In-person trade shows have been a valuable source for generating leads since … well … forever. Think of the caveman rolling his stone wheel or dragging his sabretooth tiger hide to the market for trade. (We weren’t really there, but trust us, it happened.)
But it seems like many businesses are in a trade show rut where they bring the same, tired strategies that everyone else has been doing for ages.
Potential leads go from booth to booth, where they’re handed more branded pens, keychains, and stress balls than they’ll ever need. They may or may not get a helpful conversation with a company representative.
But, if you want leads, you need to stand out.
Read on for some of our favorite trade show success tips.
The Best Trade Show Success Tips: Stand Apart, Stand Apart, Stand Apart
Whether you’re attending in-person or digitally (or a hybrid of the two) you don’t want your booth to
be like every other business’s.
By incorporating digital value at your in-person booth and providing helpful, quality content (tchotchkes don’t provide great value for trade show attendees), you’ll grab more quality leads. Here’s how to step up your trade show game:
Using Your Digital Spaces to Promote Your Trade Show Presence
You have a website and social media presence. These are valuable trade show promotional tools.
Using your digital assets is one of the most important B2B trade show marketing techniques -- before, during, and after the show.
Create a landing page on your site that promotes the show and what you will offer. Put videos on the page about what your company does. Answer some frequently asked questions about your products or services. Allow people to download premium offers like guides, whitepapers, and infographics. Sprinkle in content that’s not sales-y, such as blog posts that preview the show or address common pain points of the audience you’ll be targeting at the show.
Include a link to the event’s registration page so leads don’t have to search for it.
Think about the value you would typically offer at your in-person booth and translate it for a digital audience. Optimizing your digital content for the trade show will drive traffic to your site.
Don’t Wait for the Show; Go Digital In Advance
It doesn’t matter if you’re attending in person or not, use your newfound digital tools 2-3 months before the trade show. You want to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Create compelling content that previews what showgoers can expect from visiting your booth. Include a map of the booths with your booth number so you’re easy to find.
Send teaser emails to contacts you know have attended the trade show before. Offer value (aka educational content) before eventually sharing a “book a meeting” link for an in-person chat at the show.
Run a paid social media campaign. Create a branded social media hashtag for people to use during the show, and be sure to use the show’s official hashtags in your own posting. Engage in posts about the trade show and answer any questions you can. Let attendees know why they should stop at your booth. (Be more eloquent and elaborative than just, “Our product is really great.”)
This advanced preparation helps you to stand out and gets people excited for the trade show.
Use Your CRM
We may sound like a broken record, but your customer relationship management software is key for storing contacts and remembering to follow up with them.
Whether you got contacts from people throwing a business card into your fishbowl or you never entered last year’s leads, upload these into your CRM as soon as possible. Mark these leads appropriately (i.e. with their journey stage and their score) so you can follow up with them in future marketing efforts and use this data in your reports.
What Should Be Different About Your 2022 Trade Show Strategy?
If you’ve been to a trade show before, you likely have tchotchkes from several businesses. You may think they’re cheap and easy gimmicks that provide name recognition. They’re part of B2B trade show best practices, right? Chances are they will either be thrown out or thrown into a desk drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day.
(Do you remember that one business at FabTech 2015 with the cool plastic cups? Probably not, and chances are that you threw out the cup years ago.)
These tokens don’t provide real value to leads. They’re a waste of your marketing dollars. So what now?
Your strategy should be customer-focused. Tell people how you will help them. Show them the value of stopping by your booth. You’re competing for their attention. Make it worth their while. Keep this in mind with your follow-up emails. What value does your email hold -- are you addressing a pain point, or just being a pain?
You can provide value to in-person attendees by creating physical copies of your online premium offers. Turn those e-books and whitepapers into meaningful takeaways. They’re already designed with your company’s branding and offer real value, unlike that branded mini football.
Connect With Your Visitors
Don’t just set up your booth and wait for people to come to you. Engage with those walking by. This doesn’t mean you need to be like a pushy car salesperson. Connect with people on a human level. Strike up a conversation about the taco truck outside of the convention center. Comment on the Cleveland Browns sticker on someone’s briefcase. That will help you stand out from the 1,000 other people that person encountered.
Making a personal connection is one of the best trade show sales strategies. The memorable booth visits are the ones where attendees can have genuine conversations that answer the questions they’re asking peers and in Google Search. You have value to share -- so share it!
If you’re a sales manager, arm your sales team for success. Coach sellers about how to engage people at the booth. Help them to talk about your solution in a way that connects with leads -- putting the customer as the hero of the story, not your business.
Also, if you make a good connection, note that in your CRM within the contact information. Do it as soon as you can, so you don’t forget. That way, you can note this in the follow-up touchpoints. (“Remember that taco truck with the delicious burritos?”)
Follow up With Your Leads
You spent the money and time to go to the trade show for a reason. Reach out to those leads. Don’t think of this as cold calling. These are warm leads; they gave you their information and may have had a genuine conversation with you.
Your first touchpoint should not be a sales pitch. Mention the name of the show where you met and let them know you’re following up to see if they need your help. If the conversation has advanced enough already, invite them to coffee or a Zoom. Just be sincere.
At-Show and Post-Show Promotion
Have as many conversations as you can at the show. You never know what may come of a conversation. Even if you talk with someone who isn’t your ideal customer, they may know someone who is and can recommend you.
After the trade show, make sure your new contacts are in your CRM and begin building workflows. Create a series of follow-up emails that begin a week after the show. With many CRM tools, you can automate your follow-up email sequences to ensure you interact with your new leads.
Where Some Sales Reps & Marketers Fail
Forgetting or being afraid to follow up is the biggest fail. However, not all follow-ups are good. After the show, new leads are getting generic emails from practically every business they gave their contact information to.
Stand out with more personalized content, even if the message is going to a lot of different people.
Use conversational language. Consider making a video message. Personalization will make your follow-up more likely to be seen.
Also, leave the copywriting to the marketers. No shade to salespeople, but not every salesperson is a wordsmith, and many can’t help themselves when it comes to getting pitch-y too soon. You hired marketers for a reason.
Those marketers should arm the sales team with valuable content. Everything you bring to your booth should potentially help someone. Your branded change purse (Does anyone even use those anymore?) won’t help sales or customers, but your Ultimate Guide To (whatever it is you do) could. Prove your value to everyone who comes to your booth.
Don’t Be Like This Obnoxious Company
Josh Curcio, COO and partner at p80, gets regular emails from a company he met at FABTECH several years ago. The company’s service has something to do with shrink wrapping (Josh has no current shrink-wrapping needs). The emails are generic and are clearly sent to everyone and their mother. Maybe this strategy is generating some leads. But this company would probably get more leads if it was strategic in its marketing.
It’s just noise to Josh. He can’t remember the company’s name, but he does remember feeling annoyed by these impersonal, unsegmented, and irrelevant emails.
Josh has talked to a bunch of people at FABTECH, and none of them has employed this strategy. It’s a really bad way to do business.
Want More Trade Show Tips?
We have resources on trade show email best practices, lead-generation ideas, virtual trade show strategies, and transitioning to virtual trade shows. You can also learn how to promote, execute, and follow up on your trade show.
Also, check out The Manufacturer’s Ultimate Guide to Trade Show Marketing.
Looking For a Deeper Dive?
For a deeper dive into the topic, watch the video version of this article above. Josh Curcio, COO and partner at protocol 80 (and self-proclaimed HubSpot expert), and Holly McCully, inbound marketing consultant at p80 (and niche inbound strategy expert), talk about their best trade show success tips for marketing and sales.