Why Go at All?
There’s been some buzz that trade shows are a thing of the past. That’s not altogether true. My advice: Take a look around and learn what shows are upcoming in your industry and geographical area. Then decide for yourself whether a show makes sense for your business. Don’t arbitrarily drop-kick the idea of trade shows simply because you’ve “heard things.” Make up your own mind.
There’s still no substitute for the kind of face-to-face interaction, opportunities, and awareness that attending a well-selected trade show provides. Historically, you’d have three choices with trade shows: Attend, be an exhibitor, or don’t go at all. Today there’s a fourth choice: Many show organizers offer programs to gain access to materials and media from the show after the fact, such as videos of sessions and other information so you wouldn’t have to actually go. Fact is, if you’re highly selective about which show to go to, and if you plan well (which is key to getting the most value for your investment), the very best option is to be an exhibitor with at minimum two people from your business so you can “tag-team” the experience.
Strategy Is Geography
We know it makes sense to be selective about which trade shows you decide to participate in, but one perhaps less-than-obvious strategy is to look for shows that are taking place closest to home. Here in the Northeast, this means you have loads of choices for trade shows that will not involve the huge travel expenses that can be (no pun intended) show-stoppers for small businesses without the budget or coverage for travel or time away.
Plan your trade show presence as much as a year to 6 months ahead. This will save you a lot — in costs and in stress. If the show is well-managed, you should be able to get all kinds of exhibitor information well in advance. Take full advantage of this. Get it all and review it all. The details can make or break your success with a trade show presence. Put together a simple timeline starting backwards from the deadlines you see in the exhibitor information materials and then work the plan. Be sure to double-check all the specs and “nuts and bolts” details provided to you as an exhibitor. While you’re at it, have a look at the list of all the exhibitors who’ll be there and strategize.
MORE Pre-Show (You can’t do enough Pre-Show)
The more threads of connection you can establish before you go to the show, the more effective your presence will be. Implement ways to drive traffic to your booth and to draw attention to your presence, especially if you’re speaking or doing demos there. Attention to the show via direct mail, email, your web site, Facebook page — and any other social media channels which make sense for your business — will help drive traffic to your web site and to your booth, and help publicize the show itself.
It’s Show Time
You paid for it, leverage it! Scout and learn, schmooze, check out competition, scan for ideas for your next show. Despite all the other marketing methods we have today, there’s still no true substitute for face-to-face, in-person connections. While you’re there, don’t just “coast” through the experience, make plans to connect with new prospects and opportunities as well as with existing clients or customers. We all know that it takes far less of your time and effort to keep existing clients than to find fresh new ones. Make efforts on all fronts. Solidify your connections. Open new channels.
Since you (ahem!) planned the show well in advance, you naturally have an awesome booth with coordinated literature that’s perfectly consistent with your brand, and loads of the most interesting and engaging “swag” to hand out to everyone who visits your booth. We all know attendees scarf up all the swag they can get at these shows. So what? That’s what it’s there for. It’s half the fun and gets people out onto that show floor, right? This still doesn’t change the fact that swag which is memorable and effective is worth it.
Follow up. You’d be surprised how many businesses go to a show and then are so worn out from the effort itself that they end up not doing this most essential step. Update your lists, review your notes about conversations with prospects and current customers, assess the experience and what you’ve learned for next time. Don’t let your energy drop along with unpacking your bags and getting back to your day-to-day. Make plans and set goals based on what you discovered at the show. Send out a blend of personalized and general communications to those who you’ve identified as your best connections.
Here are a couple of resources on the ‘net for more trade show wisdom —
An article in Entrepreneur magazine about how to work a trade show.
A blog article from the TSNN (Trade Show News Network) website with statistics on the power of trade shows.