With many companies still cost-conscious about marketing, the Web presents a perfect opportunity for marketers to maximize the power of events and quantify returns. The interactive and direct nature of the Web can help marketers to better foster, manage, qualify and follow up on interested leads from trade shows and seminars.

How can marketers leverage the Web to maximize return on investment and ensure the best closed-circle interaction for potential customers?

Getting Face Time Starts at Home

Making eye contact, shaking hands and building relationships are critical to cultivating sales pipelines and promoting your company—and the leading goal at events. While the Internet is often not conducive to cultivating a strong and personal one-on-one sales relationship, it is a great way to develop leads, inform prospects and drive traffic to events at which you can develop relationships.

Start by getting the word out on your own Web site by keep an updated calendar of events online. Arm interested individuals with everything they need: where, when and why they should attend; registration information; and links to hotels and accommodations.

Use email signature files—an often-neglected piece of "real estate" for promoting events—to list a short string of details on an upcoming conference or meeting. The National MS Society effectively did this to promote its black-tie Super Bowl Gala in San Diego.

While email footers were only an element of a complete campaign, they were helpful in getting quick responses from recipients. Requests for ticket information often came from casual, unrelated email communications.

Save-the-date emails are another good way to "tease" an event. Even on early emails—in all communications—provide instructions on how to sign up or link to places where prospects can do so.

Be courteous throughout your email communications. Segment email lists into those who have responded and those who have not, to avoid annoying people who have already registered with additional requests to sign up. Enable people to opt out of email mailings at any time.

Branch Out

Leverage outside sources to generate a crowd. If partners are involved, make it easy for them to reciprocate and gather attendees. Offer branded creative materials—banner ads and email reminders—that they can use to garner support for the event.

Periodically make sure that top prospects are receiving materials, partners are using the creative appropriately, and details are clear to prospects. Make a few phone calls to judge the level of success on your pre-event performance. Do this early enough, and you can make any needed repairs to critical elements.

Marketers and sales professionals should look for opportunities to minimize "outs" from RSVPs where possible, with organized information and reminders that prospects need in a timely and consistent manner. Eliminate the "I got lost" excuse by ensuring that maps, directions and parking instructions are listed on communications such as thank you pages, emails, tickets and flyers.

Links, small PDF files or a packet of information can also be sent in advance of the event to minimize fumbling for sales material at the show. Your contacts may also appreciate that they can look at the information at their leisure, maximize their time at the event and not have to carry bulky brochureware home.

At the Event

The big day has arrived, and the goal is to get in front of the prospect and move in for the sale. Do not rely on trinkets and badge-swiping to streamline lead gathering. The badge will give you general info, not specific to your prospects' needs, and will not equip you with enough information to help these individuals in the future.

Instead, develop "buckets" to classify needs by category, such as purchasing timeframe, job responsibilities, purchasing criteria and problem areas. The information that you capture now will help you to address individuals' needs later.

Casual, interactive workstations that allow prospects to self-educate and identify themselves are a good way to introduce people to your company and obtain more information about their needs before or after they talk with you. Interactive games, streaming video and demos can be used by booth personnel to walk prospects through your organization, show some of the rich features and knowledge banks on your site and educate prospects while making it fun.

Surveys and games that build on what your company does (versus being random arcade games) can obtain additional data about your prospects by requiring them to enter information online to proceed to the next level and win a prize. Make games quick, simple and digestible by a dizzied guest. Your goal should be to learn a few key facts about them and educate them on two or three top benefits you can provide.

Load demos and games locally, in advance, versus relying strictly on the convention center's Internet connection. Work with your company's IT department to set up a Web server or a simple desktop, partitioned with the information, to use even if the Internet connection goes down.

Closing the Loop

After the event, online tactics can be used alongside direct phone calls. Use email to immediately follow up and provide useful tidbits tailored to what you know about your prospects. Classifying people into a few messaging "buckets" for follow-up at the event and using software to segment your targets when you return greatly simplifies this process.

An email blast can still be very personal if you have segmented prospects appropriately and if you use some of the tricks of email applications, such as automatically inserting a person's first name into the body of the email. If open and response rates are high, then you have been successful in building a beneficial relationship that you can leverage for future online efforts and seminars or conferences.

Conclusion

As you plan your next event, keep in mind that your level of effectiveness at establishing a relationship throughout this process will determine whether prospects will take your call after the event is over.

By leveraging the power of the Web before, during and after the event to follow up, you can maintain closer contact with potential customers throughout the process and into the future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reid Carr is the president and strategy director for Red Door Interactive (www.reddoor.biz). He can be reached at rcarr@reddoor.biz.