Are Trade Shows Worth The Investment?

When it comes to B-to-B marketing, trade show revenue surpassed print revenue for the first time in 2006 according to American Business Media. Many small business owners tell me they have a difficult time justifying the investment in exhibiting at trade shows. Let's face it – they are expensive and time consuming. However, you're making a mistake if you're not exhibiting.

First, you should go because you have lots of potential clients and current clients all in one place at one time. Visitors are there to shop, compare, be educated and listen to your story. They go to make decisions on buying products and services. Let's talk about how to participate and some things to do to get a return on that investment.

  • Volunteer to speak. Trade shows always are accompanied by a host of presentations. Put together an educational story that will add value to the lives and businesses of the people who attend. You'll gain enormous credibility. Let people who visit your booth know you are speaking.
  • Send out a mailing to your clients who are attending. Let them know about your presentation. Host an invitation only party in your hotel suite for top clients and prospects. Let your clients tell your story. People are more likely to believe what others say about you and your company than what you say.
  • Get free PR and media exposure. Local press and trade press cover the large shows. Make sure you mail them before the show. Offer to be a resource.
  • Collect leads. Now here is where strange things start happening for small companies. I've seen too many people working a booth at a trade show collect a business card and then write a note on it and put it in their pocket. Cards get lost. What you wrote today becomes a code you can't break when you get home. When you meet people at a trade show get their permission to follow up with information about your company, products and services. Enter them into your database immediately. Invest in the card reader many shows offer today which puts everyone into a database. If you have a sales team there, do not let the salespeople collect the cards. Bring a detail minded administrative person whose sole job it is to collect and control the contact information, requests, etc.
  • Follow-up immediately after the show. Thank them for stopping to see you and give them the information you promised. Continue to slowly build the relationship you started at the show. I would bet that at least 80% of leads generated at a trade show DO NOT get followed-up correctly or not at all. What a waste!
  • Depending upon your business you can sell at a trade show. Some shows don't allow you to deliver products on the spot but you can still take orders. You can offer a show special that is only available at the show.
  • Network with everyone including your competition. Attend the social functions. Don't hide in your room at the end of the exhibition hours. Be visible.
  • Pick an evening and take a few of your top clients to dinner.
  • There are lots of other things you can do dependent upon your type of business. You might want to look for distributors for your product. Or, perhaps you are ready to add to your sales force. You can meet lots of salespeople here. You can set up meetings with your customers and business partners. You can save lots of money and time by conducting meetings at these kinds of events. Don't do it on the trade show floor though. I always get a suite with room that I have set up for the meetings.

If you are a new company and want to make a big impression and establish your company as a player in the industry – go big. Here's what I mean. Invest in as much space as possible, create a fantastic display, do a pre-trade show mailing and hire someone like Paul Gertner to attract people to your area.

When I started a highly specialized software company in the early 90's, I knew I was up against some big companies. But, I also knew we had a unique story that should be very attractive to our prospective base. The industry had one major national convention and trade show every year. I decided to launch the company at that show with as big of an exhibit as we could afford and with the help of Paul Gertner. We made a big impression, we were the talk of the show, and immediately established ourselves as a force in the market. We followed up the next year with an even larger exhibit and Paul's help again.

Trade shows should not be an expense. They should be an investment. And, you should be able to get a trackable return on your investment. Done correctly, trade shows can and should be a major element in your company's marketing.

2 thoughts on “Are Trade Shows Worth The Investment?”

  1. Hi Bob,
    Excellent advice there. Thank you. I was just wondering (having noted your post of the importance of putting your url on all your stationary etc) if you have any advice (maybe do a post on it) on what should and should not go on a business card. Am in the process of getting new ones and don’t want to make too many new mistakes this time. e.g including some white space to jot down some info or a time etc, all the contact details, name, position – anything else?
    thanks Lorna

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