Maximize Trade Show Value – A Practical Guide

It’s trade show planning season – or soon will be.

In our last blog we talked about how to measure success in form of ROI, ROO, ROR and ROX. For this blog we spoke with experienced marketing professionals to learn how they get the most out of their trade show participation.

Here we share the most important lessons we learned:

Pre-Show – It’s All About Planning and Deadlines

There is no lack of conferences and trade shows. Enough to keep you busy year-round trekking from large international events such as Medica, AACC’s Clinical Lab Expo, SLAS, Pittcon, or Analytica, to networking events like BIO or specialized conferences and vendor shows at academic institutions.

The art lies in identifying events that fit your business and marketing objectives, align with your target applications and have the right attendee demographics. If your goal is building a robust pipeline of sales leads for your product you will choose different conferences than if you are primarily looking for strategic partners or distributors.

The next step is to decide how big you want to go. “Big” doesn’t just mean booth size but overall footprint. There are plenty of other opportunities to spend your marketing budget: presentations, product demonstrations, sponsorships, and show-specific marketing opportunities, e.g. giveaways, print ads, door hangers in hotels, or that big banner across the escalators in the conference venue.

Once you have made these decisions it is time to fire up your favorite planning software and get down to the details.

Here is a list to help you get through:

  • Develop the strategy for the show, e.g. decide which products you want to feature, develop key messaging and signage and start working on content and giveaways.
  • Book the booth and other services needed, e.g. electrical outlets, carpet, cleaning service, drayage, and a lead capture system.
  • If you don’t have a ready booth, there is also furniture to rent and booth layout to obsess over. As a general rule: less is more, an open layout is preferable and renting furniture, although often absurdly expensive, is the most practical option.
  • Unless you have dedicated instruments for trade shows, identify the instruments needed for the show early. They should go through maintenance and have the latest, greatest and extensively tested software version uploaded. You don’t want your instrument to crash every time a booth visitor clicks on the wrong button. Make sure your team is aware of the (often early) deadline for shipping the instrument to the conference venue.
  • Submit abstracts for poster sessions and/or presentations. One recurring theme we found: submission deadlines always approach much faster than anticipated.
  • A customer endorsing your product is pure marketing gold. To make that happen approach your best customers early and work with them to secure a talk or poster presentation. If successful support the customer with the pesky details such as booking rooms, printing abstracts, or making travel arrangements.
  • Trade shows are excellent for fostering existing contacts. People tend to get very busy so it is best to work with your sales representatives and schedule appointments upfront.
  • Conferences are excellent opportunities to meet distributors – work with the business development team to get meetings on the calendar.
  • Promote your show attendance and highlight the planned activities on all your channels as well as those provided by the trade show organizer. If you have a full program, a printed overview guide available at the booth will help attendees remember.
  • Find out which media is covering the conference and work on scheduling a meeting if you have a new product or exciting data to share.
  • Many trade shows feature new products and present new product awards. Apply for these opportunities if you are eligible. Being part of and – even better – winning such awards gives you valuable free promotion.
  • Train your sales reps and other booth personnel on the message for each show. Different events with different target audiences require customized messaging so one size won’t fit all.
  • Compile a show kit consisting of everything you might possibly need from Allen wrench to scissors and band aids.
  • Develop booth rules: eating, playing with your phone or emailing or texting are universally unacceptable booth conduct. But how about dress code, sitting vs standing in the booth?
  • Train the booth team to collect intelligence. What applications are the competitors show-casing, what posters do they present, what is their key message?

With all that taken care off, you are ready for the next step.

Making the Most of Your Time at the Show

You and your team have spent hundreds of hours preparing for the trade show and the day before it opens is not the time to save a few bucks. Make sure the exhibit team arrives with plenty of time to set up or check on the booth, make changes if necessary, and fix any technical problems without putting in a graveyard shift. You want them rested and ready the next morning when the exhibit hall opens.

When it comes to literature there are two schools of thought: one holds that information should be freely available and easy to obtain. The other discourages literature “grab-and-go” and opts for engaging attendees, scanning their contact information and personally handing them the relevant literature. To do this successfully your booth team needs to be proactive and comfortable approaching attendees.

Scanning information is a quick way to capture the essentials, but email address and affiliation is just part of what you need. Provide an easy way for the team to record the highlights of their conversations. That information will be very valuable during follow-up.

Live tweeting from the conference, sharing special events like a very busy booth or a full house for a talk engages followers.

The Critical Post-Show Phase

The show is over but you aren’t done. It is the post-show phase where all your efforts can go to waste if you neglect diligent follow-up.

The basic rules are easy:

  • Follow-up with leads quickly and offer something of value, such as a relevant white paper to keep them engaged.
  • Personalize the communication and reference the event and discussion.
  • If the prospective customer requested additional information, make sure they receive it before they forget they asked for it (days, not weeks).
  • Ideally follow-up communication comes from the sales reps, it is their opportunity to start building a relationship.

And finally: do the analytics.

Count the number of leads, follow them on their buying journey, monitor your webpage and social media and don’t forget to collect feedback from the trade show team. Now is your time to learn what worked best and focus on that in the future.

Because it will soon be time to start planning for next year’s trade shows.