10 tips to Events & Trade-Show success.
Through the 80’s and 90’s, trade shows seemed to pop up everywhere, either local trade shows or the big trade shows at the large national business centres like the NEC or Excel. In the last decade or so, these shows have declined in their number, particularly as we went through the recession from the back end of 2007. But every year, the die-hard shows keep assembling, keeping them alive – but do you get the most out of them and do you get a ROI?
One thing is for sure, many of the businesses that do invest in exhibiting, approx. 80% of them, will lose money, mainly because they haven’t thought it through properly. They will have a budget for shows and they’ll spend that money and most likely not measure the return on investment. I’ve had budgets for this exact purpose several times in my career and not one of the companies, the Marketing Teams or Senior Leadership, have ever bothered to properly track the ROI. I’ve seen success measured on the number of visitors to the stand, the number of enquiries taken or just a ‘wow, the stand is/was really busy’.
So, if your going to attend trade shows, here’s my 10 point guide to making them a success and ensuring the stand staff remain on-point (I make no excuses for the length of this blog):
- First of all, ignore anyone that undermines attending trade shows with comments like ‘they don’t work anymore’ or words to that effect. These are people that haven’t been able to make a success of them themselves and push out broad sweeping negative vibes into the universe. Trade shows can be very successful if you make sure you prepare properly with plenty of time, you ensure your messaging is clear and communicated and you select the right stand staff. Footfall may have fallen, but that means you just have to adapt, maybe downsize your stand but people still go to these events. Some companies have decided not to exhibit and tell their customers, what kind of message does this send – you must communicate to your customers as you will read below.
- Depending on the size of the show and your budget, make sure the Marketing team have enough time (I know resource is a challenge these days) to properly prepare for these events, even if it takes 6 months or more. Allocate time to prepare. If the budget allows, make use of outside resource, the professionals, they will take most of the large activities off your hands and will be experts in their field – it’s well worth it!
- Make sure from the earliest beginnings of the preparation, that the rest of the business is informed of the intent to attend. So many times, I have been in a situation where we were left wondering if we were attending shows only to be told as little as two weeks before, that we are attending. Then it becomes top priority (with pressure) to communicate it out to existing customers and prospects. One company experience I had, was when the VP of Sales gave everyone a target to confirm in writing all attendees to the show with one week to go, purely due to panic and very disruptive to the teams – one way to demoralise the sales and marketing teams. The team should have been informing existing customers and prospects of this in the months running up to the show and there is no excuse, just bad planning and poor judgement by Senior Leaders (usually due to budget penny pinching or procrastination).
- Get your messaging right – Why are you attending? What do you want to get out of the show? What ‘Breaking News’ do you have to share, if any? Why should existing and potential customers visit your stand? And so on. Give your audience a reason to attend – not, we’ll be having a competition to win an iPhone, or 20% off discount or BS like this, its weak. Buyers are looking for a solid business reason to take the time to visit and that usually means they’re coming to gain a significant business advantage not to see the same products or hear the same news. If you bore them on your stand, don’t forget, your competition will most likely be there and may have that piece of insight you’ve failed to deliver.
- Identify early on who will man the stand – aim to get the most motivated, positive and informed staff you can, people with energy and I don’t mean the apprentices. Look for staff with credibility, knowledge (not just product knowledge but industry knowledge), up beat and not afraid or too self-conscious to be scared of approaching people. Again, I’ve seen it all, engineers, software developers, Admin staff, etc all thrust onto a stand and put completely outside of their comfort zones – and before you go off on one, I’m all for giving people new experiences and all that, but this is not the place unless you are just there to be seen. By all means have a ‘techie’ at hand for those really deep technical questions that usually get asked but not for general stand duty. If this resource is all you have then get them some coaching, give them the best chance to ‘shine’ whilst getting their new experiences or they’ll not want to do it again.
- Prepare and action a pre-event contact strategy months in advance. Make sure all existing customers and the prospect pipeline know you’re going to be at this event and send them personal invites to your stand. Arrange pre-agreed meetings on the stand and for general communication take advantage of Social Media, but have a multi-contact strategy. Many companies don’t like doing this because they’re afraid their customers will visit the competition whilst there. The cold hard fact, is that they already have some level of relationship with competitors anyway. Buyers aren’t stupid, they will always look for a better deal so its up to you to be confident that if they do visit your competitors stand, you are already providing a complete and competitive service to your customers. If you’re not, its most likely you’ll lose these customers at some point anyway. Believe me, in some of the training courses I deliver and during my career, I have always had and encouraged a target list of companies I want to do business with that are currently with competitors.
- Have pre-event sessions during meetings or on conference calls to ensure all staff, attending or not, are fully up to speed with progress, messaging and timings. On the day(s) of the show, have all staff at the stand early and do another briefing. Any staff members stinking of alcohol should be sent home, no visitor, existing customer or potential customer, wants to talk to someone that smells of stale alcohol – it’s not the right impression, this should have been briefed in pre-show sessions. Unfortunately, many treat these events like a company ‘jolly’, they’re not. This should also be the case if they’ve been out with existing customers the night before, there’s still no excuse. Don’t get me wrong, events should be fun, staff and visitors should enjoy the experience, but for the right reasons.
- The Leadership team should come up with a guide to manning the stand. It should be a collaboration between Sales and Marketing and include:
- Dress code – this is another point of contention, some people like full formal dress and others completely relaxed. The trend at the moment is for a ‘smart casual’ dress code. Just make it comfortable, as a veteran of these events they can be very busy, sporadically busy or quiet, which ever it is, the staff need to be comfortable so that they are ready to speak to visitors. Everyone will have their opinion but remember, the staff are representing the business and standards, brand and reputation of the business must be up-held regardless. By far the best advise is to wear extremely comfortable shoes as the effects of standing for a long time can be long lasting.
- No sitting around in groups during stand time – visitors can be put off approaching a group of stand staff as it could look like a meeting or if the staff are laughing and joking it can be intimidating.
- Have a designated area of the hall or stand (if its big enough) for eating and drinking.
- Have a pre-planned break rota, it’s inevitable that the stand will have visitors most of the time, so trying to plan this on the fly will be difficult and may put some at a disadvantage. Visitors need to be attended to when they are there, or they will go around the corner to your competitors and your brand could be tarnished, as this will be what they remember about their experience of visiting your stand, equally, try not to keep them waiting.
- No checking emails whilst sat down on a laptop – this is not the idea of an event stand, everyone must feel ready, look ready and be ready.
- For Pete’s sake, make sure everyone captures the visitor’s details, who they are, what company they are from, their position, what they’re interested in, who they buy from currently, why they are looking, what’s they’re timescale, are they a decision maker, and so on. Its sacrilege for this information not to be captured. Visitors to your stand expect to have their details taken so that you can contact them – that’s why they are there! Better still, if the organisers or the venue have a scanning technology, make use of it for speed. Remember, data capture is not a measure of success of the event, you want quality data! One company I worked with spent £20k on a stand at an Education trade show, they advertised ‘free coffee’ if you visit the stand – so what happened, hundreds of pieces of data were captured but very few with genuine interest, they just came for the free coffee and the company ended up with a very long list of low value data!
- Think about stand demonstrations. If you have a product or service that requires demonstrating, make some loose rules around how long these should be, can you come up with a shortened version, just enough to whet their appetite? I’ve seen demonstrations that have lasted 20 mins+ and tied up valuable stand resource meaning very few people are able to see a demo. Think about pre-planning set times for group demonstrations and communicate it out prior to the show with a smaller area and a screen for impromptu demos during the day.
- Stand cleanliness, make sure the stand is kept clean and free from discarded coffee cups. Make sure there are always plenty of brochures out, if you still do those things.
- Test, test and test again the stand technology at least the day before and the hours before the show. There’s nothing worse than having technology fail on you just before the show is about to begin and panic sets in putting pressure on the ‘techies’.
- No chewing gum – enough said.
- All men should be clean shaven (unless they have mature beards), again, all about first impressions, yes, they still do play a major part of the buying process despite those that want to dismiss these things as no longer important, they’re wrong and probably don’t like shaving every day.
- Brochures should not be handed out to passers-by, its costly and serves no purpose.
- Prepare and brief your team with ‘BIG’ questions, don’t leave them out to dry, especially if they’re new to sales and manning stands, they will most likely fail to impress potential clients. I have worked with multiple companies on their stand preparations and briefing strategies and understanding the skills of the staff and tailoring the coaching is paramount – and don’t leave it to the last minute. Plus, don’t forget to coach on the small things as well. If you have staff on the stand that aren’t in sales, I guarantee, 8 times out of 10 they will try and hide and not make eye contact with stand visitors – again, help them by providing coaching.
- Make sure, if you’re the manager, that you set an example. If the stand staff, see you making the slightest excuse not to abide by the rules they will most certainly take advantage of it.
For a final bonus point and I’ve isolated this one because it is critical – make sure someone is responsible for entering all enquiries on to the company CRM system post the event. This is the only reliable way they can be tracked. Make sure they can be identified and reported on as coming from that particular event. Contact every enquiry within 48 hours of capture, first, prioritise them and CALL the enquiries that were the strongest opportunities (you will only get this from good ‘BIG’ questions). The rest should be called next, every enquiry should receive a call regardless, otherwise, what was the point of collecting the information. Remember, you also need to know who captured the visitor details as you may need some further information down the line. Any that don’t progress or couldn’t be contacted should go into the Marketing stream. Once you have completed this, make sure you are monitoring the events KPI’s, the initial performance indicators and on-going, remember, if you have a lengthy sales cycle, the true ROI could take a while to realise.
I have been organising, coaching and attending trade shows, exhibitions, conferences and expo’s for over 20 years and I’ve seen and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. I now use my experience to help companies be best prepared for success at these events.
If you want me to help you be more successful at trade shows, please get in touch.