Customer Experience and Design

5 Ways to Make Your B2B Tradeshow Your BFF

Tradeshows are an expensive, short-term way to talk to a small number of people who are mainly interested in freebies. Right? Well, only if you are doing them wrong.

It seems like tradeshows adhere to a bizarre template of sorts:

  1. Get a booth.
  2. Put an ad in the brochure/event catalog or show email.
  3. Wait for show-goers to pass by.
  4. Collect business cards, hand out a stress ball with your logo on it, and hold a drawing for a grand prize.
  5. Try again next year.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to make a change. Let’s look at a better way to address those steps.

1. Create an Experience

Tradeshows, especially B2B tradeshows, are a saturated mixture of potential customers, competitors, vendors and decision-makers in your industry. In today’s world, it’s difficult to reach any group of people simultaneously, let alone such a specialized crowd.

So break the rules of the 10 x 10 traditions that seemingly always have a table, a few pull-up banners and vinyl poster wraps. That 10 x 10 area is your canvas and your storefront. Make it irresistible. Some shows may have restrictions, but if they really want your business, they should allow you to push the envelope of what your space looks like. Make it inspire action. Pique interest. Stand out.

2. Focus on Pre-Show Advertising

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with promoting your booth through the tradeshow organizer’s materials, but it shouldn’t be your only form of promotion. If your space stands out, it shouldn’t need to be advertised to the attendees already in the facility.

Instead, make a promotional plan to invite existing customers, prospects, vendors and partners to stop by and say hi. Mine your CRM for contact information. If you don’t have some sort of CRM in place, get one set up before the show. You’re going to need it.

3. Work the Floor

It pains me to walk through any tradeshow event and see booth-workers sitting on stools or hanging back in the back of the space. Or even worse: standing behind a table, which essentially blocks people from entering the booth.

Get rid of the table. Hire more booth-workers to take shifts. Remove the chairs. Train your personnel to become actively engaged. And if your booth is the active, engaging experience it should be, it won’t be hard to attract visitors. They’ll come to you with less coaxing.

4. Collect Data with Prizes for Participation

Companies waste money with a “trinkets and treasure” approach to tradeshow giveaways. When was the last time you remembered a company’s value by reading it off of a pen? How many stress balls and calendars do you need? What do any of those items have to do with what your company offers? My guess is zilch.

Treasures can be equally useless. One person has a random chance of winning a boat or vacation, and all they had to do was put their name in a hat. Some companies even select a winner strategically. (Yes, this happens. And yes, it’s shady.)

Regardless of how you award the prize or who receives it, only one person wins. These companies likely spent a fortune to collect a few names, while only making one person happy. Unless that grand prize is something you actually sell, you’ve wasted a lot of resources.

The solution is to make attendees work for something of relevant value. Reward participation. The more time a visitor spends with your company and engages with what you’re selling, the greater the reward should be. Let’s say you have a $10,000 giveaway budget. The tradeshow template would spend $2,000 on pens and stress balls and the remaining $8,000 on an ATV or vacation. Why not spend the same amount on 1,000 items worth $10 apiece, which a visitor has to earn?

Now, instead of a collection of thousands of random business cards, you have 1,000 actual conversations tied to your product. Instead of names and titles, you have names, titles, stories, needs, pain points, etc. Put that information into your CRM.

5. Nurture Until Next Year

If you’ve done the previous steps well, you’ll have a wealth of qualified prospects along with pertinent information regarding their roles, wants and needs. With contact information, you have a means to continue the tradeshow conversation. Divide your prospect lists into buckets, and deliver content driving them to the relevant aspects of your organization. Keep selling. Keep learning. Keep refining.

With luck and skill, those who were once strangers to your booth will seek you out, thanks to the experience they had and the value you’ve been providing throughout the year.

Another benefit to nurturing campaigns is the ability to track the behaviors of show-goers after the event. By following the data, you’ll be able to determine how many sales were generated by attendance, evaluate your ROI, and make an educated decision to continue participation at the event.

Remember, tradeshows represent a microcosm of marketing in today’s economy. Winning companies dismantle the traditions of old, emphasize an engaging experience, reward participation, leverage data, personalize communication and continue the conversation online.

Some still see that 10 x 10 booth as an expensive burden, but it’s not really a booth. It’s a sandbox. Play.

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