As a manufacturer, you know that trade shows are an important facet of getting the word out about your business and making connections with potential clients. We've compiled this guide of best trade show tips to help you stand out, maximize leads and traffic, save time with technology/tools, and calculate your ultimate trade show ROI.
Walk around any trade show and you will you see the same thing...
Most companies ‘fit in’ to the trade show model. To make the most out of your massive investment, you need to do your best to stand out instead.
At a trade show, everyone is competing for attention. The booths that get most of the attention are the ones making a scene.
Be prepared to do what’s necessary to stand out. This can be REALLY hard for old-school business people. Can you picture yourself or your CEO throwing a branded stress ball at someone passing by your booth? If not, make sure you have someone there that is willing to do the dirty work.
Bottom line, you need to be willing to leave your comfort zone and stand out.
A winning trade show strategy includes pre-show buzz for your booth. The challenge is that many other companies are also pre-promoting their booth. That means you need to STAND OUT with yours.
As a manufacturer, you’re in a slightly better position to stand out on social media because many manufacturers have barely even opened an account on Twitter for their company.
Jump to our: Maximizing Traffic at a Trade Show section for more on exactly what to do pre-show.
While throwing stress balls at passers by may not be the best option for getting attention at trade shows, there are a multitude of other steps you can take to become a magnet.
If you took advantage of some (or all) of the ideas above, you may owe some attendees follow up emails. Did you take pictures you promised to send? Did you have a good conversation that you want to pick back up? Either way, follow up will be important. There’s a whole section in this guide on making that happen!
Here’s a few ways to stand out after the trade show:
Yes, you will need to invest in materials for a theme. Yes, entertainment will cost money. Yes, that Hawaiian vacation will be expensive.
How do those expenses compare to the lifetime value of a new customer? As a manufacturer, they are probably a drop in the bucket.
If standing out at 4 trade shows per year will be too big of an investment, what if you pick the top 3 and knock them out of the park?
You’re already investing a lot of resources into a trade show, so shouldn’t you be looking to maximize conversations, connections, and leads?
To get the most booth traffic, you need to stand out. That might mean leaving your comfort zone.
Trade shows are all about maximizing numbers. The number of people you can interact with. The number of business cards you can collect. The number of quality conversations you can have.
It's VITAL to draw in as much traffic to your booth as possible.
Maximizing visitors at a trade show requires 2 buzz-generating efforts:
Consider this your homework before the trade show. Let’s get people thinking early about it. They should see enough of you, your name, and your brand in the weeks and months before to become synonymous with the show.
Social media will obviously play a key role before, during, and after your trade show. You’ll want to use the trade show hashtags (e.g., #fabtech18, #ipcapexepo) when you’re sharing information about your attendance there.
Here’s your chance to engage current and former clients as well as any other contacts you may have in your CRM. Strategically plan a series of email blasts announcing your company’s presence at the trade show.
Many of the social media tactics listed above can be repurposed in your email campaign. But email gives you the added advantage of nurturing a longer, more in-depth conversation.
Many manufacturers are best served to begin hitting the email strategy hard 6-8 weeks before the show, when attendees are finalizing their itinerary, travel, and accommodations.
Here are some example email workflow topics:
Each email should contain a clear call to action - an opportunity for recipients to click, raise their hands, and identify themselves as interested. This CTA could be to schedule an appointment at the show, or just RSVP that they will visit your booth.
Organize these emails sensibly. The last thing you need heading into the main event is to annoy and alienate your contact database with spam. Spread out the emails over time so you’re welcomed warmly into their inboxes - and NOT flagged as spam or unsubscribed from.
And if it’s a regional trade show, segment your contact database, if possible, to reach only those likely attendees. Unless it’s a major national or international conference, an email recipient in Seattle would likely have little use for info about a show in Miami.
Your company’s blog is another avenue to discuss what makes this trade show so great. The best fairs often include educational forums, seminars, and keynote speakers.
Which educational sessions will be the most beneficial for you and your company? Chances are they’ll also be beneficial for your prospects. Blog about what you intend to learn from those sessions and how your company plans to implement it.
Blogging can be a team effort. Assign a week for each member of your team to blog about their trade show hopes.
And here’s the great thing about blogs: They’re proprietary pieces of content you can plaster all over social media and include strategically in your email nurturing campaign. When sharing on social media, be sure to @-mention the event and speaker. They’ll appreciate the free publicity and share your post with their followers.
The big day arrives and now’s your time to shine. So much of your success here relies upon following through on your promises made leading up to it.
Many trade show efforts fall short because of poor planning and engagement. If you agreed to meet with a contact at your booth at a certain time, well, duh, be there.
You invest a small fortune in trade shows, so maximizing traffic to your booth has to be a top priority. Trillions of dollars in business deals are sealed at such shows every year. It all starts with maximizing the numbers.
Some company leaders feel attending trade shows is a waste of time these days. If you don’t bother preparing to capture customers efficiently and with next steps in mind, that’s probably true.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that 80% of trade show attendees are looking for new products. That means they could be looking for you.
So, how do you increase your odds of making an interaction last beyond a quick “hello”?
Reach out to customers who you haven’t worked with recently and who might not know what you’re up to. Turn those past customers into hot leads!
You can set up times to meet these people in person and get that valuable face-to-face time. They already know (most of) your capabilities, so they should be easier to sell.
Another sign trade shows are becoming a little too old-school: 59% of companies are still using paper-based lead forms and business cards to collect information from attendees.
This works fine if your people are meticulous about collecting and organizing this data, but it requires a lot of tedious, manual work. There’s also the possibility of losing forms and especially those tiny business cards.
As a time-saving alternative, you can have a tablet or laptop on hand to log prospects into your CRM immediately. Make the form simple and quick.
Just these will do:
Unlike the old way of collecting business cards, you don't need to pay someone to enter them in your customer relationship management (CRM) system. You also don't have to worry about forgetting or procrastinating on data entry until it's too late to capture those customers. By using a tablet, their info will go right into your CRM.
Want to get the booth visitors to enter their own information into your CRM? Offer a super-informative, educational e-book or other resources in exchange! Don’t forget to emphasize it’s free.
Most people go to a trade show to learn about products and services, but they also want to be educated about their everyday pain points. That's how you offer more than your competitors!
Beyond the initial gratification of scoring something free, your leads should also receive motivation to continue along the buyer’s journey. So make sure your resource has follow-up content to capitalize on this awesome momentum.
All trade show leads are not created equal...at least in the mind of a sales person.
Here’s where the problem arises: the hot leads get all of the attention and in most cases priority on the follow up list. And by priority, we mean that every other lead will fall through the cracks.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t prioritize what you think are the hot leads over the cold leads... but I am saying not to forget about the cold leads.
You should follow up with every trade show lead because gauging the quality of a lead from only a simple conversation at the show is based on assumption only. And you know what they say happens when you assume ;).
Think about it. The people you meet are bombarded with conversations from all of the other exhibitors ALL DAY LONG. They don’t have time for everyone and lack of interest at the event could just be that they’re worn out.
Additionally, someone that seems hot might only be entertaining you to get some free swag.
Bottom line...don’t assume, follow up with everyone to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck!
Be sure that your initial follow up from the show is prompt. It doesn’t have to be the same day, but waiting too long will allow momentum to fade and conversations to be forgotten. Consider something as simple as:
It was nice meeting you at <tradeshow name> the other day.
I’m sure you're busy after being gone for the show, so I’ll reach out next week after you’re able to get caught up and we can take it from there.
This is something you can have prepared in advance and gives you some breathing room. The prompt follow up will not only set you apart from the competition, but allows this simple touchpoint to get lost in the shuffle, not your more meaningful messages.
Don’t stop at just one email, especially if you are promising that you’ll follow up with them the following week. Plan out a follow up series of touchpoint emails that continually provide some sort of value to them.
In the short term you should consider at least a few emails within the first couple of weeks, but also plan out a longer term follow up to stay on their radar if they aren’t quite ready to buy.
Depending on your industry and your business, a trade show lead might become a customer in a week, a month, 6 months, or even years. Your long term touchpoint strategy should be in line with your sales cycle.
While frequency is important, don’t be annoying. This doesn’t really need further explanation... just use your best judgement.
Most of the follow up messages attendees will receive will be generic, out-of-the-box, useless information begging for their business.
Set yourself apart by personalizing your follow up to the prospects and provide value. Here are a few ways you can tailor your messages:
Obviously you won’t have enough time in your day to customize every message to every person you talked to at the show. In this case you can segment and spend more time on the people that are more likely to buy and less time on the people that are less likely to buy.
Like me, you’re a human. As a human, we tend to let things slip...including follow up. This is where technology can be your friend.
Automating Follow Up
HubSpot has a great tool called sequences in which you can queue up a series of emails, each with varying levels of customizations. You can determine how long to wait before your follow up emails go out. The best part is, if your lead responds to the message the sequence stops so they don’t feel like they’re talking to a robot.
If you don’t have awesome automation tools like that, at the very least use your CRM to create follow up tasks for your follow up steps. Without these tasks or calendar reminders, your follow up will be sloppy and highly ineffective.
This is probably a given, but connect to your leads on social media, especially LinkedIn. Now for the hard part...don’t JUST find the name and click connect and let it go. CUSTOMIZE your connection message. You’re trying to set yourself apart from everyone else and everyone else is NOT sending a customized message.
It’s a digital world, but a simple phone call can go a long way. Like your emails, these phone calls should not be generic.
You’re not calling them to ask them for RFQs, you're calling them to have a conversation and keep the relationship going. Build rapport, provide value, and have a short conversation.
If after the conversation it makes sense to schedule a follow up, do so but don’t go into it expecting a close.
In all likelihood you are exhibiting or attending a tradeshow to collect leads. The hope is that eventually those leads will turn into actual customers, but it won’t happen overnight.
Every prospect, lead, or person with a pulse that you interact with at a tradeshow should be stored in your CRM.
If you don't already use a CRM, not to worry, there are many great options out there (keep reading for a list) and the financial investment starts at free...so hop on it. And no, an Excel spreadsheet doesn’t count.
If there's one word we stress to manufacturers that are diving into their first CRM, it's SIMPLICITY.
At some point you might need all the bells and whistles and customizations of huge CRM platforms. Right now, you need an intuitive platform that everyone can learn to use, out of the box.
When your team is proficient and needs a higher level of tools, go more advanced.
Despite the popularity of trade shows, many manufacturers aren’t using them to their full advantage when in comes to lead generation.
There are several tools to help you take complete advantage of your trade show attendance:
A lead flow is essentially a pop-up form. All HubSpot marketing software users now have access to lead flows, so if you don’t have a HubSpot free account set one up.
You may be asking yourself, how is a lead flow going to help during a trade show. Well, it won’t help you during, but it can help you before. Setting up a pop-up box, also known as an overlay, can help you schedule appointments with website visitors during the trade show. There aren’t many things better than face-to-face time with a client or prospect.
Lead flows can also be connected to nurturing efforts, so you can automate emails to remind your website visitors of your appointment. Time is money at a trade show.
Side note: If you’re already using MailChimp, they recently introduced lead flows to their tool set.
Let’s think about a scenario for a second. You just met several hundred, maybe even thousand potential customers at the manufacturing trade show. They know your name, and they know your company’s name, so they go to the homepage of your website and look around for a few seconds....
...and you’ve lost them.
They're on to the next vendor's site.
If you’ve ever been an exhibitor at a trade show before, you know just how valuable the traffic to your booth can be.
Here are some statistics (for more proof):
Using a landing page, you can captures a visitor’s contact info through a form. Your landing page should target your trade show audience specifically and provide value. Do you have any educational content that would be of value to a potential prospect? Or capabilities information?
The educational content combined with a form/landing page will let the website visitor/trade show attendee re-introduce themselves through your site. This will let you connect the dots and see who was really listening at the show.
Don’t miss out on potential conversion opportunities by not creating a landing page.
How many times have you gotten back from a trade show with a stack of business cards or a list of contacts a mile long or leads from your landing page? Yeah...generating leads never seems to be the problem. But, finding the time to follow up with them IS.
Marketing automation can help. Platforms such as HubSpot and MailChimp are great tools, but they can’t do the work for you. You still have to create the emails, you just don’t have to remember to send them when the time comes.
Here are 3 steps to create an effective email drip campaign:
At the end of the day, the reason you, as a manufacturer, are willing to invest so many financial and human resources into trade shows is because you think you’ll be able to produce a positive return on that investment.
If you didn’t, you surely wouldn’t bother.
The formula for calculating your trade show ROI is:
(Gross Profit - Total Trade Show Expenses) / Total Trade Show Expense
It’s really important to be as accurate with these numbers as possible. Let’s start by clarifying these values to make sure you’re calculating an accurate ROI value.
Gross Profit From Trade Show: this number should include only profit from sales produced because of this specific trade show. Meaning, these sales should be from leads created at the trade show, or prospects that closed as a result of your attendance at the trade show. Including any other sales will skew your ROI number.
Total Trade Show Expenses: this number should include all costs associated with the trade show, including
Like most manufacturers, you probably have a long sales cycle. This means calculating a true ROI may take a little while. Be patient.
It’s really important that this exercise doesn’t slip off your radar. You don’t want to invest all those financial and personnel resources into activities that aren’t producing a positive ROI.
To make calculating your trade show ROI easier, we’ve put together the following spreadsheet:
To enter your own values in the spreadsheet, you'll need to make a copy of your own by
If you don't use Google Sheets, you can also download an Excel version by
We know you don't need us to tell you that trade shows are important. By using these tips to maximize your traffic and leads while spreading the word about your business and products, trade shows just might become one of the most important (and fun!) elements of your marketing.