Company events and trade shows stand out as the way to reach your ideal customers and to network with other businesses in your industry. Even in our digital age, there’s no true replacement for face-to-face connection. We’ve created this guide to help you navigate events and trade shows from choosing the right one, to deciding your level of involvement, how to leverage new leads, measuring your results, and more.
Why do trade shows and events?
Trade shows and events come with a variety of benefits to you and your business.
Trade shows give you face-to-face contact with prospects who are at the show because they are interested in the space. In that sense, they are much better qualified than cold prospects you might call on the phone or email.
Trade show marketing gives you a chance to invest best-of-show booth and practices that can make your company look bigger and more developed than you might be. It gives you a chance to punch above your weight.
Trade shows also give you a chance to do one-to-many speaking that helps promote your ideas and thought leadership.
But first, what exactly are trade shows?
A company or industry event is a broad term, ranging from a short “lunch and learn” to an all-day conference and everything in between. Events bring people together. Their purpose may be simple like open networking with food, or more detailed, offering learning and sharing opportunities.
Trade shows are created to give companies an opportunity to demonstrate their products or services. Approximately 13,000 trade shows are hosted in the United States each year. They are often very large events with the attendees ranging from potential clients to fellow industry professionals to business owners and investors. Conferences will have similar attendees but also include educational industry-specific learning opportunities and often include a trade show aspect.
Here are a few examples of the biggest shows from the following industries:
Hotels: HSMAI Digital Marketing Conference, AAHOA (Asian American Hotel Owners Association) Annual Convention and Trade Show, HITEC technology-focused hospitality conference, California Lodging Association Conference
Banks: BankWorld, IFGS (Finance and technology event), Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
Health: Medtrade, EMS Today, Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit
Retail: ShopTalk, Future Stores the Leading Retail In-Store Innovation Conference, Retail Innovation Conference and Expo
Regardless of your industry and the show you choose, events and trade shows are an important form of marketing. A few of the top benefits of a trade show include:
- Networking with industry professionals
- Gathering a fresh list of leads to nurture after the event
- Opportunity to demonstrate your high-quality service, product, and knowledge
- Learning from other businesses and competitors
- Overall business exposure
As a marketing strategy, these events and trade shows are unlike any other. They do, however, come with their own list of time and money commitments. Knowing this, how do you choose the best event for your business? Which will bring you the highest return on your investment?
Selecting the right event and setting goals
There are three primary kinds of shows
1. Your conference: In this type of show, you curate an event to attract your customers and future prospects. The main goal of this show is to educate the attendees with thought leadership and share your product roadmap. These events are the most expensive since you are responsible for planning, driving attendance and delivering the end to end experience for your audience. For example, Milestone has been conducting its customer conference for the past 5 years and each year we curate best in class thought leadership content around the most relevant topics related to digital transformation, marketing, SEO, Analytics, and more.
2. Customers conference: Your company attends a show put together by your customer and you participate as a vendor or a partner. These shows can be theme-based shows focusing on different tracks and you typically attend keynotes and speaking opportunities, award ceremonies, conduct 1-1 meetings, and or manage a booth.
3. Industry Shows or events: These shows are sponsored and created by a prominent industry body or trade association and you participate as a vendor or a industry partner. These shows can be theme based shows focusing on different tracks and you typically attend keynotes and speaking opportunities, award ceremonies, conduct 1-1 meetings, and or manage a booth.
Do your research before choosing an event to attend. Weigh the pros and cons and establish what’s most important to you. Bigger events offer more exposure, but higher competition. Smaller events may be less expensive with less competition, but will they offer enough exposure?
Here are a few questions to ask when selecting the right event:
- How far are we willing to travel?
- How much money are we willing to invest?
- What is the most important aspect of an event to us? (education and speaking opportunities, exposure, awards, etc.)
- What are our top goals for this event? (getting the most new leads as possible, closing new sales, brand recognition and building new relationships)
- Is there a specific time of year that would be best for us? (don’t choose your busiest season)
- What audience typically attends this event? Does it match the people we want to reach?
As you evaluate the best event to attend, you will naturally begin to understand what’s important to you. This is the first step to creating your goals for the event. Once you find the right event, make a plan with your team.
Here are a few questions to ask when setting goals for your event:
- What needs to happen for this event to be considered a success?
- What metrics do we want to use to measure our success? (new leads, sales, awards)
- How many [insert metric] do we want to have at the end of this event?
- What can we do to help us reach our goal? (consider swag, gamification, raffles, demonstrations, etc.)
Always attend an event with goals in place. This is the only way to properly measure the event’s success.
How will you attend and engage at the show?
Planning for and attending an event is a large undertaking as a company. After you choose an event and set your goals, the next decision to make is: how will you choose to attend?
1. Be a major show sponsor
From the rented space to food to staffing, events and trade shows are expensive to put on. None of them would be possible without sponsors. One way to attend is as a major sponsor. Sponsors receive even more benefits than a normal attendee.
Many trade shows offer sponsorship tiers with benefits such as announcing your name as a sponsor, printing your logo on trade show advertisements, linking to your business, a bigger booth, and sometimes your own private meeting room at the event.
2. Rent a booth
A step down from show sponsorship, you could attend and rent a booth. A booth is your opportunity to network with event attendees who stop by. Brainstorm unique ways you can make your business stand out among the mass of booths to make the most of your presence. Consider these 9 creative trade show booth ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
How to create and manage a booth at a 3rd party show
Managing booths at 3rd party shows can be fairly complex exercise, it request you to first understand the specs of the event and what is included in the contract with the party. As an event planner one must plan for booth decor and branding, sales collateral, layout of the booth and logistics or getting the material in and out of both smoothly to deliver a seamless experience.
How to use Press releases to promote the event
You can also draft an official press release and announce your plans to attend the conference in an industry journal to let other partners, prospects, and customers know that you will be attending the conference. Press releases are distributed on a number of channels and that creates a lot of visibility for a business.
3. Guerilla marketing
Finally, you could choose to attend the event without renting a booth or sponsoring. There are still many benefits your business can gain with this strategy. A few examples include: leveraging your social media by sharing what you’re enjoying at the event or going live, creating an unofficial meetup for attendees at a local restaurant space, requiring all attending employees to wear shirts with your logo, networking with other attendees and looking for opportunities to introduce yourself. This is just a few opportunities.
Regardless of the level of involvement you choose, check out the awards being handed out to businesses at the event. How can you win one? Winning an award is a great way to stand out and receive more recognition. Don’t lose out on the exposure simply because you were unaware of the award opportunities at your event.
Preparing for the event goes beyond choosing how you will attend. You will also need to decide how to collect leads, which we’ll address next. But before the event, there is still a lot of marketing you can do.
Tell your social media followers and website visitors you will be at the event. If you are speaking, renting a booth, or hosting any extracurricular activities during the event, let them know. Give sneak peaks, behind-the-scenes insights, and entice people to find you at the event.
Collecting and managing new leads
While you may have many goals for your trade show, it’s likely at least one of them involves lead generation. One of the greatest benefits of attending a trade show or event is the number of new leads at your fingertips. In fact, 72% of exhibitors attend a trade show just to get new leads. Make the most of your time and money invested by going in with a plan for these new leads.
If renting a booth, your first step should be to make yours irresistibly approachable. Once someone has approached your booth, your goal should be to at least capture their contact information. Or even to close a sale immediately. From lead magnets to gamification to raffles, how will you capture contact information for these new leads?
Here are a few quick tips to jump-start your lead collection strategy:
- Keep it simple and easy: avoid pen and paper, how can you automate this contact information collection process?
- Automate as much as possible: have your post-event campaigns ready to go and be sent to all of your new leads.
- Play the long game: Don’t stop with one follow up after the event. Schedule several and remember 80% of sales require at least five follow-ups.
How do you typically move prospects down your sales funnel? Be sure to customize all marketing efforts for attendees of this event. Run campaigns that follow up and continue the conversation started at the event.
How do you set meetings for self and team?
The show organizers typically provide a process to collect leads at a show which is either through distribution a list of attendees post event or capturing contacts at the booth or in different type of networking events. Meetings can be set up before going to the event with a list of target accounts or prospects who you know are already attending and are in your database. You can also send emailers to your database and announce in social media that you are attending the event to capture more opportunities.
How do you connect with customers at the show or in the city?
When heading to a city for in person conference or event, you must generate a list of target contacts from your CRM and arrange 1-1 meetings that can be focused on the event or the nature of opportunities that you have for the contacts, the 1-1 nature of communication creates a unique both which can’t be replaced by virtual summits.
Market your business through events and trade shows
From new leads and increased exposure to demonstrating your expertise and learning opportunities, events and trade shows are a value marketing strategy for any business seeking to build their brand recognition and increase sales.
Still, choosing an event that matches your industry, company goals, and what you’re willing to invest is important. Create a plan to make the most of the opportunities available to you at the event and you can be part of the 99% of marketers that find value from trade shows.
How to do social media during a show
The brand marketing team typically promotes the events in your company pages and that is a great way to get your name out in the market, apart from that once you are at the conference or at a trade show, you can post about the show experience on social media channels and use the hashtag of the conference and reshare the post of others who are attending the conference
Show checklist for attending a customer conference or industry event
As for receiving date of conference – Sales rep send to Marketing when they receive the information
Date and location of conference
Sponsorship levels, number of attendees or speaking opportunity
Link for registration and any billing or Invoicing information
Show owner from sales team
Who all is attending
Once Conference attendance is approved – Marketing to notify the sales rep
CONFERENCE TRAVEL LOGISTICS
Register for conference
Forward registration, conference, hotel information to sales rep
Book hotel rooms
Set up touchpoints with Marketing & Sales Rep (monthly, then last month prior to event bi-weekly or weekly)
2 MONTHS PRIOR TO EVENT
Personalized invite email template for Sales
Create sign ups/appointment tracker
Sales Reps to start emailing customers to set appointments
Blog post about event if requested
1 MONTH PRIOR TO THE EVENT
Determine what collateral is needed and how many
Booth – what is the requirement – creative, table, chairs etc.
IF speaking, determine what presentation needs done, what customization
Request audits from the marketing team
2 WEEKS PRIOR TO EVENT
Attendee list distributed to Sales Team
IF speaking, presentation sent to Sales Rep
Collateral created and printed
Send shipment of material to conference location
Share the agenda and show plan with the sales reps attending the show
Create campaign in CRM (Salesforce)
AT THE SHOW
Ensure the booth is set up as per information received from the organizers and your teams
Spark an interest in passersby and drive traffic to your booth
Develop strong connections with visitors using interactive demonstrations, motion graphics, and live videos
Capture contact details and record them in a form to be added to a campaign
When the show ends, make sure booth material is shipped back
Sales Reps send leads to show lead in your company- list from show, business cards, etc.
Import leads into Salesforce & assign to sales reps
Post-Show follow-up to attendees met
Send Post-Show recap with Sales and Marketing teams
Send out post show surveys and collect feedback from those who met you
Managing an event or a conference requires a lot of planning and coordination, the whole process can be quite stressful with so many different moving parts and requirements. No two shows are the same and even a show which one has attended in the past might have new ideas and concepts getting introduced all the time. While all that is true, there is one thing which remains unchanged in all events, it’s the opportunity to connect with others, form relationships and bonds and networking opportunities.
So, the best way to manage or attend an event is to keep the goals in mind and then work backwards to drive the most value from the show. At Milestone, we have been running our customer conference ENGAGE and attending shows and conferences of our partners, despite all the coordination and effort, the end value of trade shows is invaluable. If you are planning to create your customer conference or want to know more about tradeshows and conferences you can reach our marketing department at [email protected]