Trade Shows - Financial Services Marketing

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.

  • Accordingly, select the trade show based on where your target markets will be. Thousands of local, regional, and national trade shows take place each year. Consider only those that reach your target audience(s). For example, banks and mortgage lenders can often be found at home improvement and garden shows, because most attendees own homes and may be looking to use the equity to make improvements. Institutional sales executives choose shows that draw their particular industry focus. For example, prime brokerage services providers often exhibit at MarHedge, a conference for hedge fund managers.
  • Investigate whether a show’s size, anticipated attendees, other exhibitors, and past success meet your objectives. Contact the show’s organizers to obtain a show kit, which will provide important information about exhibitors, statistics about past attendees and show hours, set-up and take-down dates and times, shipping information, and other important details.
  • Budget comprehensively. Know what the total costs will be. The price of the trade show space is just the first in a long list of expenses. In addition to the fee for the space, plan on paying additional charges for chairs, carpeting, display lighting, wastepaper baskets, display racks, set-up and take-down, shipping, materials, and give-away items. Other expenses include travel, hotel, and meals for staff who will be handling the booth, the cost of any receptions you host, and other client entertainment. These additional expenses add up quickly and may be considerably more than the exhibition’s costs.
  • Organize all of the elements of the show in advance. Develop a schedule and assign people to work the booth. Share all of the show information with them. To determine staffing needs, determine the number of expected attendees and number of hours the exhibit is open. This information should be available from the show’s management. Assuming contact with one-fifth of the passers-by for three to five minutes each, you can assess staffing needs as follows for a show with five thousand attendees that runs for three days: 20 percent of five thousand equals one thousand attendees who will visit your booth. One thousand attendees times three minutes per visit equals fifty hours of visits. Fifty hours divided by the twenty-one hours the exhibit is open equals two or three staff members. Based on personal past experience or information from show management, adjust the formula accordingly.
  • Brainstorm ways to attract attendees to the exhibit booth. Unique or popular raffle prizes such as digital cameras, gift certificates to popular restaurants, or high-tech gadgetry work well. Some exhibitors use food to draw people—the smell of popcorn popping or coffee brewing can be a powerful attraction.
  • Chemical Bank, now part of J.P. Morgan Chase, once sponsored a trade booth at a business show in New Orleans and was very successful in drawing visitors by creating a custom newsletter that included a map of the area, favorite restaurants, and sights, along with sales information.
  • Determine the quantity and type of literature that will be available at the booth. Make sure the material is relevant. For example, literature on investment alternatives is not appropriate for a home improvement show. Typically, these attendees are interested in information on home equity loans, mortgage refinancing, and credit products. One rule of thumb is to plan for 15 to 20 percent of attendees to take relevant literature.
  • Order give-away items at least four to six weeks in advance, particularly if they are custom-made or display a company logo. Compared with printed brochures, premiums have a much higher “take” rate. When ordering premiums, assume that 60 to 70 percent of attendees will take at least one of whatever it is being offered. It may be advisable to “tier” premiums. Good prospects, who have been qualified by booth staff, may get higher-value items than passersby. The cost of premiums should be related to the value of the potential business. For an international treasury conference, a crystal item with an engraved logo, worth $30 or more, might be appropriate for “A” prospects. For a consumer show, a key chain or pen costing less than $0.50 would make more sense.

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.

Measuring Results

Implement the following checklist to insure lead follow-up and accurate reporting:

  • Within forty-eight hours after the show, enter all attendee data into a spreadsheet.
  • Assign leads and make salespeople accountable. Determine prior to the event the number of leads an individual salesperson can reasonably respond to. Have salespeople ready to handle the excess leads or those leads in which an individual salesperson’s particular expertise or territory makes it a logical hand-off.
  • Assign one or more lead coordinators. A lead coordinator manages the flow of leads to the sales force, the follow-up, and the input of information into the database.
  • Track appointments scheduled, appointments completed, referrals, sales by product type, dollar amounts of the sales, and whatever other information is relevant to your measurements.
  • After the leads have been pursued by the sales force, you can arrive at an approximate ROI by dividing new business generated from exhibit visitors by the expense of the show. Be sure to include any new sales to your own invited clients. If new sales outweigh the expense of the event, the event can be considered successful. Some companies may look for a 2-to-1 return to consider an event a success, whereas others may look for a larger or smaller multiplier.

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