Paul Larrieu, II | Demand Generation and Management Consulting
Posted on November 11, 2016 by Paul Larrieu II on Branding, Demand Generation, Event Management

5 ways to stand out at your next trade show

Industry events can be a great way to find new customers, build rapport with existing customers, and establish your brand within a defined market. This allows for high visibility to people who could specifically use your solutions. But with so many other exhibitors using flashy lights and other fancy gimmicks to get people’s attention, how do you stand out?

Here’s 5 ways to ensure success when exhibiting at an industry event:

Plan ahead

Many industry events (especially the big league ones) will have an exhibitor prospectus showcasing the types of sponsorship opportunities available as well as the demographic information of the event’s attendees. Typically, you can get this information about 6-12 months year prior to the exhibition (depending on organization and size of event), which is when you should also look into securing your exhibit space. The information in the prospectus will help you and your team decide if this event is even worth the expense of attending. It’s also a good idea to ask the show organizer for an attendee list. The more information you have, the better decision you can make for your organization. Once you decide if the event is worth exhibiting, pick a theme for your event, assign your team roles and responsibilities, and plan all the other activities to make your event a success.

Once you decide the event is worth exhibiting, pick a theme for your event, assign your team roles and responsibilities, and your event is guaranteed to be that much more successful.

Demand generation

To successfully pull off an event, you’ll need an equal amount of creativity and project management skills. That’s why it’s best to get started early. Using a combination of today’s digital tools like social media, email, or marketing automation to invite people to come see you at your booth with a strong call to action is a great way to increase foot traffic. If you have the budget for a meaningful giveaway, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to include this in your invitation, especially if it’s something of significant value. For example, I organized an event where my team purchased an email list as part of our sponsorship package. With that email, we decided to run a contest. We’ll purchase 2 Apple Watches and give them away in a raffle to anyone who views a product demo. All the attendee would have to do is stop by our booth, view our demo, and be entered to win!

In our pre-event email, we notified the attendees (over 8,400 people!) about the drawing. When all was said and done, the contest helped drive significant engagement within the booth with well over 250 leads to show for it! The amount of business that we took in as a result of that effort far outweighed the cost of the watches, which ended up being a more-than-worthwhile investment. Doing something that stands out from the crowd will certainly help your chances of driving engagement.

Another great way to create demand for your event is to not be confined by the space within your exhibit booth. The attendee list can be your best friend. If you’re able to get it before the event, it’s good idea to invite people offsite to a place where they can relax and let their hair down. After a long day of listening to speakers and walking exhibit floors, people understandably get tired. Hosting an extracurricular event, something like a customer dinner, happy hour, or meetup is a great way to get your team in a room with customers and prospective customers to build rapport. The change of environment will help to re-energize people and get them to relax so that you’re more likely of having the candid conversations that the exhibit floor doesn’t very well lend itself to. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that everyone loves free food and booze. Hosting an offsite is an easy way to build relationships and improve return on your time and investment.

Leverage your internal resources

One of the most desirable qualities in an event manager is their ability to be resourceful. Someone with a lot of connections can be the key to making your event a success. Resources can be put into two categories: internal and external. A rockstar event manager will have both, but for really making the most of the tradeshow as a whole, let’s talk about internal resources. Someone within your building knows the answer to the questions your customers and your team want to hear. It’s not your responsibility as an event manager to know all the answers, you just have to know who to go to in order to find them.

Many conferences offer a variety of sponsorship opportunities to get your content out in front of an engaged audience. From panel discussions to speaking presentations to product solutions exhibits, there’s always a way to get more out of your event. In some ways, leveraging these types of sponsorships are more important than your exhibit booth itself. These opportunities can position your brand as thought leaders, increase exposure, and positive sentiment towards your brand. Finding the right opportunity and connecting it to the right departmental resource within your organization is critical to maximizing the return value of the event for your company.

Show your product line’s value

The old adage says something like ‘seeing is believing’. That adage holds true while in the exhibit hall. Many companies will have whatever gimmick they can think of to try and get your attention. From flashy lights, to cool giveaways, to food and beverage catering, to hiring models to stand in your booth, if it’s been thought of, some marketer somewhere has done it. These tactics might be good at getting people’s attention initially, but how do you retain their attention when the guy next door has something shinier and flashier for the exhibit-goer to play with? The reality is that most people will only pay attention for a few seconds, so you only have a short time to really capture their attention before they’re off to the next booth.

The best way to hold someone’s attention is to demonstrate your business value. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just your team showing what you do best. That means setting up a product demo right there in your booth. Why talk about it when you could just show them? A lot of companies will have brochures, white papers, case studies, or whatever other good-looking printed documents they can throw at them. But giving someone your best spiel and sending them off with a stack of papers isn’t an effective way of going about it. You’re using a pre-internet, 1970’s model of selling, and you’re relying on your sharp tongue to bring in sales dollars. Even worse, in today’s world, you’re putting the onus on the attendee to circle back with you about your solution. Talk about low conversion rate!

Showing them the demo (and ideally walking them through a scenario) within the booth leaves the attendee with a clear understand of how you solve a problem. Collect their business card and follow up by sending them more information on their specific areas of interest, and define the next steps. Take control of your process instead of letting the process control you. Doing this ensures that you’re only sending them the information they’re interested in and not leaving them with a handful of stuff they’ll probably just ditch in the garbage can anyway – seriously, who wants to carry all that stuff around?

Track the program’s success

From my experience, this has always been the most challenging thing for companies to do. To get a clear picture of everyone who visited the booth, when they visited, what they were interested in, etc., is always difficult when you could be having multiple conversations at once. There’s two ways to effectively track leads: paper lead forms and digital lead forms. With paper lead forms, the onus is on the sales rep to qualify the leads and take detailed notes. With digital lead forms, it’s easy to scan the badge of the attendee, but harder to type in notes. Digital lead forms are good for tracking everyone who came by your booth, but difficult to qualify your leads.

I’ve found using a mix of the two work out the best. Everyone who comes by the booth gets scanned, then only those who are further qualified (i.e., shown a demo, qualify for BANT, etc.) have paper lead forms associated with them. At the end, make sure you identify someone to combine the digital leads with the paper leads. They’ll have to do this in a program (likely Excel) and convert any paper notes so that they’re correctly displayed to the right contact in the digital platform. The end result is a single source of truth that you can then sort through and use to track the event’s effectiveness.

The best way to do this is in your planning. Make sure you communicate an SLA for your team attending the event. That way, the leads get back to you in a certain format within a certain timeframe. This ensures proper lead capturing in a consistent format so that leads can be scored and further qualified.

Remember, it’s not the job of the event manager to make everything perfect all of the time. It just has to be perfect before anyone notices. The goal of the event is to maximize ROI on both your team’s time and money. If everyone’s happy and you can justify the expense of the event, then you’ve done your job by adding tangible business value.

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