04003 Trade Shows: Maximizing ROI

In the previous topic I covered how to estimate the return on a trade show, in order to determine whether or not to use a show in your marketing plan. If your company decides to exhibit at a trade show, your top priority is making certain that you get the most return on your investment (ROI).

Product Managers can play a pivotal role in maximizing this return, because of the nature of their position. When they man the booth, they approach the show from both a tactical and strategic standpoint. They help keep the sales reps honest – literally – when they describe the product and gather and qualify leads.

A Product Manager can be a focal point for such details as lead collection, presentations, and setting up meetings with partners, analysts, and the press.

Read on for some tips on how to get the most out of a trade show.


Target the Right Show

Making certain that you select the best show or shows to attend is the crucial first step to getting the most from your trade show money. Everyone in the industry, and in the general public, has heard of the huge shows in Las Vegas and New York that draw incredible crowds and feature amazing new products. But unless your product sells to consumers (like online address books) or across all business users (like online scheduling), you’re wasting your time at the big shows.

Look for the shows, often quite unglamorous, that target your specific market: banks, manufacturers, construction companies. Ideally, look for shows that target owners of companies in your target market: auto dealers, restaurant owners, store owners.

Target the Right Prospects

Attendees at a show often break out into different segments: executives, marketeers, line managers. Your promotional efforts and message should target the specific segment you most want. Look for giveaways and presentations that will draw your ideal segment.

Exhibit With Partners

You may be able to share a booth with partners, or exhibit within a booth hosted by a partner, especially if you’re a small company and the partner is much larger. This can save the cost of booth space and possibly even exhibitor and attendee passes.

Booth Babes and Booth Nazis

Lots of people can picture “booth babes” in their minds. These are the lovely women whose charm and appeal are supposed to attract distracted and bored businessmen to the booth. I think that whole approach works better with, say, cars than software.

But not many people know about the “booth nazi.” That’s the person who is in charge of maintaining schedules (making sure the booth is covered), processes (making sure leads are correctly recorded, qualified, and collected), and decorum (no food or drink in the booth). Guess who’s the perfect person to do this? That’s right, Product Managers, because they’re familiar with the processes and the goals they serve. And they’re more disciplined than all those happy-go-lucky sales reps.

In a large enough trade show effort, your company may hire someone to be the booth nazi, relieving the Product Manager of that burden.

Set the Tone

Start the show with a meeting of all participants one hour before the exhibit hall opens. Explain Da Rules to everyone: be there when you’re scheduled, no massing around the booth (don’t be there when you’re not scheduled), follow the process to collect leads and don’t keep them for yourself, how to work the equipment and demos, no eating or drinking, hide all coats, briefcases, etc. It doesn’t hurt to remind people how expensive the whole venture is.

Collect the Leads

The most efficient way to collect leads is using preprinted forms (helped by electronic scanners if the show provides them). Design these forms as an easy guide to any person in the booth to have a structured conversation with someone who stops by. Put in the key questions that will allow Marketing and Sales to judge how qualified the lead is.

Don’t forget vital questions such as “Who at this company should we talk to about this product?”

Weave a Tangled Web

The previous topic covered some of the various activities beyond manning a booth that your company can engage in to bring in the desired leads and contacts. Above all, these activities must be coordinated in such a way that they complement each other and reinforce your product’s presence and message.

For example, if you have a booth, do a direct postcard mailing to the attendees ahead of time, letting them know about a drawing for some cool giveaway, if they come to your booth and register. And tell them to bring the card itself to get an additional giveaway – it’s a way of measuring the response to the mailing.

If your company is presenting at the show, advertise the presentation at the booth, and perhaps conduct the drawing, from entries submitted at the booth, at the end of the presentation.

If you sponsor a function or giveaway, provide the message about the booth, the drawing, and the presentation.

The point is to continually reinforce your message and presence with each activity. Like advertising, a potential prospect may have to hear about you several times before taking an active interest.

Drag People to the Booth

It’s hard to get traffic to your booth because people don’t want to be jumped on by eager salesmen of a product they don’t know they want. But you don’t have to limit your efforts to bringing in total strangers.

Before the show, have your sales reps get in touch with some of the prospects in their pipeline to find out if they’re attending the show. If they are, it’s a good reason for the sales rep to attend, and to set up an appointment to meet with the prospect and bring them to your booth. This turns your trade show time into productive meetings to move prospects further along the pipeline.

You can check the attendee list a couple of weeks ahead of time to see if any prospects are planning to be there.

Prep For All Eventualities

While sales reps in the booth will be focused on sales leads, the show can provide other returns for you: press and analyst visibility, alliance prospects, meetings between company execs.

Provide clear instructions to all show attendees on how to route each type of lead, and what the end goal is. For a journalist, you might want to aim for a brief interview with the VP of Marketing, face-to-face at the show or by telephone next week.

Scout Out Information

One of the best things about a targeted trade show is that you can get a view into what your competition is doing, because all your competitors will be there. This is also an opportunity to seek out potential partners for joint marketing or development efforts.

Attend as many of the presentations aimed at trade show attendees as you can. After spending all the money so far, spend the extra so that at least one person has a badge that lets them in to the presentations and panel sessions. If your company has an employee with a unisex name, like Pat or Dana, register the attendee ticket in that person’s name, and it’s all that much easier to share the badge between you.

It’s a Constant Effort

A good ROI from a trade show is never certain. It requires steady promotion before the show, during it, and thorough followup on leads and appointments afterwards. You need to be full of energy and constantly “on stage” to attract suitable prospects. You may need to change your focus during the show if you discover that a particular approach is working unexpectedly well. By covering all the bases, you maximize your chances for a good ROI.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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