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There are two good reasons to participate in a trade show. The first is lead generation and the second is awareness.

A tradeshow might be part of your growth strategy by helping your sales teams to generate leads. It might also be viewed as part of your awareness strategy to attract alliances, partners, potential buyers, and to awaken new regions. Whatever your reason for participating, all of your tactical marketing efforts, including tradeshows, should consistently be maximized for greatest results and should be integrated into your overall marketing and business strategy.

Maximization, Integration and Consistency is a wise marketing mantra to follow.

  • Maximizing your investment, time and outcome means thinking about your tradeshow as a process - not a singular event.
  • Integrating it effectively means examining how it plays into your overall marketing mix - your advertising, direct mail, sales tactics and your overarching brand strategy.
  • Consistency is what creates credibility and awareness over time and helps you to drive sales, attract partners, alliances, investors and even high caliber employees.

Your tradeshow process should begin by asking yourself these four questions:

1. Why are we participating in this show? Or, what part of our overall strategy does this fulfill?

2. Is the projected ROI worth the investment?

3. What outcomes do we hope to derive from participation in this show?

4. How can we maximize the affect of these objectives - even if some of our targeted prospects never attend?

Your ROI* will be maximized if you follow these 5 steps:

Step 1) Pre-game promotion

Place a trade ad the month prior to show day. You want the ad to clearly communicate who you are and what you're promoting at the show. You will want your ad design to mirror the look of the booth as closely as possible. And you will want to create an "offer" driving them to your tradeshow - preferably via your website. The offer may be a free entry ticket that can be downloaded if they qualify themselves for you on-line, or a free latte at the show, or a down-loadable white paper, or entry into a drawing to win your product, etc. The appropriate offer for you to make will, of course, vary depending on your business' unique attributes including whether you are a services firm or a product manufacturer. You will want to be able to calculate the independent response to this piece of the process by re-directing visitors to a unique web address or a unique 800 response number in the ad.

Even if your desired attendee is a "no show" you have found another way to achieve your goals while creating awareness or potential lead generation in just this first step.

Step 2) Create Your Audience and Drive the Traffic

A targeted direct mail campaign will provide you with another, more focused, opportunity to meet your objectives for awareness and/or lead generation prior to game day. You should select a number of key targets that you want to focus on (100 per sales person is a solid average for manageable focused attention in most industries).

Repetition and personalization are powerful direct mail tools. One tried and true approach is to develop three salient messages. Focus on one message per mailing. (Given today's realities, unfamiliar envelopes may go unopened, a post-card series will work great!)

The first mailing should release the same week as the ad releases. The second postcard on the second week and the third postcard one week prior to game day.

Each card should have a consistent and integrated look, a unique message and provide a trackable response system as in the ad. You will want to make the same ad "offer", as well. Moreover, you will want to personalize a note on each of the mailings - this step will make the difference between causing pause and causing your mailing to go unnoticed! Again, if your targeted prospect never attends the show you have still managed to generate awareness, potential leads and a "warm call" environment for your salespeople.

Step 3.) Telelmarketing -- with Dignity

Based on the number of intrusive calls you get at dinner time, on the weekend, and even those obnoxious automated messages left throughout the day, telemarketing with dignity may sound like an oxymoron. It is not. The distinction is if your target audience is defined, they have likely seen your ad in their industry trades, they've received your mailers, they may have even heard of you before and they likely know of their industry's upcoming tradeshow. In other words, they already have some sort of a relationship with you. This is an appropriate and relevant call.

You can maximize this call by not only inviting them to the show but also by gathering valuable information from them that will help you qualify a potential sale. It offers you the opportunity to set up a 1:1 meeting. Or it may even be possible to close a sale on the phone, depending on your business, prior to the show. These last two highly desirable outcomes actually work even better if the prospect cannot attend the show.

It is highly recommended to put your sales professionals on these calls for maximum outcome.

Step 4) Game Day

It's showtime! Let's begin with maximizing your booth. There are a great many considerations such as booth size, show size, audience, venue restrictions and other variables too vast to detail in this article. Regardless, stay true to these three constants for success:

1. The booth graphics must be consistent - with your corporate look, your pre-game promotion ad, your traffic-driving direct mail campaign and any game day handouts. This enhances recognition value and creates credibility through consistency.

2. Key messages must first be developed and then produced large enough to be read-at-a-glance. Attendees are bombarded with information and are often intimidated to actually look dead on at your booth, or you, for fear of being "roped in". Visuals are ideal for messaging on booths.

3. It's useful to find out who is participating in the show at large and, specifically, who your neighbors will be. Yes, you can call ahead and introduce yourself as their Tradeshow Buddy" and build rapport while asking about their booth set up. Be perceived as a good neighbor and maximize both of your opportunities for visibility!

Step 5) The Follow Up!

A tradeshow is not typically the place for selling. If you are a manufacturer selling to retail then using the show to "write the order" is appropriate. In that case, your follow-up strategy would be a thank you note with assurance they've made a great choice. More often, however, the show will be used to meet as many people as possible being on the look-out for your top 100 targets and creating an open door to continued dialogue post-show. This is particularly true for more complex sales and service offerings.

It is imperative that you make follow-up notes for yourself on the back of each business card that you receive to maximize your post-show success. If for some reason you did not speak with the person (maybe they entered a drawing and just dropped a card in a bowl - which we strongly recommend you do not offer as your time is just too valuable to create non-qualified prospects) then place a question mark on the back of their card. Otherwise, note specific points of interest mentioned or conversation points that will trigger recollection, a feeling of familiarity and a more likely receptivity to on-going dialogue when you phone back. Follow up becomes much easier for you and much more meaningful for the prospect.

Lead generation and awareness come in many forms. Maximizing these opportunities is an art. If you follow these five steps, you will become such an artist -- and paint yourself a better bottom line!

*Calculating your ROI:

Your ROI can be measured by dividing…

a.) your investment (man-hours, booth costs - pro-rated by number of shows, hand-out costs, etc) by the number of leads generated
b.) the number of leads into sales
c.) the financial outcome anticipated by partnerships, alliances, investors, etc. attracted.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michele Lando, author, is a principal at Skilset Communications, Inc. and is a highly regarded speaker on brand-related subjects. Her company also provide marketing solutions, such as the The Skilset Tradeshow Package™. She can be reached at mlando@skilset.com or (626) 792.0032 x130.