If you’ve attended a trade show, either as an exhibitor or a regular attendee, you may have come back exhausted with a pile of business cards and wondering what the point really was. While trade shows can feel like a blur once you get back to your office, planning ahead with a couple of key goals in mind gives your trade show team focus and helps track your success at a show.
Getting the Most Out of Attending a Trade Show
Traveling to and attending a trade show will cost you in dollars and staff energy. Make the most of your trade show attendance by following these guidelines:
Be Selective with the Shows You Attend
What conferences do your clients and target audience attend, and are they feasible for your company to participate in? Conferences that require air travel or hotel stays add up quickly in costs, which means you could only send a couple of your best teammates to lead the charge. Virtual conferences are often cheaper (or even free) to attend, giving more of your team a chance to connect and interact with potential customers.
Check Out What's Going on Outside the Exhibitors' Hall
Make sure you’re not glued to your booth throughout the event, and check the schedule of events for any sessions you or your clients might find helpful. You could learn something new about a problem your ideal clients have that helps you improve or develop your own solution. You could also meet people at happy hours or other social events where you can have more organic conversations and even be introduced to potential customers by a mutual colleague.
Take some time before your team leaves to review the schedule and plan out some must-attend events. If the conference is using a mobile app for their schedule—download it in advance and select sessions or events you plan to attend to get reminders during the event.
Find Ways to Connect After the Show
You and your prospects are going to talk to a lot of people over the course of the event—make sure connecting with them afterwards is easy. A stand-out follow-up email after the show is important, but engaging in the moment with interested prospects to connect on LinkedIn or set up a quick post-show call gets that connection squared away before the show ends.
Unfortunately, having a great conversation with everyone who takes your business card isn’t possible, but you can leverage QR codes to your professional or company social media on your business cards, trade booth, or freebies to make it easy for prospects to follow you. If they’re interested in what you have to offer, and if they can snap a quick picture with their smartphone to follow you in the moment—they will.
Sponsor or Speak at the Conference
While not always possible or practical, sponsoring or speaking gets your company’s name in programs and emails, and on the event’s website and signage. If you’re attending a show where a lot of your current or ideal clients are, getting your name in the program as a sponsor can be a good way to drive brand awareness. Sending one of your thought leaders to host an insightful session gives other attendees a chance to get to know them and experience the value you provide.
How to Prepare for a Trade Show
Attending a trade show just to attend one is probably not going to be effective. You’re investing in trade booth space, as well as swag, travel accommodations for your team, and potentially a sponsorship of the event. Make sure you’re making that investment worthwhile with a clear goal and an action plan.
Have a Goal & a Plan
Why are you attending a trade show? Having a central goal gives your team focus for the event. Here are some possibilities:
- Reinforce relationships with existing customers, partners, and industry experts.
- Build brand awareness
- Connect with new partner opportunities
- Introduce a new product or service
- Display your thought leadership or new research
Once you have a goal, develop an event plan around that goal. It's best to have a specific and singular goal in mind rather than trying to promote everything and be all things to all people there. Pick one thing to focus on and excel in your efforts and conversations around that one goal.
If you’re debuting a new product, for example, make sure you’re able to demo that product at your booth or have samples for attendees to see and touch. If you’re looking to drum up new business opportunities, make sure someone from your team is attending appropriate networking opportunities like happy hours and lunches.
Announce Your Participation in Advance
Let people know you’ll be at a particular trade show so they know to look for you! An email, social posts, or an announcement on your website will help generate buzz before you ever get to the show. Be sure to tag others you know who are attending to solidify your standing in the industry before arriving.
Tease a new product you’re launching by using a unique series of posts on Instagram to create a larger image in your profile’s grid, or host a live session on LinkedIn with your speaker to talk briefly about their presentation to get people excited. When making social posts, make sure you’re tagging the event’s account and using any event hashtags to get your content in front of other attendees. This is important because we all know that even at physical trade shows, many attendants are still trapped in their virtual world, looking up companies online before and after in-person introductions.
Set up CRM Properties in Advance
Whether it's potential customers or potential business partners, you're probably planning on collecting contact information at a trade show, so make sure your CRM is ready to handle that influx of new information. Some updates you may want to make to your CRM before a trade show include:
- Creating new contact properties
- Creating new contact lists relevant to the show to populate dynamically
- Creating new task sequences, such as to follow up with attendees
- Adding new resources to your library to offer new business opportunities from the show
Mind Your Swag
Everyone loves event swag, but anyone can give away a pen or frisbee. Making your swag items useful or something prospects actually want will keep your company in their mind after the show.
For example, if you’re going to an event with plenty of contractors and tradesmen, something like a construction pencil, tape measure, or branded sticky notes or small notepads would be more useful in their daily lives than a t-shirt. And while pens might be useful, attendees are likely to collect a lot of them over the course of the event.
How do I Measure Trade Show Success?
There’s no denying that trade shows are an investment—especially when you have a new booth set up or showroom samples. Tracking a return on that investment lets you know how well the show went quantitatively.
Calculating Trade Show ROI
Formula for trade show ROI:
(Return (amount of revenue generated from trade show) - Investment (cost of attendance + materials)) / Investment X 100 = Trade Show ROI
Formula for cost per customer from a trade show:
Cost of Show / Number of Customers from show = Cost per Customer
When determining whether revenue was generated from connections made at your trade show, a CRM with properly segmented lists of contacts helps track when sales happen with trade show attendees. A static list in your CRM of contacts collected at a specific event keeps these prospects in one place. A tool like HubSpot can help you generate reports with filters for list membership or create automated workflows based on list membership to track engagement.
Tracking Trade Show Success With Return on Objectives
Seeing the deals roll in from a trade show can take some time, depending on your sales cycle. You can also measure success from your show attendance based on the goal you set before, or tracking a return on objectives (ROO).
For example, if your goal is find new customers or partners, determine a realistic number of qualified potential candidates to collect at the show, and compare your results when you get back to the office. If your goal is brand awareness, keep track of how many people stop by your booth or take a business card. When you get back to the office, track your website traffic and social media engagement closely to see if there’s an increase following the show.
Trade Show Marketing Ideas
Your marketing plan for a trade show should include items for before, during, and after the show and be centered around your goal.
Before the Show
Utilize your website, email, and social media to announce your attendance and hype up your followers and other attendees for the conference. If you have a speaker from your company, or even a client company, make sure to post the date, location, and topic of their session, and do the same for your trade show booth’s location. If you know what your company's presentation will cover, you could even give some teaser highlights to spark interest.
Especially for large product displays, you could tease your booth set up. If you have new products or showroom samples, or an interactive installation and use display, you can catch more attendee's eyes. Couple interactive displays with short videos that give a behind-the-scenes look at real life job sites as well.
During the Show
In addition to your activities at the show, make sure you’re staying active on social! Share pictures of your booth, host a social giveaway for attendees, or share where you’ll be or insights you learned from a session or workshop. Make sure you’re using event hashtags, and check the tags to like, comment, and share what others are posting, too! (In other words, don't just shout from the street corner; engage with online passers by as well).
Are any of your current prospects attending the show? Consider setting up a time to meet one-on-one with them for lunch or drinks. Especially if you haven’t been able to meet with them in person before, this can be a great opportunity to learn more about them and see how your company can help.
After the Show
Timely follow-up after a trade show is critical for engaging with the people you meet. Have your follow-up communications, like emails, drafted in advance, and tweak them with some highlights of the show when you return.
Having a 3-4 email follow-up campaign drafted ahead of time helps ensure your emails go out in a week or two from the conference. Following up with trade show connections a month or more later means they may not remember meeting you or can leave a poor impression on your company or services for not being timely.
Create a short, sharable highlights reel of the event from your company’s perspective for social media. This video should give your followers a taste of the show and what they missed if they weren’t able to attend.
If you spoke at the conference, consider creating a gated piece of content from your presentation. If you were able to record live, you can utilize the recording, or have the speaker do a shortened webinar version of the presentation for people to download later. You may even have conference attendees who were at the session download it to revisit—this makes that static trade show attendee list all the more important to see how they interact with your company later.
Stellar Trade Show Booths for Building Materials Manufacturers
Of course, your booth is an important cornerstone of your trade show attendance. As a building materials manufacturer, your booth can (and should) be experiential so passers-by can get a glimpse of your products—and what it's like to work with you.
Beyond a completely set-up showroom sample, you can add to the experience of your booth with live demos or, if your product would allow for it, give other attendees a chance to try set up themselves. Trade show attendees will see and hear a lot during the event, so giving them an opportunity to touch or try a product when possible can set your company apart in their memory.
Show how your product performs compared to a traditional solution customers are using, or use models and other visuals to explain the science of your product and why it's the better choice.
Even if your product is too large or complex for an "in real life" demo, you can utilize video to give trade show attendees a look at the install process or science of your product.
Bringing it all Together
Trade shows can be overwhelming, but you can turn your trade shows into profitable experiences and drive business growth with these strategies:
- Start with a goal and develop your plan for before, during, and after the show
- Make connecting with your company as easy as possible and set up your CRM in advance
- Take in the full show experience—don't stick to your booth the whole time
- Give attendees something to experience, touch, or try at your booth
- Don't forget social media throughout the show!