How to make trade shows work for B2B marketing

  • Asuthosh

It’s a dilemma we have often faced. To be or not to be (at trade show events). Prevailing common sense dictates a mandatory presence, but our experience coupled with shifting trends in B2B marketing, gives us a niggling feeling – how useful will it be to us? On a broader note, how worth it are trade shows for your B2B marketing initiates?

Turns out, the folks at Hubspot have already decided not to exhibit at trade shows and events. To be sure, we are not taking any such decision yet. In Asia, trade shows feature very prominently in the events calendar and seeing and being seen are both equally critical. But the post and its comments thread provide very good fodder for consideration and can help guide whether that show in two months’ time which promises so much, is really something you want to invest your resources in.

Hubspot’s primary bone of contention? “Event marketing yields the the highest cost per lead of all of our marketing" and “it requires a lot of dedicated man-hours for little return.” Both resonate well with us. Our best leads and deals have come from repeat customers, face-to-face meetings, social media interactions, etc., not events (with some notable exceptions). The time spent on logistics and organisation is perhaps better spent on creating compelling content for your site that can help drive traffic and generate more quality leads, or simply being in touch with your client regularly. We all know how a good number of trade show attendees are there to collect business cards, flyers and freebies, or “because their boss told them to go” – neither of whom are going to give you good leads to pursue.

So how do we get smarter about the events we do decide to attend? How do we go beyond thinking, “I gotta be there, ‘cos ‘everyone else’ is there, and if I don’t go, ‘people’ will think I am out of business”? Can you use events for anything more than displaying your beautifully-designed logo in a booth and wasting paper (by getting tons of people to fill in forms in exchange for ‘free gifts’, forms which you may not touch again till you need to make space for the next event’s forms?

And if you do decide to go, or if your solution requires face-to-face interaction and hands-on experience to seal the deal,  that how can you make the event work for you rather than you working for it? This is key when events aren’t getting any cheaper to attend, while marketing purse strings remain drawn tight.

If you can muster the gumption and authority, get a speaking slot at the event. Use it to share knowledge and get people thinking. Don’t use the stage as the platform to promote your product. Instead use your booth or exhibit to take the conversation to the next level. People who are perked by your words will hunt you out on the trade floor, usually within an hour or two of your speech. And while there you can wear a different hat, and get your leads.

Look at events as a big central place where we spend minimal time gathering maximum information. Be smart about gathering though (remember the flyer collectors!). Mingle widely and meet new people.  Gaining fresh knowledge from a diverse group of people can help temper our own, at times misguided and ill-considered, business thought processes. Look at it as a fertile ground for effective market research. Haven’t gotten enough leads, never mind. Perhaps you have learnt something valuable about the effectiveness of your message. Our stint at CommunicAsia leaned more towards the latter.

Remember that what you are getting with that $20k booth is not an audience; but simply a meeting place with an audience. It’s up to you to nab them. Sometimes the logistics of just putting up a booth can be so exhausting and time-consuming that we never get around to inviting existing clients or prospects to come by and meet us face-to-face. Avoid this fate by launching targeted pre-event activities and promotions (Michael Thimmesch). Give attendees a reason to meet you.Email invitations to your current customers, prospects you have been talking to, and even your friends, family and well-wishers (asking them to pass on the message to people they would know). Go further with prospects that have a higher potential to close, and personally invite them, either by phone or a direct mail, and give them an event-specific offer. If you have access to a pre-registered attendee list, overlay that against your leads database and offer a personal demo or tour of your latest solutions. During the event, rent a meeting room and setup quality meetings with executives who are attending the event. Begin networking prior to and during the event and your meeting schedule will fill up quickly.

Use that booth space well. Not just to put up that blown-up logo, flyers, posters, product cartons, and staff peddling ‘free gifts’ (booth babes are another matter entirely). If you have lots of great content, put them to good use here. Offer mini-presentations in your booth at scheduled (and frequent) times, or offer that fresh new white paper your team has just completed, brimming with great ideas (our candidates, if we are exhibiting anytime soon, are here, here and here). Have your booth staff engage everyone walking by your booth by saying, "Would you like to attend one of our ten 15-minute mini-seminars about <fill in your choice solution here>?" or "Have you seen our latest White Paper?" This way you will get many more of the right people into your booth and boost your lead generation.

Cull ruthlessly. Every event organizer will claim their event to be the event of the year and wants you to be there. You don’t need to. Create a ‘scorecard’ or decision matrix of sorts to assess whether it’s worth attending. Factors for consideration could include, event pedigree and reputation, target audience, whether’ it’s a fit for your offerings, timing (if you have a new product to launch, doing so at an event is usually a good idea for maximum exposure), and of course COST. But be intelligent about assessing costs. Return on investment (ROI) should also be considered. Go to those shows where historically the returns of participating/exhibiting/ attending far outweigh the costs of doing so. In other words, a low-cost tradeshow may not be the right one to go to if it turns up poor quality leads. Similarly a high-pedigree event may not fit the bill if its delegates will be total strangers to your products. Remember the efforts involved in participating are more or less the same, regardless of the event. Determine where you will reap maximum benefits.

There is of course an alternative to attending an event. And a pretty bold one at that. Hold your own! And you don’t need to do it at Suntec Convention Centre. Your office, or a casual place that has great food and drink (Salesforce Singapore does a great job with this) can be just as good and foster much greater intimacy between you and the attendees. Or go online. Hold a webinar (some great tips here), and get invite reputable folk to be guest speakers (for a goodwill fee). Use your social media channels to spur attendance and voila, you have your own event!

We think these are useful things to consider before committing to an event. Once you have decided to go, have a blast, and enjoy yourself. That’s the only way you can get over the sheer strain of being on your feet all day (we would know). Do weigh in with your thoughts and comments.


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