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Waxing Poetic on Tradeshows

Looking at trade shows holistically, the measure of worth varies for each specific trade show in question. It depends on your industry and customers, and even your company culture and people. The best place to start determining a trade show’s value is by looking at the potential return on investment (ROI). In other words, what’s in it for you financially? What’s in it for your customers or vendors beyond just revenue? What’s in it for employees in terms of industry education?

So… what’s in it for you and your company?

Should be easy enough, right? Strong leads and a certain number of sales. But what constitutes “strong” and exactly how many sales does that certain number need to be?

Look at a trade show from the ROI angle, not as an expense. It’s marketing. Evaluate the true cost per lead. The formula is different for every company, but weigh the costs of the trip versus how many real leads you expect to receive. You have an idea of the number and quality of leads you’ll get if you’ve been to the trade show in question before. If you haven’t, you can gain some insight from other trade show alum. Use their input as a guideline, not the rule. If you don’t have any direct contacts, social media is a great way to “hear” what others are saying or have said about an event. If you aren’t sure about a specific show, tap into Twitter to see what others are saying about during the show. You can gauge if it’s worth planning for the following year based on the positive or negative comments being posted.

What if the potential ROI does substantiate the cost? Go! But plan carefully. It’s more than flights, hotels, booth set-up and giveaways. Planning makes all the difference in seeing a strong return from your trade show endeavor.

How many people will you need to talk to make it worthwhile? 10? 50? 500? Set a goal and stick to it. Get out from behind the booth table if you need to, but meet that goal.

How will you present yourself? You’ve probably been to a few trade shows in your time. Think about what you like and dislike. Don’t sit at the booth crushing candy on your iPhone. Practice positive body language and be open and inviting, not sitting with folded arms or staring at your presentation materials.

What you do after the trade show is just as, if not more, important than what you do before and during. The Internet and all those communication channels we mentioned above come in handy after the trade show. Follow up on those leads—hot, warm and cold. Yes, cold. Your lead could have been jet lagged or pressed for time while visiting you on the exhibition floor. This isn’t dating; it’s business, and the three-day rule doesn’t apply. Follow up quickly with all leads and contacts!

If you’re a member of the association that’s hosting the event, you may even be able to purchase the attendee list and market to them as you see fit, without incurring any cost of travel or other expenses.

What do your customers or vendors get out of you attending the trade show? We’re more connected than ever with email marketing, mobile phones, video conferencing, social networks, online marketing and more. A good strategy keeps you in your customers’ minds at set intervals with email news blasts, ongoing web content, etc. That being said there is still tremendous value in one-on-one, look-you-in-the-eye conversation to expand networks and strengthen loyalty. Sometimes instead of looking at new sales and customers, there is value on staying top of mind with current customers. Every minute they spend with you onsite is a minute that they aren’t in a competitor’s space getting pitched on something else.

Sometimes, people need to see your face regardless of where they are in the buying process. Pre-sale, customers are comparison shopping and checking out their options. Post-sale, they’re in need of on-going support to maintain the relationship to nurture subsequent sales. Today, companies aren’t footing the bill to send any and everyone to trade shows, just those who have decision-making and buying power, making some trade shows worth your while.

Even if the ROI doesn’t justify the expense business-wise, don’t underestimate the trade show’s impact on morale and education. A trade show that keeps your team happy and gives them something to look forward to every year can be a wise investment – maybe not on your bottom line, but in your people – the ones impacting your return in the long run.

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Phil Heft – Sales & Marketing Specialist; pheft@hotmail.com

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