Trade shows can be totally worth it-if you know how to work them. I'm anal retentive so I try to make sure that my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, chooses the trade show that will get us the coverage we need, does signage right, has the proper location and enables us to effectively follow up.
How do you know what's right for you?
When we choose a trade show or convention, we try to look at it from a few perspectives: Is the target audience right for us? How close is it to where we're located? How many people will we need to man it? Or is this a strategic move?
First, we look at the target audience. You'll usually get information about attendance in the sponsor or exhibitor package. If our target is small business or retailers and that's what makes up the majority of attendees, generally it will pique our interest. Then we look at how many people are attending. If it's a free event, there will probably be a ton of people there, but they may not necessarily be qualified. If there's an entrance fee, even a small amount, chances are they'll be more qualified. We also generally look at how many leads we'll collect. If a trade show is $500 to sponsor, we know we'll need to get a few paying customers at the event in order to cover costs. If it costs us $10,000 to sponsor, we know we'll need a whole lot more so we back into the equation.
If it's our target audience and held in our backyard, then this isn't a long conversation; we're one step closer to a yes. Now we look at how many people are going to be attending and how many people from our team are needed. If we can capitalize on sponsoring a happy hour or something where we can get our people in front of new folks, that might make more sense.
If our goal is to form a strategic partnership and there is a show where we need to spend a bit more money to get in front of companies we might not be able to otherwise, we're all for it. We get great exposure, and since partnerships are more long term, that justifies the higher upfront spend if we seal a deal due to a connection made at a particular event.
We make sure that we take the leads we get from these shows and put them into a separate list and begin the marketing. We thank people for stopping by and talking to us, and we give them free information that helps them do their jobs better. Things like webinar invitations and downloadable guides are a great way to get people to sign up for your service to check your services out.
Trade shows and events can be fun, but don't forget: Just like any marketing strategy, you should have an end goal in mind. Make the goals clear to your team so that expectations are set, and then regroup after each event to see what worked and what didn't. (One time we handed out fancy cupcakes at our booth - people were so busy eating, it made for some pretty awkward conversations. Never again!)
What have your trade show experiences been like?