are some best practices to help you and your organization maximize every lead:
- Distribute leads ASAP — within one day of the end of the trade show. Hot leads can be acted on immediately and appointments set before the trade show ends. Give an award to the salesperson that has the most appointments in place before the trade show ends.
- Call immediately. Talk in terms of solving business challenges. Be prepared to leave a concise, upbeat value message customized to the prospect.
- Invite your leads to connect with you or a company group on LinkedIn.
- Have contact courage. If you call on a Monday, call back on Tuesday or Wednesday and continue to call. Call at 7:30 a.m. Be creative. Be assertive. Do what it takes to get through. Use e-mail to support phone contact. Send something relevant.
- If you can’t connect with the prospect within a week, don’t give up. Don’t take it personally if the prospect is slow to respond. Remember, after a trade show, participants are likely swamped with catch-up. It’s your job to reach the prospect to start the buying process.
Trade shows are a lot of work, a lot of standing, but can also be a lot of fun. You are out there to greet, learn, and teach. You connect personally and professionally. Take advantage of the pre-purchase stage, which truly is an important bonding stage. Gaining early entry into a customer’s buying journey is one of the big advantages of trade shows, so make visitors feel welcome and understood.
Trade shows are not the same. So, what will you do to be different? What will you contribute to the WOW?
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