Don't Stop Attending Trade Shows, Just Stop These 4 Things

Should I attend this year’s show? It’s a question more and more brand managers are asking themselves. The answer is simple: Don’t stop attending trade shows, just stop doing the wrong things at trade shows. Far too often brands look at trade shows as something they have to do, which leads to the dismissal of the idea that trade shows can be effective. Trade shows can become a huge piece of your brand’s success if executed properly.

The first place to start isn’t in coming up with a killer new trade show marketing strategy, it’s actually more simple than that. Trim the fat. There are a few critical things that your brand can STOP doing which will actually INCREASE your trade show ROI.

In this article we are going to discuss the 4 things to immediately stop doing at trade shows so that you can:

  • Spend more time executing the right tactics
  • Be more effective at trade shows
  • Generate a significant return on your trade show marketing efforts

Stop Deprioritizing Your Trade Show

Planning. Stop attending trade shows that don’t make sense for your brand.  Start attending the right shows. Once you land on the right trade shows for your brand, don’t deprioritize them. Make them a focal point. There are countless stories about companies who are using trade shows as a marketing tactic for their business, and don’t take time to properly plan for the shows. Using trade shows as a marketing tactic can be highly effective when executed properly. However, like all marketing tactics, a big factor in success is strategic planning.

Stop the following activities immediately:

  • Stop rescheduling your trade show booth planning sessions
  • Stop “do what we did last year” thinking – what you did at your last show is NOT enough for your next show
  • Stop letting your most junior people manage your trade shows with limited guidance from seasoned veterans on your team (who might be too busy to help with the trade show)

Start Strategic Planning Planning for Trade Shows Early

Anticipation. Anticipation, defined as “the action of anticipating something”. In an increasingly reactive business environment, companies are not putting enough emphasis on strategic planning. Companies are NOT anticipating what’s to come, and then planning for it to help shape it to your benefit. In order to get out of this vicious cycle, we have to take time to plan our activities. If you start early, and spread out the planning process over a few months prior to your trade show, you won’t feel rushed into decisions, leading to higher spend and usually lesser results.

Here are 3 tips to help jump start your strategic planning for an upcoming trade show:

  1. Pull together a team to manage your trade show booth – there should be at least one senior member of the team who has experience in running trade show marketing tactics
  2. Analyze what worked well vs. what didn’t work well at your last trade show – If this is your first attempt at trade show marketing for your business, attend other shows as an attendee first, before you spend big on a trade show booth for your business
  3. Write down your plan for how you will achieve success at the trade show – What are your goals and objectives for the trade show? What strategies and tactics will you implement to help achieve those goals and objectives? How will you measure success? What’s your future contact strategy for the leads you are collecting at the trade show?

Stop Competing on Spend

Don’t stop attending trade shows, but definitely stop competing on spend at trade shows. One of the ripples that we see when companies don’t take time to plan for an upcoming trade show, is that they fall back on what they know, which is competing on spend. The thinking is, “if we outspend other companies with booths at the trade show, we’ll attract more booth traffic”. That might be right, but will competing on spend help you achieve your ROI goals for your trade show?

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Trade show technology and marketing materials are critical to trade show success, but it’s about having the right marketing mix for your trade show. There is a time and a place to compete on spend, but for the majority of small-to-mid-sized companies, competing on spend at trade shows doesn’t provide the desired results. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to stop the trade show arms race that’s been going on between you and the other long-time trade show attendees. It’s important to stand out from the competition at trade shows, but you don’t always have to outspend the competition to capture more attention.

Here are 3 things to stop spending on at trade shows:

  1. Stop paying for so many people from your organization to attend the show. More people working the show doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results. Fewer, highly focused individuals with a single objective can do wonders for your trade show success.
  2. Stop spending so much on print at trade shows. Convert to digital. Digital trade show materials are more engaging for booth visitors, provide lead collection opportunities, can be re-used, are easily updated, etc. Your ROI will benefit from an investment in digital over print.
  3. Stop paying for trade show “extras” like lead collection lists just because everyone else is. You don’t have to pay for a generic list of attendees, many of whom might not have any interest in your company if you start building lead generation strategies into your digital engagement at your trade show booth. Use lead generation software at your trade show booth to collect leads from engaged trade show visitors of your booth. Those leads will cost far less and will have far more value than the generic attendee list.

Stop competing on spend, and start competing on thinking and strategy.

Start Competing on Thinking

Whether it’s lack of time or too many deliverables, oftentimes people do not allot enough time OR even skip right over the strategic planning phase of a project. We discussed the importance of strategic planning above, but we will go a bit deeper in this section.

When was the last time you took 30 minutes or an hour to truly dig into something, be it an upcoming project or an idea you had? For most, it’s probably difficult to remember the last time you had time to spend 30 minutes thinking about just one specific thing. You see though, that right there is how you win, because your competitors are also not taking time to think. To go deep on subjects. They are doing surface level work. If you only have time for surface level trade show marketing, then maybe it is time to stop attending trade shows. That said, if you truly want to win at your next show, you have to empower your people to go deep. Make sure they are taking time to think about deliverables, challenges, etc. When your team takes time to think through how to best win at trade shows the results from the ideas they come up with are going to  astound.

Stop Going to the Same Ineffective Trade Shows

Do you find yourself going to the same trade shows year after year? Is the ROI for having a booth at those particular trade shows is dwindling? Stop going to trade shows that don’t provide a strong return-on-investment. Trade show marketing can be fickle. Some years shows are great, and others not so much. Some industries the industry leading trade show is well worth the seemingly astronomical price for a booth at the show, while in other industries it’s much better to attend the niche shows because you cannot generate enough return on investment at the top tier trade shows.

Here are 3 things to ask yourself about the current trade shows you’re attending to determine if they are still viable for your organization:

  1. Are we generating a return-on-investment (how big of a return?)
  2. Are we achieving the goals and objectives for the trade show?
  3. Is the opportunity cost of attending one large industry leading trade show worth missing out on one or two more niche shows because of budget?

You have to find the right trade show mix for your company. One thing is for sure, if you’re not generating a return on your investment at a trade show…

…find new shows.

Start Attending New Trade Shows, Stop Attending Trade Shows That Don’t Generate Positive ROI

If the current set of trade shows are not generating the ROI you’re looking for, start attending new trade shows. Rotate annually. Find the ones that are really great for your business. Keep going to those trade shows, and continue to rotate to new shows, adding ones with similar traits to the shows that have become highly effective for your business.

Consider attending trade shows outside of your industry as purely an attendee (no booth) to see what you can pick up from those shows to bring back to your team for use at your trade show booths. Here are 3 benefits to attending trade shows outside of your industry:

  1. Provides a fresh perspective on how other industries are leveraging trade show marketing
  2. Allows you to experience the trade show as an attendee instead of an exhibitor
  3. Leads to new ideas to pull into your next trade show

Don’t Stop Attending Trade Shows, Just Stop Selling At Trade Shows

If you REALLY want to be successful at your next trade show… STOP selling! Use trade shows to generate leads for your business. Yes, sales do occur at trade shows, and when that happens, it’s a great bonus. That said, your trade show objectives should be built around sales. You want to collect leads that you can nurture and ultimately convert into new customers, partners, etc.

Attendees of trade shows go to learn and network, not to be sold. If there are interesting companies, products, and services that make sense for their business, they want to ENGAGE to learn more, not get a prescriptive sales pitch from a junior member of your team as soon as they step foot inside your booth.

Here are 3 ways to stop selling at trade shows:

  • Stop letting sales people manage your booth. Take the leads your team generates from the trade show and send them to your sales people to follow-up, but bring a different mix of folks to your next trade show. You might just see that a different mix of people creates different (positive) results for your trade show ROI
  • Stop tying success metrics for the trade show directly to sales AT the show (if you want to track leads from the show to determine if they ultimately become customers over time, which allows you can track trade show ROI, that is highly recommended)
  • Stop training your people to sell, sell, sell. Teach them to connect and engage with booth visitors so that they can ultimately convert them into a warm lead to bring back to your sales team.

Start Connecting

Trade shows are a place where you can connect with people from within your industry. Some might be potential customers, while others could be potential partners or even competitors. You are there to understand your industry, where it’s heading, and find people you want to do business with. It’s not about making a sale right then and there. It’s about connecting with people to determine if there is a mutual fit. In order to connect with people at trade shows, you must engage.

As we discussed above, trade show attendees are coming to trade shows to learn. For things they are interested in, they want to learn more. To foster that learning, find creative ways to engage interested attendees in your products and services so that you can start the relationship building process.

Connection is fostered when two or more parties have a mutual interest in something. In order to find out what that mutual interest is, you must engage those folks in conversations and activities centered around what your business does. As a result of your efforts you will end up with a longer than normal list of highly interested prospects that are now connected to your company. It will now be a much shorter and easier sales cycle coming out of that trade show.

Trade Show Marketing Effectiveness

Like any marketing tactic, the effectiveness of the initiative comes down to a number of key factors and decisions that were made leading up to the launch of the tactic, during the execution of the tactic, and as a follow up to the tactic. Trade shows are no different. In order to be effective at trade shows and generate a return on your investment you must stop:

  • De-prioritizing your show
  • Competing on spend
  • Attending the same ineffective shows

Trade show marketing can be highly effective when done right. Well thought out and tightly executed trade show initiatives will generate strong ROI for your company. Take some time to look at how you’re currently approaching your trade show activities to determine if there are any areas that can be improved. If you spend the time digging deep, I think you’ll like the results that trade shows can provide your business.