Crafting an Effective Trade Show Plan

With big events like MATS and CONEXPO/CON-AGG just around the corner in March, we thought it’d be a tip-top time for some trade show talk. We have a seasoned, smart, stupendous events team here at Randall-Reilly; here’s an overview of the approach they recommend to ensure trade show success. Unless, of course, your plan is to have no plan, and just hang out and see what develops.

Determine Your Goals

We break trade show marketing into three elements: pre-, peri-, and post-show. But before you can start strategizing for each phase, you have to determine your goals for exhibiting.

What’s your main reason for attending a trade show? Is it about…

  • Leads?
  • Branding?
  • Product Launch?
  • Networking?

Once you define your goal, make it measurable. Give yourself a number to hit based on your desired ROI.

Pre-Show

Trade shows can be large and overwhelming. CONEXPO-CON/AGG is going to have 2,500+ exhibitors this year, as well as thousands of contractors, dealers, distributors, service providers, engineers, and manufacturers — not to mention more than 150 education sessions to attend.

Needless to say, you need to be proactive and prepared if you want to avoid getting lost in the noise. It’s important to create buzz around your show presence, but you also want to be strategic in your approach and focus on those potential customers who’d be most likely to buy what you’re sellin’.

Here’s what Emily Larson, our director of events services, advises: “Before the show try to get your hands on an event attendee list to match against your database to determine prospects, current customers, and conquest accounts. You can then use Facebook or LinkedIn to target these specific clients with a targeted message. If the event list isn’t for sale, you can target the lists on LinkedIn by specific job type, or title, or type of companies you want to reach. Utilize targeting offered by show management to target, whether through email or social media.”

Through this account-based marketing approach, you can analyze a company’s Facebook page and create a Custom Audience to reach. You can also target specific companies through LinkedIn, which allows you to upload a list of company names for targeting. (Keep in mind that particular LinkedIn feature may require a significant investment.)

Most shows provide a list of exhibitors on their website. Why not grab that handy list and utilize LinkedIn to reach out before the show?

The goal should be to have prospects actively looking for you when the show comes. Make sure they know how to find you, and what they can expect. As opposed to just asking people to come chat for a sales pitch, make it abundantly clear what value, knowledge, or insight you can provide that will be of use to them.

Tip: Make a plan to cultivate prospects before the show. You might consider an account-based marketing approach to target specific companies on LinkedIn, or to create a Custom Audience on Facebook. Whichever method you choose, try to make connections before the show begins so the ice is already broken – or at least melted a bit.

Peri-Show

Once you get to the show, your marketing efforts are far from done. Take advantage of real-time digital advertising opportunities! You know prospects are scrolling through their phones on social media; keep that conversation going and continue piquing interest so you’re not forgotten. This is an easy one to get lost in the shuffle once showtime starts, so be sure to delegate social media duties to ensure the digital ball doesn’t get dropped.    

Obviously during the show is the crucial time for establishing rapport. But you also need to be thinking about traffic flow, booth management, and staff. Again, clarify who is responsible for what, and have contingencies in place in case things go haywire.

Another tactic we recommend here is old school, but with a new school twist — business card collection. We’ll tell you why this is still worth your while in the next section.

Tip: During the show, make sure someone’s in charge of social media, and don’t forget to collect those musty old business cards to amass email addresses and phone numbers. 

Post-Show

Don’t let all your hard work go to waste! You know how the news cycle works. What’s hot and front of mind today is gone by Tuesday, so you need to strike while the iron’s hot and before people forget about the great interaction you had at the show.

If you do a good job collecting business cards like we discussed in the peri-show section, then you’re in luck. All you need is an email or cell phone number to connect with a prospect on Facebook. Wouldn’t you know, business cards usually have both!

People are generally very willing to part with business cards at trade shows. Why not collect as many relevant ones as possible, use a scanner to get them all into an excel sheet and voila! Now you have a targeted list for Facebook advertising.  

Keep your momentum going after the show. Follow up with the folks you had great discussions with, follow them on social media, and don’t be shy about sending thank you notes/emails to anyone you had a fruitful discussion with.

Once you create fans/followers/friendships, be proactive about cultivating, sustaining, and fortifying those relationships. Be personal and thoughtful to foster loyalty and keep them in your orbit. That, in a nutshell, is how you make the most out of trade show marketing.

Tip: Strike while the iron’s hot. After the show ends be prompt about thank yous, emails, social media follows, and thoughtful personal notes. Also prioritize extracting business card data so you can craft a targeted Facebook advertising list.

 

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