Becoming an exhibitor at an industry trade show or conference can be quite expensive. Try these top tips to make the most of your marketing return on investment (ROI):

Before the Show:
Carefully select the shows you will participate in - Are show attendees really good prospects for your services or products? Remember, it's preferable to have a lesser number of highly qualified leads at a conference than a large amount of those that don't fit the profile. Set goals - You must know what you hope to achieve in order to gauge your success. Sales, management and marketing should all be part of the selection of top goals for an exhibition. Plan in writing - The overall plan should include an agenda with tasks designated. Make sure your managers have signed off on your plan, and don't procrastinate until the deadline looms. Create a primary message - The best exhibits illustrate a single message very well. This strategy works better than the frazzled image presented when businesses try to do too much.
Design an attractive booth - To draw attendees into your exhibit area, make sure it isn't blocked. If you have enough room, offer comfortable seating to encourage visitors to stay a while. Sharp graphic design and compelling headlines entice prospects to swing by for more info.
Invite known prospects - Before the show begins, send mailouts to your lists, including free passes to the exhibition. Trade show managers usually provide these passes to exhibitors. Just before the time of the event, call out to your invitees to remind them to come by to visit, offering a good reason to do so.
Merchandise your participation - Offer a complimentary show pass with your correspondences. Add taglines to your outgoing emails, for example, "Come by and visit us at Booth 215 at the Exports Expo. Just ask us for a free ticket to the show floor." Send invitations to important reporters, offering to schedule interview slots with your key staff members. Include an article in the company newsletter which lists the conference and trade show schedule as known.
Train exhibit staff - Staff members must understand what their roles are and what they will need to do in order to get the best ROI on the show. This includes the detail of information about new news products and services, along with the overall company objectives. Create a custom lead form for staff to offer, which includes qualifying questions for your prospects.

During the Show
Create a booth identity - Consistent uniforms identify your staff members. You can create traffic-building recognition through pre-show mailouts which are in the same style.
Live demos - Demos attract people to your exhibit and teach them more about the offerings of your business. This is also a great way to communicate to a larger number of attendees at the same time.
Record prospect information - Remind booth staff that the main objective of the show is to generate sales leads. Ask that employees record what they come to learn about the problems and needs of the visitors who come by. Be sure they understand the importance of collecting contact info when possible, even offering incentives or rewards to those staff members who collect the most leads during the event.

After the Show
Send materials immediately - Follow-up information should be ready to send out before the show even begins. When requested, fax, mail, or email material to new leads immediately. Quick response time creates the opportunity to get a step ahead of your competitors.
Help prospects take the next step - Be sure that the info you send out shows respondents what the next step is, and what to do to take it. This includes listing all the possible ways that they can contact you.
Follow-up - The primary objective is to create winning relationships and continue to qualify your prospects. Offer them something of value in exchange for more information from them about their situation and needs. This could be a paper, a guide, or an invite to a conference or webinar.
Track leads to the sale - Did your prospects make a purchase? How much was it? Use this info to illustrate ROI to business management, in order to increase the chances of getting conference budget approval the following year.
Complete an evaluation - Take a look back after each event, and think about what worked and what did not. Collect constructive criticism about the event and ask sales staff and others about their impressions and observations. This kind of feedback will assist you in maximizing the benefit of shows in the future, including the overall return on your marketing budget.

About the Author
H. "Mac" McIntosh is described by many as one of America's leading business-to-business marketing and sales consultants and an expert on sales leads. He is president of Mac McIntosh Inc., a sales and marketing consulting firm that helps companies get more high-quality sales leads and turn them into sales.

Posted by Mac H. MacIntosh


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