By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Although just one component of the marketing mix, tradeshows can drive sales and build market share in an efficient, effective manner while building brand equity for your company, products and services.
With proper event selection, planning and execution, tradeshows offer a unique and lucrative selling environment by providing access to a captive audience of prospects under one roof.
Tradeshow experts agree that while attendance may be lower than in past years, people who attend in this down economy are there with a specific purpose and mission. They often plan in advance which exhibits they will visit, and when they stop at booths, their objective is to learn and gather information to spur buying decisions. Attendees' interest is high and their quality and buying authority is stronger than ever.
Face to face interaction is what makes tradeshows work. You and your staff have opportunities to meet customers, key prospects and even potential sales agents and partners in person. And compared to other selling tactics, you can show off your organization better and communicate in a more personal business setting in a tradeshow milieu.
Tradeshows provide attendees a visual way to learn about your company through your booth display and create a way to accelerate the sales process by matching prospects', potential sales representatives', sales agents' and partners' needs with your company's ability to fill them.
Tradeshows sometimes get a bad rap because they can be expensive, require significant logistical work, and fail to generate leads or tangible return on investment (ROI). This typically occurs when companies participate in events without mapping out a clear strategy. It's not just about reserving exhibit space, making travel reservations, ordering show services and giveaways, and shipping and setting up the booth.
Having a strategy in place sets your company on the path of making tradeshows a valuable marketing tool. A number of steps must be taken to ensure tradeshow success.
First, define an annual event strategy that supports your corporate goals. Perhaps you will want to use tradeshows to support achieving your sales and revenue targets, to increase company awareness and sales in a particular industry vertical or market segment, to launch new products or services, or to help reach your objectives in terms of bringing on new sales representatives, sales agents or sub-ISOs.
Next, identify and evaluate various tradeshows to assess which ones provide the best opportunity to achieve the strategy you've defined. Conduct research to locate the market verticals you'd like to attack. Talk to your best customers and check out your competition to see which shows they attend. Then analyze demographics to determine if a particular event provides a solid target audience for your efforts.
If building your sales or sales agent team or taking on sub-ISOs is a big component of your annual strategy, consider exhibiting at the Electronic Transactions Association's Annual Meeting & Expo, as well as the quarterly regional acquirers meetings.
If generating merchant leads in a particular market segment is a top priority, research and attend shows within those industry verticals.
For example, if you're targeting petroleum and convenience store merchants, consider exhibiting at NACStech, which is the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing's major show, and some of the related regional or state shows.
If your company is recommended or endorsed by a particular business group or association, consider exhibiting at any of said organization's events. If exhibiting seems overwhelming or too expensive, seriously consider having one or more members of your sales team attend to network, generate leads and canvas the show floor for business and competitive intelligence purposes.
Once you've firmed up your show list, allocate your budget and create goals and objectives for each event you plan to exhibit at or attend. Ultimately, your event strategy should drive everything you do for each of these events in the tactical phase.
To begin the task of tactical planning for each event, give attention to your exhibit space, as it is the centerpiece of your tradeshow presence. Think of it as a portable, temporary office with the purpose of attracting an elite set of shoppers. Use professionally designed graphic images; your exhibit serves as a billboard for your company. Signs and advertisements need to be easy to read and understand, and they should properly reflect your brand image and event messages.
Exhibit structures can be large, lavish and expensive, but spending lots of money is not mandatory. Many cost-effective booths are available for purchase or rent, and even using small tabletop displays or simply utilizing banner stand signage can create a favorable impression of your organization.
The next step is to develop a promotional plan based on your event goals. Spend as much of your exhibit dollars and resources as you can on the sales and promotional efforts at your booth. This is where you will realize the greatest benefits from your efforts. Define what to promote so that preshow, at-show and post-show tactics effectively communicate your company's brand and messaging.
Event tactics should support your tradeshow strategies. There's a lot to consider, decide and tackle in this step: executing pre- and/or post-show direct mail or e-mail campaigns; creating an event Web micro site; developing advertising, press releases and collateral materials; facilitating crowd enticers though giveaways, door prizes, contests and drawings; holding private meetings or lunches and dinners; securing speaking opportunities; preparing product demonstrations, presentations and videos; determining how to qualify leads; the list goes on and on.
The key is to develop memorable promotions that can be executed to realistically achieve your event goals within your established budget. Again, if you're on a tight budget, the best area to concentrate on is planning and preparing your sales and promotional efforts.
Don't forget the important step of defining metrics so you can measure tradeshow results against your goals while justifying event activities and expenses. Some of the questions you should answer in the process of defining metrics include:
Some metrics you may want to define and track include booth traffic, sales leads, cost per lead, brand exposure, media coverage and estimated ROI - if you know how many qualified leads it takes to make a personal sales call and then turn those into a closed sale.
Take exhibiting seriously because your company's brand, image, reputation and overall business are on public display. Put your best salespeople in the booth. Preparation and planning are essential, but booth staffers make or break the event and are the key to your success.
So provide preshow training covering event goals, expectations, responsibilities, and rules and behavior. Teach booth staffers to listen to people as they visit your booth and how to quickly qualify or disqualify them as prospects. Prepare succinct messaging about your featured products and services so staffers can successfully deliver these messages, handle questions and concerns, and identify opportunities while differentiating your company from the competition.
Identify in advance key customers that will be attending, and prepare to engage them in some way. Determine the hottest prospects in advance, and set appointments to meet them. Instruct staffers to accurately record information so sales opportunities can be followed-up on, and - this seems intuitive but is often forgotten or neglected - make sure to follow up on show leads in a timely manner. Finally, you'll want to measure and evaluate results in a post-show report and make recommendations for future improvement.
Now is a good time to make sure your tradeshow strategy, plans and goals are in place for the coming event season. Remember, companies that continue to market themselves in down times are the ones that capture the largest "share of mind" when the economy turns around.
People remember and like to do business with companies whose products and services are visible. Tradeshows offer an effective means to keep your business top of mind while furthering your business goals.
Peggy Bekavac Olson recently founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payments companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS Acquiring Solutions for more than five years. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or email@example.com. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.
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