Trade Show Marketing Ideas

Trade Show Marketing Ideas

Are you in charge of representing  your company or association at a trade show? Are you a sales manager planning a show for your sales team?  If so, perhaps this is your first time, or maybe you've been to hundreds of trade shows but are looking for new ideas to create an impact and to reach your goals.  We've outlined several areas for you to consider as well as offering ideas and strategies that simply work well.  We should know.  We've attended trade shows for close to 20 years.  And while trade shows are an excellent way to market your organization, more often than not they end up a huge expense, investment of time and labor while leaving your company little or no results!

In our experience, for a vast majority of companies that regularly attend trade shows, it seems that the shows become a "routine" of the job for the trade show sales people and more of a social event than a carefully thought-out and initiated method to acquire leads or sales.

It's common to see sales people arriving late, scurrying to set-up their display booth, and then spend a majority of the time fraternizing with other sales people from other companies, many with whom they've developed friendships with over the years.  The trade show itself becomes a distraction.  I guarantee that if your company falls into this category, then you are wasting thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars sending sales people to these events returning with nothing but a huge bill.

So let's discuss what a trade show is for and why so few companies get actual results!

What Is The Purpose Of A Trade Show?

From a vendor's or company attendee's perspective (that's you!), a trade show is an event that offers the opportunity for you to display your products or services and to hopefully meet prospects, acquire leads, and possibly even close sales.  Trade shows also may provide your company with branding opportunities and to build trust or credibility in your industry. 

From a customer's prospective, trade shows are normally opportunities to gain additional insight or education in their related areas of expertise. Often times the customer may refer to the trade show as a conference, not really considering the vendors' point of view. As an example, for years, we attended many different educational trade shows for teachers and athletic directors.  While we were there to hopefully get leads and sales, the teachers and athletic directors were there to further their knowledge in education and sports.  Their primary aim was to learn, not to buy (just a point to keep in mind!)

If you realize the perspective from the vendors' as well as the customers,' you may gain valuable insights into your sales strategy  You may have one type of strategy for attending say a gift trade show for retailers, while developing an entirely different strategy for an educational conference or tradeshow. (Hint, start thinking about the frame of mind of the customer and their mindset as to shopping the vendors versus walking by the vendors booths on the way to their next class.)

If you're attending a trade show such as for retailers looking for new products to sell, then your strategy should be to attempt to "sell" as much as you can.  Think of your booth as a product on a super market shelf.  Packaging, pricing, the offers, and especially the skills of the sales person will be of utmost importance.  If you're attending a trade show similar to the education example above, you'll want to think of our booth more as an informational product that entices the customer to visit by learning something knew.  You may find it more challenging to get prospects to visit you or to close deals.  We've had exceptional results from advanced marketing, giving away "freebies," and even holding drawings for give-aways such as video game consoles, computers, and other items of interest to our prospects' demographics. Our goal for the educational conferences was to simply create a "buzz" that enticed the customer to visit us.

Why Do So Few Companies Get Results?

It's no secret why so few companies actually get high impact and results from trade shows.  The major factors are:

1) Lack of strategy & Goals
2) Lazy or unskilled sales people
3) Inadequate trade show booth displays
4) Lack of appropriate pricing or offers
5) Poor physical location at the trade show

What Can You Do About It?

1) Strategy & Goals
Make certain you understand the perspective of your customer and why they're attending the show.  Is their primary goal of attending to actually shop from vendors such as you? Or are they attending to gain education or training?  If they're attending for education or training, you're going to have to work especially hard to get them to visit your booth. Advanced marketing, prize drawings, and especially skilled sales people will be of major importance.

Make sure you set concrete goals prior to attending the show. How many leads are you expecting your sales team to obtain?  How many actual closed deals are you expecting? What's your break-even cost for attending the show? What types of offers, drawings, prizes and "pre-show" marketing are you going to offer prior to the show? Are you going to offer your trade show sales people incentives for accomplishing goals?  What would a "win" look like after the show is over?  How will the leads be followed-up?  What post-show marketing will occur?

2) Sales Team
Who will be attending the trade show?  How many sales people will be attending the show and what level of experience and capabilities should you expect from them? Over the years, we've attended the very same trade show sending different sales people. When we had our very best sales people at the show, the results were always WAY BETTER. When we had lessor qualified or less aggressive sales people attend the shows, often times we received almost ZERO results. Your best and brightest sales people will always get better results, as they're more likely to initiate friendly conversation with prospects and thus obtain more leads and sales.

If you're sending a team of sales people, you'll also have a better opportunity to establish a really nice trade show display verses if you're only sending one sales person to a show.  Fortunately many types of light weight trade show displays exist for single and multiple sales people to utilize.  In fact, many of our pop up display stands can even be carried onto an airplane and fit nicely over the shoulder.  Some larger trade show displays require hard cases that roll on wheels, but that are actually very easy to assemble in a short amount of time.

3) Inadequate Trade Show Booth Displays
How does your trade show booth display look? If it looks more like a rummage sale than a professional, enticing display, than you're going to have customers pass by you.  You can easily assemble a nice trade show display using several retractable banner stands or pop up back ground displays with stunning visual graphics.  In fact, for only a few hundred dollars, you can utilize several pop up banner stands to act as a backdrop for your booth.  If you have the budget, you may wish to opt for a larger fabric pop up display including a table with custom table throws.  If you believe you can actually close deals at the show, then having a podium or table to write orders on will be very important.  At one trade show we attended every year, we actually rented a second booth just to hold a large table and chairs used for sitting down with our customers to write orders.  (And it worked extremely well.)  While planning your booth display, keep in mind that lighting is important.  Many trade show displays come with halogen lighting, or you can purchase additional lights.

4) Appropriate Pricing and Offers
Trade show "special offers" often will make the difference between getting a lead or actually getting a sale.  Giving an additional price break or free shipping will usually more than pay for itself by having the order in-hands versus having to expend a ton of time later tracking down the prospect and trying to get them to buy later.  Make sure your offer is aggressive and time-sensitive.  The whole goal is to get them to order before the show is over.

5) Physical Location at the Trade Show
The actual location of our booth at the show can make a huge impact on leads and sales. Reserving your attendance way in advance is usually the biggest impact you can have on getting a good location (by an entry exit door, snack bar, bathrooms, classroom hallway,). Sometimes seniority for the vendor companies plays a part in location as well.
When you're reserving your trade show attendance, make sure you ask the person from the trade show if they can offer any advice on "good" locations.  Sometimes the highest traffic locations are easily missed. Often larger companies will purchase four or five booths in the back or center of a show and being located next these bigger companies may be an easy way for you to get good traffic due to the large number of visitors to these companies.

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