Microwave Journal

Maximizing the Value of Your Trade Shows

May 7, 2008

MTT-S IMS Special Report

Every year at the MTT-S IMS symposium, I hear the occasional exhibitor say that they only have a booth because they have to make an appearance at this premier microwave show. For them, it is like going to the annual family party just to say that they attended and showed their face for a couple of hours. But there is a huge opportunity to benefit in many ways from exhibiting at trade shows, especially one as large as MTT-S IMS 2008.

Strategy/Planning

Strategy and planning are the most overlooked parts of the trade show process. A Catalyst/BMA survey found that tradeshows represented the largest portion of the marketing communications budget, yet 60% of the companies said they spend less than 20% of their time developing and implementing strategy. Make a standard practice of determining your company’s trade show strategy and objectives each year. In other words, define what your company expects to get from attending any trade shows and review the shows attended by the entire enterprise to ensure the best ones are selected – don’t just go to “show up”. Keep in mind the target audience for your products/services and make sure the shows you attend will reach that intended audience. Use the previous year’s results to measure the success of your shows and do not attend ones that don’t provide overall results against your objectives. A recent industry trend seems to indicate that companies are trying more intimate events like on site customer technology days or customer invited special events to compliment their trade shows.

Always start the planning process for each show early and have show strategy meetings well in advance so things are not thrown together at the last minute (even tactical planning should start months before the event). Start with establishing a theme for each show. Try to create a theme that is related to the overall show theme or location, and try to relate that to the new products or services being highlighted at the show. Be creative and think of unique ways to make these connections. When planning your booth space, think about how your booth can capture the attention of the show floor traffic. Set goals and objectives for the show including how people will execute specific activities to achieve those goals. This includes setting a budget and tracking costs. As with most things, good planning will maximize the benefits.

Exhibition Booth

Impact - one of the most important items for a successful show is your ability to attract potential customers and partners into your booth. Surveys have shown that interactive activities such as live demonstrations or live speakers work the best. Also consider other interesting services such as entertainers (magicians, robots, celebrities, etc.) that incorporate your product messaging into their acts and perhaps other interactive activities like games, food/beverages, challenges, etc. These can involve contests for prizes or giveaways but always try to tie your messaging into them along with your logo and web site address. Avoid piling the giveaways on the reception desk for people to just grab as they walk by the booth (this can diminish the value of the gift). Do so and you lose an opportunity to converse with them. Instead, try to engage them in conversation as you hand them the gift or better yet, ask if you can swipe their badge in exchange for the gift. Use this time to engage them in a conversation about what they do and it will be easier to entice them into the booth. Videos or other entertaining product displays make an attractive and more interesting booth. Carefully plan the collateral to effectively communicate the messaging and new product features. Many people do not like to carry around a lot of brochures so consider complimenting brochures with CDs, memory sticks or online materials and be prepared to just take their contact information and mail brochures to them.

The booth should be inviting for people to walk through without too many walls or obstacles. Avoid over crowding the booth with furniture, graphics or kiosks. Provide adequate room for people to sit down and converse but don’t let it dominate the booth which should focus on the products or services. Over crowding also includes not having too many booth staff present at one time.

Training

Another often overlooked consideration is to have well trained, enthusiastic booth staff who know how to engage potential customers and partners properly. Have a trade show training program and periodically conduct training sessions. Consider a pre-show meeting on site with the entire booth staff. Meet about an hour before the show and go over all of the new products, demos, collateral, lead capture system and giveaways. Re-enforce the show theme and key objectives along with familiarizing everyone with where items are stored in the booth. Booths can easily become messy with empty coffee cups, used napkins and discarded giveaways. This pre-show meeting is the time to review booth etiquette, how to engage customers and the need to not overcrowd the booth with employees.

Booth staff should not just stand in the booth and wait for people to enter. If the booth is not full with visitors, they should engage people in the aisles and start a conversation with them. Eventually, the discussion can be related back to the company or products but finding out what the person is interested in learning about is the key. Also use this as an opportunity to gather customer feedback about the company and its products. Ask questions like – So what do you know about (company name here)? Which products are you using now? What are some of your biggest challenges? Then and this is important - make sure you listen. Most people enjoy sharing their thoughts when they are at ease and unthreatened. Have the booth staff perform informal brand research and find out if your message is resonating with people at the show. Remember that everyone represents the company and should be trained in the overall messaging, company vision and product offerings.

Promotion

Now that quality content has been developed for the booth, promotion becomes the next step to attracting people. Find the right combination of electronic and print advertising that fits your budget but maximizes contact with your targeted audience. Try e-mail newsletters before and after the show to highlight your new products and special demos or attractions in the booth. Include your booth number on all advertising leading up to the show. Try different targeted promotions like hotel room drops with your booth flyer (if allowed), hosting an event or including your literature in attendees’ bags. Offer enticements or new product teasers to interest people in coming to the booth. According to Incomm Center for Trade Show Research and Sales Training, event attendees are 52% more likely to stop by your exhibit if you have an appealing promotional item to give them.

Consider show sponsorships or partnerships with magazines and industry organizations to help with the promotional activities since they have access to your targeted audience. The show attendee list or a paid magazine list is an avenue to reach a broader audience than just the in-house company list. Review your show promotions early so you don’t lose out on the premier sponsorships and booth locations. This goes back to the need for early planning as popular shows like MTT-S IMS, which often require planning a year in advance to position the company in premium booth positions and promotional sponsorships. You may be tired after the show, but by planning some of your next years’ show promotions, you will have a fresh idea of what works and how to improve performance over the recent event.

Branding/Messaging

How the booth looks is very important since it will leave an impression with anyone who walks by or better yet, comes in. Always purchase high quality signage for the top of your inline booth or a hanging sign for over an island booth. Make them as unique and large as you can without going overboard. Develop attractive graphics that convey the theme and new product features. Keep them clean and do not overload them with text but include enough detail to interest the educated customer.

Sponsorships can raise the level of brand exposure, so always review the opportunities at the shows. Give strong consideration at the key shows where it fits your goals and objectives to maximize visibility. Always have a press kit available at the show with the new product announcements including a photo of each product (300 dpi). Arrange for key editors, journals and magazines to visit the booth and stock the press room with your company announcements. Use pre-show and post show PR as other opportunities for brand exposure and product promotion. Don’t underestimate the value of having technical personnel presenting papers and participating as session chairs or other volunteer opportunities at the show. It is good for individual development and at the same time promotes the company.

Leads

Of course, one of the most important benefits from a trade show presence is sales leads and contacts. While it is wishful thinking to assume that a large number of immediate sales will be generated by each show, an interesting and inviting booth will maximize the traffic and number of leads. Always insure that the company has an effective lead capture system. Find out how the badges are encoded (bar codes, RFID, etc.) and purchase or rent a lead capture system that will easily read the attendee’s information and allows notes or qualifiers to be added to each lead. It is important to be able to further qualify the lead at the time of capture to add products of interest, lead urgency and other important information to make sure the lead is followed up properly after the show. You may want to develop a lead rating system whereby you enter a number or letter designated to represent how likely that lead is buying your product. Also find out when prospects will be making purchasing decisions (i.e. 3 months, new fiscal year, upon winning contract, etc.). Make sure you enter this information into the lead collection system. Some companies hold internal contests to reward the booth staff that gets the most number of qualified leads. Unless you are trying to build a database of customer names, only scan people who are interested in more information about your products/services or want a follow up call. This will insure high quality leads and the sales people will not waste their time calling people who just stopped by to casually look at your displays.

Timely follow up is the key to turning the lead into a sale. Always have a plan for follow up and make sure that it is executed. Use the contact information and qualification data to get the leads directly to the correct person for follow up and capture the resulting disposition for analysis after it is closed out. Use the lead results as part of the measurement of the success of the show but not as the only measurement.

Competitive Analysis and Collaboration

Find out what competitors are doing and where they are heading with their new products. Assign individuals to visit other company’s booths, collect literature, find out what new products they are offering, and analyze their booth presence. Also explore potential partnerships with competitors or companies with complementary products. This can be done very quickly compared to traveling around the country to meet with all of the companies that are in one place at a large show. In this way, trade shows are extremely cost effective in comparison to other face-to-face meetings with customers and potential partners. Set up partnership exploration meetings ahead of time to make sure the correct people are available. Also have business and technical leaders review the industry trends and technologies being presented at the conference. Have a designated person collect and summarize all of the inputs then distribute them to the sales, marketing and business development groups. It is wise to capture a full summary of the results of every show and distribute them to management so they know what the outcome was for each one.

Learn

Send your technical staff, executives, customer service representatives and others to a show to learn about the newest technology developments, meet with customers and learn from other industry experts. Exchange ideas, explore new partnerships and make new contacts for future ventures. Encourage technical staff to participate as a session chair or present a paper. This is good for individual development along with benefits to the company from showing their technical expertise in the industry and having their name listed in the show events. Have technical staff spend time in the booth interacting with customers to learn about their needs and provide on site technical support for customers with specific product questions or issues. Solving a customer’s problem is the best way to get an order.

Trade shows are a great learning experience. Where else are you able to have such a large audience of everyone in the industry coming together at one time to exchange ideas and experiences. Capture as much data as possible about trade show costs and results so that each show can be effectively analyzed from a cost/benefit point of view. Don’t underestimate the value of personal contact you get at trade shows!

Top Ten Trade Show Do’s

1. Review your trade show plan/strategy periodically
2. Start strategic and tactical planning for each show early
3. Have a show theme and objectives
4. Use interactive displays/demos
5. Maximize branding and PR opportunities
6. Actively engage attendees to capture qualified leads and follow up quickly
7. Do competitive analysis by checking out other exhibitors
8. Seek out business collaborations/partnerships
9. Measure success against goals and objectives
10. Send managers, engineers and others to LEARN

Exhibitors - We’d like to hear your formula for success. Attendees – tell us what you like from exhibitors and what turns you off. Give us your own top ten or other feedback on this article below!