The largest challenge most trade show exhibitors face is getting attendees to visit their exhibit space. When there are often hundreds of exhibitors competing for the attendees’ attention, a combination of planning, creativity, and thoughtful targeting is needed to bring the crowds to your space. Here are some crucial considerations for preparation, activation, and follow-up to a trade show:
Assess the value of exhibiting. If you can’t identify the benefit, there probably isn’t any. Don’t exhibit just because a competitor chooses to; it’s far more important that you exhibit where your potential customers are.
Breaking through Booth Clutter
Getting the attention of trade show attendees is always challenging. To help differentiate your exhibit and drive traffic to your booth, conducting pre-exhibit promotions will increase your odds of being noticed. It will take time, effort, and some expense, but it is generally worth the investment. One way to increase traffic is to let attendees know your company is exhibiting. Some shows will provide complimentary or deeply discounted tickets to exhibitors. For consumer shows, send key customers and prospects a show invitation with a pair of tickets three weeks prior to the show. For institutional shows, send a letter letting likely attendees know you will be exhibiting. Invite recipients to stop by the exhibit and receive a gift. This pre-promotion has two advantages: it gets some of your better prospects and customers to the show for face-to-face discussions, and the gift provides a means for tracking and follow-up. Remember to always follow up the mailing to customers with a phone call. An often-overlooked opportunity to reach potential buyers is through an onsite seminar. If the venue has meeting and conference rooms, as many convention centers and hotels do, rent space and host one or more special seminars over the course of the show for attendees. Provide light refreshments and publicize the seminar by invitation and at the booth. Be sure to have a way to capture the names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of attendees. A raffle usually works. A seminar is also an excellent diversion for show attendees and exhibitors (who may be some of your best prospects). It gives them a break from the noise and the crowds of the exhibit hall. If the event itself includes a conference, another tactic is to sponsor a coffee break, lunch, or cocktail reception. Doing so will put you on the program as a sponsor and may entitle you to other promotional benefits.
The appearance of the exhibit booth is a direct reflection on the company.
Although size may not matter, appearance does. Always maintain an inviting and professional space. Companies spend huge amounts to create a professional atmosphere within their booth space and don’t wish attendees to see an exhibitor slouched in a chair or eating lunch. Booth staffers will not win new business by extending a greasy hand to a prospect.
Following Up Leads
Getting solid sales leads from a trade show or even getting an attendee to stop by an exhibit booth is hard work and takes careful thought and planning. Since lead generation is usually the reason companies dedicate resources to exhibiting, the No. 1 priority following the show must be to follow up on the leads that were obtained.
Know what needs to be tracked. Decide in advance what information you want to capture beyond name and contact information. For consumer shows, design forms for visitors to fill out in connection with a raffle. Provide ample space for attendees to write in their names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Many forms also ask for age, household income, occupation, and other personal information. The form should also ask visitors to mark the products or services they are interested in learning more about. The attendee’s signature indicating permission to follow-up with a phone call or e-mail is also a good idea.
Many business shows provide attendees with registration cards that have magnetic strips containing all relevant information. Or you may collect business cards. Try to supplement these with other useful tracking data, such as size of company and product interest, for lead follow-ups. To minimize lapse time, a letter should be prepared prior to the show and then personalized and mailed to every lead within forty-eight hours of the show’s close. The letter should thank prospects for visiting the exhibit booth and inform them to expect a phone call following up on their interest in the company’s product or service. Also send thank-you notes to clients who stopped by the exhibit booth. If a seminar was held, a similar letter should be sent to those attendees, thanking them for attending and alerting them to expect a follow-up phone call.
Under do-not-call rules, it is legitimate to call prospects who have spoken to a staff member and requested information. If you are collecting phone numbers from a raffle form, on the other hand, you will need to get legal clarification about following up by phone. The same gray area exists about e-mail. If it was not specifically requested, it could be regarded as spam under the “CAN-SPAM” law. Since a letter is more personal, it is usually more effective to follow up by regular mail and phone.
Implement the following checklist to insure lead follow-up and accurate reporting:
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