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What Is Your Trade Show Strategy?
Do you have a strategy... or are you just keeping up with the Joneses?

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Do you have a trade show marketing strategy? Do you have a trade show plan, or any trade show goals? Is there a reason or reasons that you are exhibiting at trade shows? Or are you like many trade show exhibitors that I call the "Trade Show Joneses"... Is the only real reason that you're exhibiting at a tradeshow because your competitor is doing it? Are you going to the trade show just because everyone else is, or at least, you think everyone else is? Are you just keeping up with the Joneses? It seems that many companies sign up to exhibit at a trade show because they've heard it's a smart thing to do, or because other companies do it. Or they've been to a trade show and walked through the many trade show booths with a tote bag in hand gathering up lots of free trade show swag, and they figure it everyone else is doing it, they might as well too. So they sign up and pay for a booth space at whatever trade show they think their competitor is also exhibiting at, and then they just show up, figuring that's all it takes. They don't have a strategy. They don't have a plan. They don't have any goals. They just picked a trade show or convention that they heard through the grapevine was a good, or at least decent, tradeshow. Then they bought a portable trade show display and had their web designer create some trade show graphics for it. Now they're sitting in their trade show booth on the second day of the show, wondering why nobody seems to be stopping at their booth and why they're not having any trade show success, and they're starting to wonder why they ever decided to try trade show marketing in the first place. Don't make this trade show rookie mistake. Don't sign up to exhibit at a trade show until you have a trade show strategy, which means having a trade show plan and trade show goals!

Set Goals and Make a Budget:
First, you need to set a financial goal and create a budget. You need to figure out how much it is going to cost you to exhibit at a trade show, or multiple trade shows if that is your proposal. Trade show marketing is one of the most expensive forms of marketing out there, so be prepared. How much is your exhibit booth space going to cost, how much is a trade show display and the trade show graphics for it, as well as the graphics design cost (and should you buy the tradeshow display or rent it). How much are the printed brochures, pamphlets, and other handouts going to cost, and are you going to have trade show giveaways and how much will they cost? What is your travel cost, hotel cost, rental car (if you need it cost), and food cost? The bottom line again is that trade show marketing expenses add up! And don't forget the cost of pre-show mailers and other promotional activities, and also post-show follow up. Once you've got a total cost, you need to set realistic goals on what you can accomplish at the show and how much revenue you can generate. You need to come up with a realistic budget that shows how much you will spend, and how much you will make, and the latter had better be a significantly bigger number than the former.

Research your options and Pick the Right Trade Show:
Once you've got a financial goal and have determined that exhibiting at a trade show makes financial sense, you need to pick the right trade show to exhibit at. Don't just assume that because a show is well known, that it is the best show to exhibit at. Do you research and find out how many people will be attending the show, and who they are. Is the crowd a "prospect rich" group with money to spend and the authority to make purchasing decisions? It's more important who the attendees are than how many of them there are. You need to research all the available trade shows and make sure you pick the show with the most potential!

Don't Just Show Up at the Show... Promote Your Trade Show Exhibit Before the Show!
Pick a trade show that allows you to get a mailing list for pre-registered attendees in advance of the show and then send out a pre-show mailer telling people about your tradeshow booth, and offer them something if they stop by. Contact all of your existing customers and let them know that you'll be exhibiting at the show. Give them your trade show booth number and a reason to stop by. Get the word out about your trade show booth before the show so that people go to the show and look for you. Don't rely on them just stumbling across your exhibit booth space. Promote before the show!

At the Show... Qualify and Convert. Achieve your Goals.
While a lot of things go into insuring an effective trade show booth experience (like having an attention-grabbing trade show display and handling out popular trade show giveaways and swag to create a buzz at the show about your booth), one of the most important things in your trade show strategy should be making sure your trade show booth (and graphics, giveaways, and mailers) are drawing the right crowd. You want to pull in potential prospects that have the budget and authority to do business with you, and how have a genuine need for your product or service. When the trade show crowds start descending on your trade show booth, you should quickly start sorting the wheat from the chaff. What this means is you need to meet people, but then avoid the small talk and idle conversation, and get to the point. If they're serious trade show convention attendees, they will appreciate you getting to the point since they don't want to waste their time either. Tell them what you do (or make or sell or provide) and see if they even need your service. If they do, find out what they're currently using and make sure you can offer them a better solution. Make sure they can afford it, and then explain the benefits. The trade show floor is for making deals, not talking about what NFL team has the best chance of winning next year's Super Bowl (we all know that's the Packer, right?)  Qualify and convert, and focus on trade show goals!.

After the Show... Follow Up, Debrief, Assess, Adjust, and Prepare for the Next Trade Show.
Don't just go back to the office after the show and relax and tell stories about what happened each night after the trade show. Your trade show work isn't over yet. You need to follow up! Hopefully you closed several deals at the show in your booth, but for all those prospects who you didn't close with, you need to follow up. Do it right away. The longer you put it off, the less likely you are to do it, and the more likely one of your trade show competitors is to take your prospect. Remember to follow up!


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