Susan Friedmann
The Tradeshow Coach

Creating a Realistic Tradeshow Budget

Having a realistic tradeshow budget is crucial for your exhibiting success. It’s imperative to include all of the costs associated with exhibiting in your financial plan, yet many exhibitors fail to take this crucial step.

It’s almost impossible to realize positive ROI when you don’t know how much you’re spending -- and what you’re spending it on! If you ask most exhibitors what they think the largest expense associated with tradeshow participation is, chances are they’ll tell you the display space.

It’s true that exhibiting space is expensive. That 10X10 booth can set you back a pretty penny -- and price tags go up for larger spaces and prime locations. However, exhibiting space itself is generally only 30% of the total cost associated with exhibiting.

That 30% of your budget is fairly fixed. A fabulous negotiator might be able to get show management to shave a few hundred off the price of exhibit space, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Instead, you’ll want to concentrate on that other 70% of your budget. The expenses that make up the bulk of your participation cost are, to some degree, variable. They’re under your control -- which means, with time, planning, and oversight, you can keep them down. The lower your costs are, after all, the easier it will be to generate a positive ROI on your show!

The reality is, however, that most exhibitors don’t pay close attention -- or any attention at all! -- to some of the items that make up the remaining 70%. The cost of their show creeps steadily upward, bit by bit, as small charges mount up and up until they’re a sizable chunk of change. This is particularly common among new exhibitors -- although it also plagues seasoned pros who fall prey to the assumption trap. This is when an exhibitor assumes that things will be done this year the way they’ve always been done previously. Like all assumptions, this one can prove costly!

Here are some of the items that make up that 70%, as well as some thoughts on how to keep these costs manageable.

Display Materials
Your display can make your show: attractively presenting your merchandise in an eye-catching and innovative way helps capture attendee interest and draw them to your booth. However, you want to make sure that you’re not overspending on your display. There’s the initial cost of your display, not to mention the storage and maintenance expense. Consider renting or leasing a display (especially if you are a first-time exhibitor or only attend one show a year): you can often get a high level of customization while saving money and reducing headaches.

Shipping displays, products, promotional literature, giveaway items and all the other show stuff to the tradeshow can eat up a lot of money. Consider your shipping options carefully. Take the time to do some comparison shopping. Who can offer you the best deal and ensure timely delivery? It does no good to save money if your material arrives after the show closes. Often, shipping companies have experts on staff who can help your crew pack material in the most cost-efficient manner possible. Again, a minor point, but one that can save you big money.

Show Services
Read your exhibitor manual! In there, you’ll find information detailing how and when you need to sign up for show services -- items like electricity, floor coverings, and so on. The earlier you sign up, the more you’ll save. On average, costs go up by at least 25% for these services after the initial deadline passes. The closer you get to the actual show, the more you’re going to pay -- and if you forget about needing utilities until you arrive on the show floor, you’ll pay top dollar. This is one clear instance where planning ahead will save you a substantial amount of money.

Pre-show Promotion
Pre-show promotion is critical to your success. Show management often offers several free and low cost promotional venues: explore your options. This may include participating in a product display area, an Artist’s Alley, having your name included in category listings in the directory, website advertising and so on. Always consider: will participating in this effort help me reach the target audience I’m trying to reach? If you sell widgets and the show organizer is putting together a directory listing of Widget Sellers online and in the guidebook, and charging $35 to participate, it may be the best $35 you’ve ever spent.

Booth Staffers
Transporting, lodging, and feeding booth staffers can eat up a considerable chunk of change. Most people have a tendency to live a little grander when they’re on the company dime -- you know they don’t order the $65 steak dinner at home! Keeping your corporate culture in mind, you may want to introduce some restrictions into the booth staffing budget. Offering per diem meal allowances is one way, requiring receipts is another. Explore lodging options: some hotels offer convention specials if you can book early enough. Again, pre-planning is your best friend. Travel costs can fluctuate wildly, based on fuel prices and other variables beyond your control. Again, giving yourself enough time in the schedule to find good transportation deals can help control costs.

They say time is money. That’s certainly true when it comes to the tradeshow arena. By planning ahead and allowing yourself enough time to explore options, sign up for services, promote your participation, and other critical steps, you’ll be able to enjoy maximum results for minimal expense!

Athletes Train: Why Don’t You?

There’s nothing like watching an athlete at the top of their game -- the sprinter racing to the finish line, the star center sinking the game winning shot. They make it look absolutely effortless, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to perform that well.

Appearances can be deceiving. What you don’t see is the long, grueling hours of training and practice star athletes put in behind the scenes: the endless laps around the track with no one watching, the skill drills where that star player practices jump shot after jump shot after jump shot.

The same is true for exhibiting. The truly great exhibitors don’t just show up at the show and automatically know how to turn in a great performance. They’ve trained for the event, making sure that they’ve got a good grasp of the fundamental skills needed and the game-day strategy critical to ensure success.

What type of training routine does your exhibiting team have? Most companies, if they answered honestly, would have to say little to no time is devoted to practicing the skills needed to do a good job on the show floor. It’s assumed that the skills necessary to be a good salesman or manufacturer’s rep in the field will automatically transfer over into the show environment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Someone who jogs everyday, even if they run for miles at a time, does not automatically turn into a top-notch marathon runner. You can work out in the weight room twice a week at the gym. That doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near ready to go compete in Olympic level power lifting!

There are some essential differences between the everyday routine your sales reps face and the high-pressure intense situation they encounter on the show floor. From the extremely limited amount of time your team has with each attendee to the length of the event to the sheer numbers of people one talks to in the course of the day, tradeshows are a demanding event. One needs to maintain lightning quick reflexes like a boxer while performing for hours on end like a marathon runner. The only way to combine these two seemingly disparate skill sets is by training.

If you want your team to break the ribbon, bring home the gold medal, claim the trophy, then you need to provide them with the training and practice opportunities they’ll need to succeed.

This training takes place ‘behind the scenes’ yet yields very visible results. Sharpening skills for tradeshows will also improve performance in the everyday sales environment: active listening, for example, will help your team focus on the customer, truly understand their needs, and deliver accordingly. This will deepen and reinforce existing relationships, as well as make establishing new relationships easier -- after all, an existing customer will have no hesitation recommending a vendor who does so much for them!

For maximum results, training efforts should be consistent throughout the year, intensifying as major events draw closer. Consider having your own “Spring Training Camp” sessions before the exhibiting season begins, to refresh booth skills, learn new information, and familiarize your team with the product lines and demonstrations you’ll be featuring.

Spring Training is mandatory for the baseball crowd, and it should be mandatory for your team too! Nobody is too experienced, too important or too busy to do what is, at the core, the most important aspect of everyone’s job: focus on the customer. Additionally, training together can help form valuable team bonds, a critical resource when you’re functioning in a high pressure environment.

Many times, training is viewed as a valuable perk. This is especially true as the pool of employees skews younger: the folks entering the job market today tend to place a higher premium on knowledge for knowledge’s sake than previous generations did. They’re savvy enough to realize training comes with expectations of enhanced performance -- but they also continually cite chances for education and career skills development as one of the factors they consider critical when choosing employers. If retaining your most valuable asset -- your employees -- is important to you, that’s just one more reason to put training on the schedule.

To recap: training is essential to ensure top notch performance for your team. For maximum results, provide training that is relevant, consistent, and of high value. Everyone should participate, with a focus on educating your staffers and strengthening team bonds.

That way, when it’s time for your team to take to the field, they too will turn in a top notch performance -- and make it look like it’s the most natural thing in the world!

Betting on your Future? Not a Good Plan

Recently, the lottery in NY -- the state I call home -- reached a record jackpot, larger than ever before. When I penned these words, the grand total of funds just waiting to be won was over 340 million dollars. As you can imagine, this got people talking. Almost every local newscast covered the huge jackpot. People were lining up at convenience stores across the state, hoping against hope to cash in and win big.

This got me thinking about the two types of people: gamblers and planners. Both would like to have the big bag of cash, but they take different routes to achieve it. A gambler might plunk down a dollar -- or two, or twenty, or two hundred -- in hopes of winning big in a lottery, while the planner follows a less exciting route of saving and investing. At the end of the day, who’s more likely to have the big bucks? Chances are, it’d be the planner.

Tradeshow exhibiting works the same way. You can gamble on having a good show, approaching it in a frenzy because ‘everybody’s doing it’ and you’ve heard there’s big money to be had, or you can approach it methodically, making a plan, doing your research, and making those actions that are prudent and improve your bottom line.

Some gamblers win. That’s what keeps lotteries going, after all. Some exhibitors show up with only half an idea of what they’re doing, a horrible exhibit and only fledgling show skills, and yet still have a triumphant show. But the odds are against most gamblers. For every winner, there are thousands of losers. For every successful ‘We just wing it’ exhibitor, there are hundreds who look at the time and effort expended and realize they could have done much, much better -- if only they’d taken the time to learn what they were doing. Are you willing to take that chance?

I’m not much of a gambler myself, but even I know you should never lay money on the table without knowing what’s at stake. Ask yourself, what could happen if I leave my tradeshow performance to chance?

You could luck out and have a fabulous show.

You could also:

  • Miss out on great sales opportunities because your booth staffers didn’t ask the right questions.
  • Alienate would be buyers with pushy sales tactics, off color humor, or crass booth behavior.
  • Make any of a dozen common mistakes that cost companies customers.
  • Ruin your standing in the industry by appearing inept and poorly prepared next to your peers.
  • Discourage would-be partners from considering doing business with you: after all, you obviously don’t have your act together!
  • And even more!

Losing this wager doesn’t appear so inconsequential anymore, does it? When the real life cost of poor show performance is spelled out, the planning route suddenly becomes far more attractive.

Ideally, tradeshow planning begins twelve to eighteen months before the event. This is the best way to ensure your staffers know what’s expected of them, and have time to develop and practice the skills they need to do the best job possible.

What happens if you’re within that window? Do you just throw the dice and hope for the best?

You can: or you can choose to do the best you can in the time you have. Any preparation, even a few hurried hours before the event, is better than none at all. Obviously, the more you have, the better off you are.

Priority items to cover include goals and objectives: Why are you at the show and what do you want to accomplish? Go over qualifying questions: what type of attendees should your staffers be spending time with, and what type of information do you want them to collect. Establish a lead collection and follow up procedure to maximize your return on the show.

All of this is obviously a lot of work -- which is why the planner types start well in advance of the show. However, when you consider the alternative -- winging it through one of the highest profile marketing exercises you’ll engage in all year -- you’ve just got to ask yourself one question:

Do you feel lucky?

The Secret Weapon Every Savvy Exhibitor Should Use

It's time for a visualization exercise. Are you ready?

Picture this:

You're standing, with your booth staff, in your exhibit at a large tradeshow. This is one of the best shows you regularly participate in as it attracts a sizeable number of your target audience. Your team is prepared. Your display looks terrific. You've got interactive demonstrations, you've sponsored a speaker, and your giveaway items convey your marketing message, appeal to your target audience, and are in plentiful supply.

Looks good, right?

There's something in this scene, something I haven't mentioned yet, that could make it all even better. Something that will not only boost your ROI, but will create that most vital of marketing tools.

What is it?

It’s a secret weapon that’s more than come of age. In fact, it’s been around since the beginning of time but only now is it realizing its full potential. This build up and suspense is all about “word of mouth marketing” and how you can use it to your advantage on the tradeshow floor.

I've recently read Seth Godin's Flipping the Funnel, and it really brought home the concept of how underutilized tradeshow attendees are as a marketing tool. Attendees are more than prospects and contacts: they're a potential sales force, just waiting to be tapped on your behalf.

According to Godin, we should:

Turn strangers into friends.
Turn friends into customers.
Turn then ... do the most important job.
Turn your customers into sales people.

Why? Why would you want to recruit a whole bunch of amateur salespeople, you might ask, when you already have a perfectly competent, fully trained professional sales team? After all, you've spent considerable resources recruiting, training, and retaining your current team. Isn't that enough?

Frankly, no. Regardless of how big your sales force is, there's no way they're going to be able to connect with every person who might be interested in your products and services. Even working flat out, as Godin suggests, they're not selling as much as you'd like.

This is where your friends and customers enter the picture. If you view them as assets, as allies in the world of sales, you've already expanded your potential marketplace. When more people are working on your behalf, you'll reach more customers. It's simple mathematics.

There's another benefit as well. When your friends and customers recommend your products and services, their words carry far more weight than anything your sales team can say. People value the opinions of colleagues, peers and relatives far more than they do the assurances of a salesperson. It's the difference between editorial speech and advertising, played out in a face-to-face setting.

So Now What? Being convinced that recruiting tradeshow attendees to act on your behalf is one thing, convincing them to do it is another. According to Godin, we continually spend a tremendous amount of time and energy attempting to spread our marketing message to more and more people. This particularly holds true at tradeshows, where the focus is often on how to attract more people to your exhibit. As well as talk several people at once.

A slight shift in the priorities might be in order. While starting new business relationships will always be important, a new emphasis has been placed on strengthening and maintaining existing relationships.

Consider your current customers. Ask yourself -- or even better, ask them, how they feel about your products and services. How about your customer service? What makes doing business with your organization unique, enjoyable, and/or remarkable?

Whatever the answers, what are you doing to help your customers spread the word? Godin offers a number of technical solutions in his free e-book which I highly recommend that you read, but here are a few more hands-on tools to implement at your next tradeshow:

Be Honest

Tell your best customers how much you appreciate them and how much you would value having more customers like them. It's no secret that you're in business to make money. No one thinks you're at the show as a philanthropic endeavor. Appealing to your customers to spread the word carries with it an implied compliment: You're reinforcing the fact that you think they're important, by extension, that other people think they're important, and that their opinion of you matters.

Encourage Referrals

Do you know how often your customer thinks about your company? It's probably less than 1% of their daily life -- after all, they have their own companies to worry about, and their own customer base, not to mention their own personal lives and world events. Sometimes people need a little prompting to spread the word -- otherwise, it might never, ever occur to them.

Offer Incentives

If you want your customers to do something for you, you need to do something for them. Godin's idea is that by offering superior products and services, in a remarkable fashion, you'll transform customers into fans. Having strong advocates and supporters never hurts. Offering incentives for spreading the word can be a simple thing – an attractive discount on their next order, for example -- or something more elaborate. Remember, as tradeshow attendees skew younger, they may be motivated by more than financial savings or benefits to their company. Consider offering something more personal: a gift that would appeal to your target audience.

In Conclusion

Transforming customers into fans may not have been the top priority on your exhibiting list -- but it should be. Recruiting an all-volunteer sales force to augment your existing efforts is one of the most cost effective ways to get your marketing message out there.

Remember: people like to share stories about what they find good, interesting, or unique. By offering that at your next tradeshow, you're giving yourself a vital leg up on the competition -- those who are concentrating on the next new thing miss out on the value of what they might already have.

Niche Marketplace Demands Exhibitor Efficiency

Right now, the business world is a-buzz about Chris Anderson's latest book, The Long Tail. Even if you haven't read it, chances are you've heard of it: the best-selling business book that predicts the future of business lies in selling less of more. Niche marketing, Anderson posits, isn't just tomorrow's trend -- it's today's reality.

The idea has caught on, and in a big way. Many companies are entering niche marketplaces -- tailoring some or all of their product line to meet the needs and desires of a specific target audience. Doing so will allow companies to dominate certain segments of the marketplace, resulting in small but very profitable pockets of income. Perhaps your firm is doing exactly that. Perhaps they're about to.

What does this mean to you? Well, your marketing workload just got a lot heavier. Diversifying your product line into several niche markets can result in the following:

  • Increased number of brands
  • New and different target markets to attract
  • Increased number of product launches
  • Increased number of relationships that have to be begun and maintained
  • Constant need for new and innovative marketing campaigns to differentiate each individual brand

Does your head hurt yet? All of this is a LOT of work. You know how much time and effort you're putting into your current campaigns. Increasing that to accomodate the niche market strategy can put a real strain on your department, especially since, chances are, your budget did not get proportionately larger.

What can you do? The clear profit potential inherent in the niche model makes it irresistably attractive. However, to maximize the return from adopting this new model means that you'll have to take a good, long, hard look at your exhibiting practices. What worked yesterday won't work today.

For one thing, you won't have the money to do things the way you used to. Budgets never blossom as quickly as enthusiasm for new ideas. You'll have to do more with less.

In this new environment, the key to exhibitor effectiveness is efficiency.

It is crucial that you make the most of your limited resources to promote a wide range of niched goods and services. Applying this concept to the tradeshow environment means embracing the following six steps:

Step One: Do Your Research

At this point, researching which shows to exhibit at becomes crucial. You may be trying to attract many disparate target audiences. Are your interests best served by exhibiting at many smaller shows or one larger, national show? Make your selections based upon the size of the target audience you'll be able to reach. This may mean changing your showing schedule, forgoing some shows you've previously attended that do not focus on your target audience and exhibiting at some new shows that do.

Step Two: Create Unifying Themes

Marketing many disparate brands can present challenges. You want to highlight each line's unique features while reinforcing the parent company's positive image. Using unifying themes, either overtly or in a more subtle fashion, can help accomplish this. Pay careful attention to color choice, language, and more.

Step Three: Offer Educational Programming

Speakers, seminars, hands-on demonstrations and other educational programming are great ways to attract large numbers of your target audience all at once. You'll be speaking to many people at a time, delivering your marketing message in one of the most efficient ways possible.

Step Four: Raise Visibility

Explore sponsorship opportunities to raise your visibility at any tradeshow you're attending. This can be a very cost-effective way to put your name prominently front and center: in advertising, by underwriting the cost of speakers or programming, hosting hospitality suites, and more.

Step Five: Plan Ahead for Key Players

Most attendees are at a tradeshow for less than a day. With hundreds of booths to see and a limited amount of time, there's a real possibility that you might miss out on some great prospects unless you make an effort to preclude that from happening. Schedule meetings ahead of time with your best customers and key prospects. This way, you'll be assured of having at least some face time with them, and they'll know you value their business.

Step Six: Follow-Up Aggressively

All the work you did to prepare for and exhibit at a tradeshow is for nothing if you fail to follow-up. Yet this is where most exhibitors drop the ball. Make a plan covering how you'll follow-up with leads collected at the show, from initial thank you to scheduling sales meetings. Then stick to it. You'll be glad you did.

As you can see, the trend toward niche markets will necessitate some changes in how you exhibit. However, the core essentials of how you do business: focusing on the attendee's needs, qualifying questions, and an emphasis on follow up, remain the same.

Dirty Little Secrets: Five Things Trade Show Attendees Don't Want You To Know

Look at there at the show floor. Check out the attendees. They look ordinary enough -- but they have secrets. Dirty little secrets that they'd never tell anyone, not even under duress.

Successful selling at trade shows depends upon two things. One is your products and personnel: How good are your products and services, and how well do your people represent them. The second has nothing to do with you at all. It has everything to do with secrets.

Not all attendees are the same, and not every buyer on the floor shares these secrets. But most do, whether they'd like to admit it or not. These secrets are strong unifying factors that influence their buying decisions. If you, as a smart and savvy trade show exhibitor, know what these secrets are and tailor your exhibit appropriately, you'll come away with higher sales numbers every time.

If you could hear your attendee's deepest, most secret thoughts, they might go something like this:

Secret #1: We're impatient

Let's be real here. The boss just shipped me to Orlando from the middle of a Buffalo blizzard. The last thing I want to do is spend the entire day putzing around looking at new attachments for our Widget making machine. If you show me what I want, at a reasonable price, I'm gonna close the deal in a hurry and go hit the beach.

What this means to you: Understanding your buyer is crucial. When you know what your target audience needs, wants, and expects, it's easier to provide it for them. Added incentives and special savings only sweeten the pot, especially for the attendee who wants to get the business part of the business trip out of the way.

Secret #2: We're lazy

Sure, it sounds like a great deal. But to get that price, I've got to go log onto the web, go to the website, enter a code, fill out a questionnaire, and then go through the purchasing process? Forget that! I'll go over here to Vendor Z. I might pay a few dollars more, but I won't have to jump through any hoops.

What this means to you: If you're going to offer a show special or promotion, focus on making it user-friendly. Buyers are willing to pay more to avoid what they perceive as 'too much' work. Each market has a different threshold point, and this varies with how much potential savings you're offering. Customers are willing to give more when they are getting more in return.

Secret #3: We're Egotistical

You might not realize this, but I'm the smartest person here. And the tallest. And the best looking. I'm so gosh-darned amazing, actually, that you'll find yourself compelled to give me awesome deals.

What this means to you: It's important to give your buyers recognition. "Bonus Buys" -- windfall items 'spontaneously' thrown in when a purchase is made -- is a fantastic way to do this. Offer discounted prices on the floor model, for the 'serious buyers only'. Exclusivity sells.

Don't start the recognition at the trade show. Reach out to your clients before hand via e-mail and direct mail marketing, letting them know what special deals can be had at your booth. A little extra effort goes a long way.

Secret #4: We hate math

Ok, I don't want to look like an idiot here. But there's $25 off of Widget A, 15% off Widget A-1, and a $500 rebate if I buy now. Exactly how much is that? Is that a good deal? I hate percentages…

What this means for you: Remember the KISS acronym, especially when promoting discounts and sale prices at a tradeshow. You want to Keep It Super Simple! Rather than listing a complex set of discounts, focus on the total savings. Have printed price sheets where your booth staffers can highlight appropriate discounted prices and write in the total savings.

Secret #5: We liked to be pushed

I see that this price is only good for a limited time. I've read it on the sign. You've told me during the sales presentation. I know and understand that there's a deadline.

And you know what? Chances are I'm going to forget. And when I discover that I missed out on saving hundreds of dollars, I am going to be miffed.

What this means for you: People have to experience a piece of information six times before they remember it -- and that's in normal, everyday circumstances, not the hustle and bustle of the show floor. Remind your booth staffers to mention the deadline often. Make note of it on any follow-up correspondence, and send a reminder notice to likely prospects. The reminder nudge will spur sales.

Avoid Booth Staff Duds: Thirteen Essential Questions You Have To Ask

Booth staff selection is the single most important factor in your exhibiting success. More than graphics, signage, literature, giveaways, or any other variable, it is the people you put on the show floor that influence visitor's opinion of your organization. They are your ambassadors, representing your company for the whole world to see. It is impossible to stress enough how crucial your team is to your overall success.

To ensure a top notch performance, begin preparing your booth team four to six months prior to the event. You will need the answers to the following questions:

1. How many people are needed to staff the booth?

A number of variables need to be considered. How big is your exhibit? How long is the show? Will you need employees to give product demonstrations, work the hospitality suite, teach seminars, or supervise contests? Ensure you have enough staffing to have your booth manned at all times, while giving your team a break every four to six hours. No one can be 'on' for twelve hours at a time.

2. Who are the best people to represent the organization?

Working a trade show requires a unique mix of skills. You want employees with excellent product knowledge, superlative people skills, killer sales instincts, and a warm, engaging personality. These people should be motivated self-starters, able to think on their feet and work with little or no direction.

3. Has staff training been organized?

To ensure success, prepare your team with all the skills and tools they need. Training should cover assessing visitor types, asking qualifying questions, handling difficult attendees, lead generation and follow up, and many other factors.

4. Has a pre-show meeting been scheduled?

Pre-show meetings play a critical role in ensuring that your team understands their goals and objectives, expected roles and duties, and is adequately supplied with background knowledge to handle any unexpected surprises. Use this time to clarify any areas of confusion and to address any staff concerns.

5. Is the booth team familiar with the products or services being displayed?

To effectively sell products, you need to have thorough, complete product knowledge. Too many times, organizations send out rookie employees who only possess rudimentary knowledge. This is frustrating for attendees, who won't come back to find another employee who might have an answer - they'll go to the competition instead.

6. Has a practice demonstation session been organized?

Never assume that your employees know how to use the products that they sell. It is entirely possible that they are not completely familiar with every feature, especially if you are introducing a new product. Take the time to thoroughly train your team, and have them practice demonstrating the product to familiarize themselves with the show floor routine.

7. Will a technical representative be available to answer questions?

Depending on your product/service line, it may be entirely appropriate to send a technical representative to handle specific product questions. Train this person in the basics of salesmanship, but keep their duties largely relegated to providing technical answers. Make sure they are aware of the possibility of trade show espionage, to prevent them from sharing too much information.

8. Has a dress code been established?

Well before you arrive at the event, a dress code should be established. Uniforms may be appropriate for your company, but if they are not, clearly specify what you want your team to be wearing. "Casual business" gives far too much leeway. Instead, spell out "Black trousers or skirt, white shirt, black blazer, red tie," or the equivalent.

9. Have badges been ordered for all booth personnel?

Everyone on your team needs a badge to enter the show floor, access hospitality areas, and move freely about. Order these badges well ahead of time, so that any errors or omissions can be remedied in a timely fashion.

10. Do booth personnel have sufficient business cards?

It is amazing how many business cards you can hand out during the course of one trade show. Make sure your team is adequately prepared.

11. Has a booth schedule been planned?

A complete schedule will cover every moment from show arrival to departure. Include who will be staffing the booth, break times, technical support and assorted responsibilities. It may be a good idea to include 'check in' time into the schedule, so sales people acting as booth staff can check messages back at the home office and make needed phone calls. This will alleviate a great deal of staff anxiety.

12. Who will oversee booth installation and dismantling?

Often overlooked, these two items can quickly become logistic nightmares if no one is prepared to address them. Delegate two people to this detail. Many show organizers provide this service for a fee, but you may still want to have staff members on hand supervising.

13. Does that person understand the move-out procedure?

Someone has to arrange for moving the exhibit out of the convention center, ensuring it is properly packed, and coordinate shipping the whole thing back to the home office. Again, a team should be clearly delegated this responsibility, and provided with all the tools and resources they'll need to succeed.

Show Me the Money: Maximizing Tradeshow ROI

I hear it all the time: Tradeshows are a waste of time and money. We stand around, selling our hearts out, and what do we have to show at the end of the day? Nothing.

Well, that's the result you should expect, if you're like most exhibitors, and neglect the most crucial aspect of tradeshow participation: Follow Up.

What happens at the tradeshow is obviously import to your success, but equally important is what happens after the show ends. This is where most exhibitors drop the ball. Differentiate your company from its peers and wring the full value from your tradeshow participation. To truly benefit from all the hard work what went into exhibiting, must ensure that appropriate follow-up activities take place.

Follow Up Begins Before the Show

Research tells us that over 80% of leads gathered at tradeshows are never followed up. That's a phenomenal number, especially when each lead has the potential to generate profit for your company.

Why do so many leads fall by the wayside?

It's because show leads have a reputation for having no substance – they’re either just cold business cards or similar basic information imprinted on a company lead card. There's nothing there to give already busy professionals a reason to follow up.

Even if the salespeople do follow up, there's only so much they can learn from a business card or bare bone information. For salespeople to view leads as being worthwhile for follow-up, they need quality information.

For this reason, it is vital that before the show you spend time going over the lead collecting process. Clarify exactly what types of information should be recorded on lead cards. Explain the importance of the information you are gathering. Make sure everyone knows exactly how to operate the card readers and use the printouts and lead cards.

Everyone working the show should know exactly what results you want to achieve at the various tradeshows you attend. Each show should have its own set of specific, clear, quantifiable, realistic goals. These goals should be in line with your company’s overall marketing objectives.

These goals give staffers something to strive for, but they also serve as benchmarks to evaluate and measure team and individual performance.

Develop a Follow Up System

To achieve and perhaps surpass your specific goals, you need a follow up system. The best time to develop your follow up system is during the planning and training stage.

Use this time prior to the show establish how the leads will be handled. For example, select a team member to take responsibility for collecting all "hot" leads at the end of each day and overnight them to the home office for immediate processing.

Assign someone at the home office as a “follow-up” manager. This person takes charge of the entire follow-up process and should be someone who does not attend the show.Their job is to carry out the follow-up system that was established before the show.

Timeliness is of essence with all leads, not just the "hot" ones. Obviously you're not going to overnight every single lead back to the home office, but there are steps you can take to ensure you stand out from the crowd of exhibitors.

It is important to send something, such as a letter, email, or broadcast fax, to everyone who came by the booth to thank them and let them know when they can expect to hear from your company again. This should be done within three to five days after the show. Remember, if you don't follow up, your competitors will.

The Next Step: Accountability

Use contact management database programs to ensure your sales staff get leads that are as complete and useful as possible. Then, after leads are distributed, hold your account representatives responsible for the results.

There should be a written progress report from each salesperson at regular, predetermined intervals. This information can be used to track their performance, sales made, etc. Some companies use performance in lead follow up as one factor in a salesperson's annual performance review. Knowing that they will be held accountable for results is a powerful motivator.

Measuring results

At the end of the day, management wants to know their money was well spent. Keeping track of your leads will allow you to measure sales directly attributable to your tradeshow participation. Recording this data will allow you to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis of the show.

For example, you can calculate the return-on-investment to demonstrate to management the effect tradeshows have on the bottom line. To measure the cost per tradeshow lead, simply divide your total show expenditure by the number of leads gathered. To measure the cost per sale, divide the total show expenditure by the number of sales.

Qualitative data, such as types of prospects who visited the booth, dates and times of their visit, products/services of interest, buying intent, and results of any pre-show promotional activity often proves invaluable when planning future show participation.

The key to tradeshow success is wrapped up in the lead management process. It starts with knowing at the outset what you want to achieve, then continues through establishing a strategy that is user-friendly, and finally the actual follow-up operation leads to bottom-line profitability. With a little forethought and planning the results will speak for themselves.

Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. Author: "Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies," and "Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market" (May 2007). .

Many more articles in Sales & Marketing in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2007 by Susan A. Friedmann. All rights reserved.

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