Trade Show Marketing Tips for Sales and Marketing Leaders in 2019

Career DevelopmentSocial Selling

Trade shows provide great ways to gain new customers and strengthen relationships with existing clients. On the other hand, if not executed well, trade shows can be a cost center and a huge flop. So, how do you get the most ROI from participating at a trade show? Based on my experience as a Director who has executed over 20+ shows with budgets ranging from $5,000 to $65,000 over the course of my career, this can be a daunting task.

Below you’ll find 6 trade show success tips for sales and marketing leaders to implement at your next event:

1. Define What Success is…Before the Show

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You have planned your pre, during, and post-show strategies. You have finagled and negotiated pricing with vendors and fought upper management for more budget; however, you and your marketing team have not defined what success actually looks like. Create tangible goals for your business objectives. Work with marketing to identify target accounts that will be attending and account management or client success to know what current clients are going to be there.

The Holy Grail Metric

The most important takeaway for your company from your time at a trade show is new clients. The best way to track this is to follow the full “life” cycle of all your conference contacts. Having this, new clients, as a singular metric for marketing and sales ensures alignment between the departments when discussing the outcome of a show.  

This will obviously take time depending on your sales cycle, like any other aspect of marketing and sales- it’s a marathon and not a sprint. For forecasting purposes, I would suggest meetings attended as a relevant indicator of success. To gauge traction dive into your website traffic- organic and direct, and compare it to your benchmark. A spike in traffic after a show is a positive indication that your efforts were fruitful and that you made an impact.

The Hail Mary Metric

Steer clear from lead collection as a KPI. While booth traffic and leads are good, they are vanity metrics at best and can create a false reality or expectation of what you will deliver post-show. Stick to actionable and relevant metrics that paint a transparent picture for your management team.

In the end, this will help you conclude if this show makes sense to attend in the future.

2. Make Your Trade Show Booth Stand Out

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Let’s be honest. You’re going to have to do something different to stand out from the hundred other trade show displays. So, draw people in with an offer they actually care about or consider promoting a unique competition or mini-events pre-show.  Here are a few award-winning sales trade show booth ideas for inspiration.

Create an energy and atmosphere around your booth that passers-by cannot resist. Once you have their attention, make sure you are prepared to leave an impression. This will be unique to your companies product/service offering.

My company Directive recently attended an event where, at our trade show booth, we offered complete onsite audits, which included a full competitor audit, an understanding of where their company currently lied and their potential from an SEO/paid search perspective.

Every attendee who met with us walked away with a printed copy of this thorough research. This is a little more valuable than some branded pens or t-shirts, right?

3. Post the Latest Booth News On Social Media

It’s 2019, people! You should have a social media plan in place long before the event. Start telling and reminding followers weeks in advance where and what you’ll be exhibiting.

Give them an irresistible reason to drop by your trade show booth by offering special offers or giveaways only available at the show. Better yet, incentivize people to post something about your stand or have them photograph themselves with your logo. Many new potential attendees will now see your product or logo via someone else’s network, plus online mentions or posts are a great way to measure which social media channels generate the most buzz for you.

If budget allows, you can step this up a notch and use a photo booth service, such as SharingBox, that enables your guests to share pictures across all social networks and expose your brand to new audiences.

Another plus? Their reach goes beyond just social and allows you to track qualified data. You have the ability to generate a full report of the event that includes customizable data for you to collect valuable consumer insights, such as mini-surveys.

4. Get Your Trade Show Promotions Ready

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The staple of trade show displays, branded promotional products, aka swag, are often what attendees remember a business by. Choose something unique, purposeful and something your audience will actually have an interest in.

Come up with something exciting that will make attendees think “I want one too”. The real test of your marketing creativity is if you can evoke that reaction while still being price-sensitive. I have seen so many companies spend thousands of dollars on their trade show swag to be left with no ROI.

It’s a plus if you can leave show attendees thinking, “I need to tell my marketing team what X company did.”

Historically at this point, many teams utilize the show’s provided badge scanner or simply collect a business card to the traffic you strategically generated to your booth.  Again, it’s 2019. A business card in a fishbowl doesn’t cut it. As marketers, you are always on the defensive when it comes to proving ROI, especially for cost-heavy trade show.

Being more intelligent, and removing the guesswork out of attendee attitudes is now within our power with attendance tracking technologies. If budget doesn’t allow for advanced software, there are now free apps such as Smartr Contacts, that make your smartphone address book smarter by shifting the focus to managing relationships instead of email addresses and phone numbers. You can even keep it simple by employing a Google Doc managed by your conference team! Having some sort of structure around the data collection at a show will help your sales team qualify leads, optimize conversions and eliminate the headache commonly associated with lead management.

Pro tip: Keep your goodies out of arms reach so you get the opportunity to interact with attendees first. If your product is more costly, you may want to substantiate the value of each contact and only give these out to hot leads.

5. Have the Right People on the Floor

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The worst thing is to invest time and money in your show and planning the event, only to get there with less than optimal fits for a conference floor.

I have seen it time and time again, sales and marketing leaders send their best closers or their guy or gal who knows the most about the vertical…only to be disappointed by their performance at the show.  Ouch. For trade shows, personality is just as important as subject matter expertise. Trade shows, conferences, and forums are for your extroverts and charismatic marketing and sales professionals who know how to get the booth going and feeling lively.

A note to all sales and marketing leaders reading this…with all those hours and dollars spent on your booth along with the precision and thought put behind every element sent to the show, you want to be sure you have a representative from the marketing team present. While you are working the floor and conducting your meetings, they are there to ensure that the logistics of the booth build and collateral are flawless. Additionally, they will have ample time to do field research and walk the exhibitor hall to scope out what competitors are doing.. This will help your team get a leg up on the competition.

Your events marketing manager is your best friend at any trade show or conference. They are there to help you shine!

6. Follow Up and Track Your New Leads

Trade show marketing can result in high ROI if done with some dedicated planning and creativity. Be sure to take advantage of any momentum and follow up with your new contacts. When considering the success of your trade show initiatives, keep in mind that there can be many types of wins.

Obviously, sales and contact gains are the ultimate ROI. So when these are entered into your CRM, make sure you have created a naming convention for these leads. This will make it easy to compare your ROI from the show against your other marketing drives.

But remember to also measure the number of new followers you gained on social media platforms and how many tags in conversations you received. Let your efforts shine! While social metrics can sometimes draw skepticism from your senior stakeholders, stand firm. Those bluebirds and thumbs ups do have business value. Without the top of the funnel, there’s no bottom of the funnel. So paint a holistic picture of ROI.

While there are numerous ideas to help you stand out, the important takeaways for B2B trade shows are to be well-prepared and to commit to whatever approach you decide to use.

If your trade show booth was deemed a success, start thinking about what you can improve for next time and what other organizations were doing. If you didn’t see what your competitors were up to, hopefully, this means your own stand was inundated with sales and new clients.  

Hannah Mans

A professional hustler and wordsmith with an affinity for strategy and high conversion rates, Hannah manages the internal marketing team at Directive, a leading B2B and enterprise search marketing agency. When she isn’t with her amazing marketing team, she loves to get out of the office and onto the trade show floor to mingle with professionals and partners to talk search marketing. On a mission to change the world, Hannah began her career with the United Nations where she functioned as a communications consultant for the World Food Programme. She then pivoted into the marketing technology space, where she has spent the last 4 years.