Are Trade Shows Worth the Cost?

Exhibiting at a trade show is a common component of many sales and business development efforts. The experience can be fun – the crowd, excitement, change in scene, hospitality events, and new product info are all stimulating, and there is the lure of developing new sales leads. We might even sell something!

But lots of business owners and sales managers say that “shows” can be expensive, and in many cases yield little or no results.

One frustrated VP of Sales expressed a common disappointment. “After the show the team reported a successful effort. “We met some good prospects and got our name out there,’ they said. In reality, we wound-up with a list of people who had visited the booth. Although the visitors were told that someone would be following-up, we didn’t really know much about them; as a result, our follow-up effort was generally ineffective.”

Like many of us, the sales executive was frustrated because he could not identify any tangible results.

Fortunately, with a little pre-planning and good execution, trade shows can be a great success!

This success requires both a marketing and sales plan.

The marketing plan will involve booth set-up, collateral, signage, booth activity, promotions, tech support, and so on. The sales plan (which few people actually create!) will involve goal setting along with proactive behavior and communication while exhibiting.

The goals will vary depending upon the size and duration of the show. Begin by considering the total number of people who might attend the show and then estimate the likely percentage that might be prospects or influencers (those who may not be decision makers, but who can influence evaluations or provide access to decision makers). Then set two important goals:

  1. The actual number of prospects and/or influencers that you would like to meet
  2. The actual number of after-the-show meetings or telephone calls you will schedule

The most effective action/communication plan for achieving these goals involves crafting the right questions and strategically interacting with the customers, known prospects, friends, competitors, and unknown “suspects” that we encounter while exhibiting. It’s important to focus on the suspects as opposed to the people we already know. By approaching a sufficient number of suspects and asking them a short series of well-crafted questions, the booth team should be able to quickly determine whether or not each suspect is a prospect or influencer. Follow-up meetings or phone calls can then be scheduled based on interest and need.

Imagine how differently the VP might have reacted if his team had reported, “The trade show was good. Over the course of two days we met 85 prospects and scheduled meetings with 25 of them who have an actionable need. This should lead to adding $350,000 – $500,000 in pipeline. We also confirmed areas of interest and secured direct contact information for 20 of the remaining prospects, and plan to send specific follow-up material to each of them.”

Free Download
If you’d like to learn more about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of trade shows, download our free trade show selling guide. As noted above, trade show success requires both a marketing strategy and a sales plan. Your marketing plan will involve booth set-up, collateral, signage, booth promotions, give-aways, and so on. This guide will focus on your sales plan – which most people tend to ignore!

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