A Timeline for Year-Round Trade Show Visitor Engagement
The companies that fare the best—and maximize their ROI—at a trade show are those that realize that simply showing up just isn’t enough. It’s the interactions and connections made before, during and after the show that can take your show results from ho-hum to stellar.
Here are five ways you can develop an engaged audience:
1. Three Months Before the Show
Get the Word Out
To create an action-oriented plan, look at the whole communications picture – advertising, online marketing, media relations, and public relations. Make sure your message aligns with your overall marketing strategy and clearly explains how your products or services can benefit customers and prospects. Including value-added and competitive information—such as research data and comparisons—will help audiences solve specific business challenges. Always communicate user-benefits rather than self-serving propaganda.
Lay the Groundwork for Show Site Visibility
Take a look at what sponsorship opportunities are available at the show to help boost traffic to your booth and buzz around your participation.
You might also think about getting involved with the conference agenda itself. Ask for a meeting with the show organizer to discuss using one of your management VIPs or industry experts as a speaker at the event. This is a great way to earn exposure at the event and send people to your booth to learn more.
2. Thirty Days before the Show—Incentivize on a Digital Platform
Using social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, communicate with customers and prospects online about your show. The same guideline applies here too—nix the self-serving propaganda. Instead, repurpose the value-added information you develop for your communications plan. Try using incentives like special show pricing, access to exclusive research or information, a contest, or an in-booth gift or activity that provides a meaningful experience to prospects. The more informational your content, the more engaging your digital messages will be. Wrap up each message with a call to action – “Visit us at [booth #] at [trade show/hashtag].” Don't overlook putting this information on your company’s website either.
3. Three Weeks Before the Show—Build Quality Traffic
Purchase the attendee list from the show organizer and use email or direct mail to invite visitors and make appointments. Include your own customer and prospect list as well. Share your incentives, value-add information, sponsorships and speaking opportunities with attendees. Communicate the rich experience they will have by visiting you at the show.
Contact the show organizer to obtain the media list of those confirmed to be at the show and reach out to the press with news and information about your company. Make appointments with press representatives for management VIPs and specialists.
4. Three Days at the Show—Engage!
You’ve put in a significant amount of time and money into the show, now staff performance will have a significant impact on your overall success. Plan to have an all-staff meeting before the show opens.
Clearly articulate the criteria your sales team should use to qualify visitors and determine whether they are high-quality leads. Develop a protocol for ensuring a smooth process when VIPs show up. For “tire-kickers”, or unqualified visitors, provide the sales staff with tips on how to disengage with them politely, but quickly (See MC2 Insights: How to Get Out of a Conversation). Get staff excited – make it fun, but ask for a personal commitment to reach preset sales goals. An incentive program will encourage your sales team to attain those goals.
Now that all the pieces are in place and the exhibit “machine” is in motion, be sure to use social media—particularly Twitter—to share all the excitement you have created. As always, sign off with booth number and show hashtags to reach your audience.
To prepare for the next ten months, take action at the show to be sure the leads you collect are as qualified as possible. Clearly annotate leads by listing the actions needed to “nurture” them into qualified prospects. Rate them based on your sales and closing criteria to ensure the “hottest” leads get immediate attention.
5. For the next 10 Months After the Show—Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
Communication with customers and prospects shouldn’t end when the trade show closes its doors. The show itself is just the starting point for many sales, which could happen months later.
Organize all of your show contacts into a centralized database to facilitate regular, ongoing communication. For example, add your contacts to your distribution lists for company announcements, media mentions, or relevant news that pertains to their business.
According to a recent study from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research called “What Attendees Want from Trade Exhibitions”, 69 percent of attendees report that their reason for being at a trade show is to shop for business solutions.
What more important reason for year-round engagement than knowing your trade show lead could well be in the market to buy?