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Make Your Next Tradeshow a 'Qualified' Success

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In this article, you'll learn how to...

  • Effectively attract and engage qualified prospects at your next tradeshow
  • Identify and handle those not likely to become customers
  • Get your team poised for sales success at your show booth

We've all read about the business benefits of face-to-face interaction: It creates personal connections, builds trust, and fosters engagement. Tradeshows are one of the most common—and successful—examples of face-to-face interaction because they allow for a brand to connect with a high number of customers and prospects at once.

However, it's unrealistic to expect that just because you have an exhibit at a show you'll be flooded with hundreds of qualified leads. Real effort needs to be expended to ensure you spend time with the right people—and know how to disengage with the wrong ones.

The good news is that achieving that goal is simple: Just develop and implement a thorough qualifying process for all booth visitors. Here are a few tips you can use for your next show.

1. Identify the ideal customer

Every tradeshow attracts a spectrum of attendees, but not every single one of them is a target for your business. Recognizing that and understanding the attributes of your ideal customer are critical to ensuring that you channel your valuable time and marketing dollars toward prospects who are likely to result in real business.


Start by building a profile of your ideal customer several months before the show's doors even open. Perhaps he or she works for a company you've been targeting for years, has a specific title that gets you beyond the decision maker you currently work with, or is part of a new market sector where your company is looking to grow business.

Most events give exhibitors access to lists of registered attendees and provide a breakdown of business category, job title, and purchasing authority. Take advantage of that gold mine! Merge the information with your company's internal sales database to create a master list that will serve as the foundation for all of your pre-show and post-show marketing efforts.

2. Dangle the carrot

Now that you've identified your top prospects, you need to get them interested in who you are and what you can do to help their businesses. That can be a challenge, since there may be hundreds of other exhibitors vying for their attention during a very short time frame.

Start by understanding the attendees' motivation for attending the show. Tap into your sales team for insight into key business issues that prospects may be facing, and combine that knowledge with general challenges confronting the industry you serve.

Make sure that the tools you use to communicate with customers before, during, and after the show contain messaging that clearly demonstrates how your company can help them resolve their problems. You can also consider offering special incentives that attendees can't find elsewhere at the show, such as special pricing or market research.

The bottom line is that attendees will give their time in return for something of value—communicating that value is the key to a successful program.

3. Train the sales team

Effectively engaging key prospects and customers onsite is another critical step in maximizing event return on investment (ROI). Part of that is identifying the employees that will be the best representatives for your brand and putting them front and center in your booth. Offer incentives to maximize their performance, and task them for a specific level of interaction. Practice "prospect hand-offs" so visitors experience a logical and comfortable series of encounters on their quest for information.

Reviewing responses to anticipated questions about your product or service and being aware of the weaknesses of competitive offerings will ensure that conversations are guided in a positive direction.

4. Qualify through data capture

Developing an effective process to capture data is essential. Whether you choose to make that process fun with giveaway drawings or educational with an interactive game, collect the vitals—name, rank, and serial number—as soon as visitors begin their experience at your booth. Every name you collect at a tradeshow can be valuable. However, make sure to train your staff to quickly identify qualified decision-makers with the help of a script; there is no time for casual conversations that don't lead to some form of business transaction. Of course, if you are looking to build a personal connection with a good prospect, make the time investment.

Your script should also include tips on how to politely disengage with unqualified visitors as quickly as possible. If you calculate the cost of every minute you spend at a show, that simple rule of thumb will surely resonate. You need your staff free and able to interact with real prospects with real interest and real decision-making power.

5. Say goodbye with a smile

Once you've concluded your conversation with booth visitors, thank them for their time and give them a small token that will help them remember your company, then move on. Save the extended conversations for after the show, when you have more time.

For your most-qualified prospects, engagement shouldn't end when the show does. Your initial follow-up may be something as simple as mailed collateral, but it must effectively respond to the needs the prospects expressed at the show. Showing them that you really listened to their challenges and want to help them find a solution will increase your chances of getting that second meeting.

* * *

Tradeshows remain one of the most effective ways to market your brand. But it's essential to understand who your key targets are—and aren't. Implementing a well-thought-out engagement strategy will ensure that your sales team maximizes the time they have on the show floor and the overall event ROI.


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Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2, a global exhibit and event marketing company. Check out the MC2Talks blog and find MC2 on Twitter (@MC2_Exhibits and @MC2_FastTrak) and Facebook.

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  • by John Mikstay, CEM Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    Rob, this is a great plan to follow for effective exhibiting.
    You mention that most events give exhibitors access to registered attendee lists. However, many of these pre-show lists are incomplete and contain records of people who have registered but who may not attend.
    A suggestion is for exhibitors is to ask their show organizers for an independent third-party audit report that identifies the demographics of the attendees that actually attended the event. This report allows the marketer to see the level of quality they can expect from the actual verified attendance.
    Exhibitors need data that is effective for their pre-show planning and independent third-party audit reports provide this since the demographics come directly from data gathered through registration. If they can know exactly who is coming, they can plan, budget and validate their investment decision to management.
    Post-show, an audit report provides the real picture of verified attendee demographics that exhibitors can then plug into any ROI calculation tool in order to measure their outcomes accurately. Otherwise, exhibitors measure using registration numbers that are over-inflated and completely inaccurate. "Garbage in, garbage out" as they say.

  • by Rob Murphy Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    John, I couldn’t agree more. Marketers need independent data to build programs - and the trade show industry has not yet become universal in this approach. I don’t know the percentage of audited vs. non-audited shows, but until it is the norm, show organizers are not serving their patrons. Our research as a custom builder indicates this is being demanded by companies who exhibit but I’m afraid it is an unorganized effort. We gathered feedback from a select group of exhibit marketers last summer asking what would make exhibiting more friendly. According to the group, a friendlier future will require trade show organizers to provide greater accountability and transparency through third-party validation of their attendance and demographic trade show data. Such transparency would enable exhibitors to make effective investment decisions by comparing competitive show reports to see which demographics best meet their marketing needs.

  • by Peter Black Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    I represent a media auditing firm and we recently conducted a survey among marketers about the importance of third-party audience verification. 80% of marketers said independent audits were important for print and online media but only 55% said it was important for events. Why are marketers so less demanding of events? It's as if marketer expectations for events are less than that for other media and that's not a good thing for the future of exhibitor/sponsor investments.

    I have a one question poll about this at http://linkd.in/hX92im

  • by Caroline Fri Feb 11, 2011 via web

    Interesting that your one-question poll responses overwhelmingly indicated lack of awareness for event audits. There is more and more attention being paid to auditing trade show and event attendance. The EEIAC (http://www.exhibitionaudits.org) is one such. The TSEA (Trade Show Exhibitors Association) and EXHIBITOR magazine are all calling for more rigorous reporting.

  • by Peter Black Fri Feb 11, 2011 via web

    There are only a few responses to the poll so far but it is frustrating nonetheless. Especially since we sponsor various TSEA programs, have advertised in Exhibitor (both print and online) and are an EEIAC-approved auditor.
    My personal view is that event attendance figures have been victims of an arms race to see who could claim the most. And those claims could easily be embellished. That doesn't cut it anymore as quality of audience has become increasingly important across all media including events.

  • by John Mikstay, CEM Fri Feb 11, 2011 via web

    Caroline and Rob,
    What we have been seeing over the last 5 years is the undeniable interest from marketers (exhibitors) to have this type of data from organizers. What we've also witnessed is organizers being very specific about the fact that exhibitors are not demanding it - but also that when they do - the organizers will provide it. We have been educating exhibition industry marketers as often as possible on the benfits of having this third-party validated data from their organizers and even how to go about asking for it in a respectful and strategic way. However, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. The process grinds to a halt with them (marketers) not moving the ball forward with the organizers. Creating critical mass demand within each show is imperative for the marketers to get the organizers to listen. we've seen positive results of an audit taking place when the marketers follow through. The process works - it's just not happening nearly enough.

  • by Caroline Fri Feb 11, 2011 via web

    The audit discussion is one part of a multi-part approach to qualifying contacts at trade shows and events. Audit data can only enhance a robust face-to-face strategy. It's still up to the exhibitor to make show floor engagement targetted and memorable for the attendee -- and carry through with after-show communication.

  • by John Mikstay, CEM Fri Feb 11, 2011 via web

    Agreed. The audit also plays a key role in pre-show decision making, budget planning and then post-show measurement and ROO/ROI calculation. It proves the quality of the event through the verified and validated demographics. The fact is that the audited (validated) data is a starting point for exhibitors to make decsions and formulate outcomes.

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