Preparation is Key to Tradeshow Success

We’re doing a little tradeshow work and thought revisiting this blog from our archives (written by Rita Ortloff, our former Marketing Manager) would be appropriate. We’ve updated it with a few new links-

I am well aware of the painful bite that a tradeshow can take out of a marketing budget. But I also know that, as much as I love a business world that has evolved to include web-based meetings and telecommuting, there is something to be said for meeting face-to-face with others in your industry. Nothing can take the place of it. Tradeshows matter.

Still, the dollars required to travel to (and attend) a conference can be staggering… which is why it helps to prepare in meaningful ways so that a show provides a real and measurable return on investment. Otherwise, you return from a whirlwind week of handshaking with nothing to show for it but a handful of business cards and jet lag.

Step #1: Prepare

At Initial Call, we recommend you start with pre-show preparation. Most forget this simple step. Make a list of your goals for the show. Are you there to gain clients? Meet suppliers? Spy on your competition? Although tradeshows are great places for chance meetings, we suggest you make calls prior to the show to set up meetings during the event. Even if it’s just a quick stop by the booth to say hello, having pre-scheduled appointments makes your tradeshow efforts intentional. Too busy just trying to get yourself to the show to worry about calling? Hire an outside firm to handle this for you. Initial Call does this sort of work all the time with great success.

Step #2: Work the show

This part is what we think of when we think of tradeshows: standing in your booth shaking hands with everyone and feeling like a desperate politician. But this part matters. Have accessible handouts that are simple to read with clear ways to reach you after the show. Some shows work better if you have a gimmick. A prize or fun chachkies to hand out are always good. But here’s the real kicker: have a system for following up with any potential leads. Whether it’s separating those promising business cards from the rest, or marking them in some way, make sure you have a method for finding those leads after the show! Otherwise what’s the point? In addition to manning your own booth, get out there and walk the floor and meet others. The same rules apply: have a system for logging and following up with any leads you may encounter.

And finally, Step #3: Follow-up.

After days out of the office at a tradeshow, it’s easy to let that envelope full of potential leads grow cold while you’re dealing with everything you missed while you were gone. However, this is a huge cause for missed opportunities. Make a commitment to reach out to those leads immediately when you return. If your business is such that you simply cannot spend the time following up, we recommend you hire an outside firm to do this work. Simply adding the names to your database and following up with a phone call dramatically increases the likelihood that your tradeshow investment will pay off. And isn’t that what tradeshows really are, an investment?  Make sure the next show you attend is a success!