Trade shows are expensive and time consuming. Trade shows can be an effective way to reconnect with customers and generate leads. Trade shows can also be a big boondoggle that’s fun for the people attending and doesn’t generate a ROI for the company.
Here’s a checklist of what to consider when evaluating what trade shows to pay to exhibit at and attend. There are many options that may work well that cost less than exhibiting.
Alternatives to NOT paying to exhibit at a trade show
1. Take customers and prospects out for a meal or coffee.
Can you meet with prospective customers for coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner who will be there? Everyone wants to get off their feet and they need to eat.
2. Can you rent a small conference room on the show floor or a nearby hotel room to do product demonstrations?
You’ll need to do a lot of work to get people to come by, but those people who do should be very qualified prospects if they’re taking the time to do this. Will you or someone do the hard work to recruit people to come to your demonstrations? If not, this will be a total waste of both your time and money.
3. What about hosting a breakfast, lunch, cocktails or dinner for invited guests?
The challenge with that is you’ll need enough people from your company to “work the crowd” to make it worthwhile. You want a pretty good ratio of customers to employees. Do you have enough people who can do this? They should be trained for how to effectively “work the party” to network with new customers and make existing customers feel like VIPs. It’s often awkward at these events when customers who are competitors are at the same party. How will you handle that?
If you do this, be sure that company employees are wearing something that will identify them as the party hosts. That could be company logo wear (shirts with the company logo).
4. Can you work the show as an attendee?
Can you just go to the show and meet enough people to make it worthwhile? Brush up on tips for how to be most successful at business networking.
TIP: Trade shows are a good way to gather information on your competitors. You can learn what new products your competitors have or will be introducing and how they are positioning their products/services. It’s a good idea to host a debriefing session after the trade show with people from your company who attended the show and also with key partners to discuss what everyone learned and what actions you want to take.
5. Can you host a workshop or speak on a panel at the trade show?
That’s often an excellent way to be seen as an expert. Be sure to give people a benefit and reason for sharing their business card so you’ll know who attended your talk and can follow-up with them afterwards.
Options for not going to the show as an attendee or exhibitor
1. Buy a mailing list of show attendees and use direct mail.
Lists of trade show attendees are often sold before and after the event or trade show. These are generally great mailing lists. If you’re not paying to exhibit, you may have to wait to buy the mailing list until after the show.
2. Buy an ad in the show program and make an effective offer that will attract profitable new customers to visit your website for a report or other valuable information.
A checklist to use to evaluate whether a trade show is worthwhile to pay to exhibit at
1. Do the math before you sign up for a trade show to make sure you can sell enough to cover your expenses.
How much do you need to sell at the show to break-even? How much do you have to sell each hour and each day? Be sure to include costs for all the marketing that needs to be done before the show to attract people to the booth; promotional or special offers; exhibit and space costs; marketing materials needed at the booth; travel and lodging for people working the show and costs for the exhibit or booth. Plus an additional expenses for entertaining prospects and customers. Can you make enough to cover all these expenses?
2. How likely is it that your best and most profitable customers will be there?
If they are, you probably want to be at the show or event to reduce the risk of your best, most profitable customers switching to another vendor.
TIP: Use the Show To Reward Your Customers. A good reason to attend a trade show is to spend time with your current customers and make them feel valued and special. At trade shows you can get a lot of face-to-face time that can strengthen your customer relationships.
3. Are you apt to see customers and suppliers you’ll have a hard time reaching online? If so, do you need to pay to exhibit at the show to connect with them?
4. Do you have the time and money to do a great job exhibiting at a trade show and following up after the show?
If you pay to attend, do it right. That takes time, effort, creativity, enough people to staff the booth and money to pay for everything. And then there’s follow-up afterwards. If you’re not willing to invest the time and money on this, then don’t go to a trade show as an exhibitor. Go instead as an attendee.
TIP: If you’re making sales on the show floor, you can make payment easy for customers by using services like Square and Google Wallet where people can use their smartphone or iPad to accept credit card payments on the spot.
Do you have the time and energy to do this? Does your team? Trade shows are “extra” to everything else you need to do. Is this the best ROT (return on your time?)
5. Who goes to the trade show?
Invite only? Or open to anyone? Focused on a niche topic?
Many times trade show attendees are either other vendors, the customers of those vendors, or your current customers. That means there aren’t a lot of prospects there.
Expect to be solicited and develop a strategy to get rid of people who are there to sell to you. At trade shows we were targeted by PR firms, investors, headhunters, and others trying to get business out of us. This interrupted opportunities we had to speak with our target audience. To address this, we worked out a system to deal with these types sort of the same way you learn to deal with telemarketing calls. I recommend exhibitors work out a similar strategy before the event and take the stance that we paid to be here in order to attract customers, we didn’t pay so others can try to make us their customers.”
Most trade shows have a website that lists the companies that paid to exhibit in the past. You can use that list to contact people at the companies who have exhibited to see if they felt it was a good investment and if they’re planning to exhibit again. LinkedIn is a great way to find people if you’re not able to get that information from the company’s website.
6. Timing of the trade show?
Is the trade show during a slow period for your business? Or during crunch time? What’s the best ROT (return on your time) to be at the trade show or back at the office?
7. Is the trade show held somewhere you want to go?
Can you combine work and a mini vacation? Customer visit? Seeing family or friends?
8. What’s the cost to attend the trade show? What’s the cost to exhibit?
If it’s expensive to attend that may mean the people going are more “qualified” prospects.
9. What role will you have at the trade show?
Can you get a slot as a speaker? Get on a panel?
10. Networking opportunities?
What social and networking events or gatherings are planned that you could attend?
11. Can you attend the trade show or event and not pay for a booth or exhibit?
See the alternatives list for not paying to exhibit. Would any of these options work?
12. What’s the “buzz” about the show from your best customers?
Make some calls to see who is going. Go online to do some research about what customers said about the show on social networking sites.
13. Is show attendance going up or down year to year? Is the show or event becoming more popular? Are qualified prospective buyers coming or people who want free things?
14. Who are the major sponsors of the show or event?
That’s telling about who will associate their company brand and who won’t. This includes companies as well as the industry or local media.
15. Who and how will you follow up with all the business cards you collect?
If you don’t have the time to follow-up, don’t go.
16. Do you have any significant “news” (new product/service introduction) that would be newsworthy?
Know this about trade shows and events…
Trade show organizers often try to sell pricey booth space by using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that if you don’t attend their trade show your customers will think you’re going out of business. Ignore them. If you’re worried about customers thinking you’re in trouble, rent a suite in a nearby hotel, and hold a big party. It will cost a fraction of exhibiting at a trade show and have more impact anyway.
Expect to Pay a LOT Per Lead. Exhibiting at a trade show may cost as much as $100,000 and generate less than a hundred usable leads. And not all those leads will convert into paying customers. Run the numbers and make sure that it’s worth the effort. How to calculate the costs and ROI for a trade show