Obtaining a list of attendees and mapping out a strategy to connect with your most important leads before the conference is critical.
Trade show marketing is a double-edged sword for both dealers and manufacturers in the construction equipment industry. It's usually a costly endeavor with a hard-to-measure return on investment (ROI).
The ROI is concrete for any deals made at the trade show or shortly thereafter. The gray area comes into play long after the show when a customer buys or rents a machine that can't be traced back to the show. Diligent equipment firms measure the trackable ROI and look at everything else as gravy.
Regardless of how you evaluate ROI, the following are overlooked best practices that can improve your results. You will find that the lynchpins holding them together are strategy and planning.
SET THE STAGE WITH PRE-SHOW OUTREACH
Obtaining a list of attendees and mapping out a strategy to connect with your most important leads before the conference is critical. Not doing so is like networking while blindfolded. It has become standard practice to notify your prospects where you can be found via e-mail, direct mail, or social media, but it's less common to arrange meetings with key prospects in advance.
Make sure to identify a reason for the meeting other than small talk to set the stage. Perhaps you added a new model to the line-up, or have a new technology to showcase. Without this kind of preparation, you are relying strictly on randomness.
ORGANIZE THE TROOPS AROUND COMMON GOALS
What is your key objective for the trade show? Is your team in alignment?
Your team should have a consistent message that advances you toward a common goal. It's also a good idea to brief everyone on the expected rules of conduct, including the reinforcement of key sales principles.
How many times have you cringed at disengaged people in booths with faces illuminated by the glow of a mobile device? Set ground rules that establish engagement and professionalism.
A trade show encounter allows you to showcase your brand in living color. This multisensory experience exposes the prospect to your logo, colors, products, and a portion of the team. No sales call can harness that power.
UNDERSTAND THE CONFERENCE LAYOUT
If you don't understand the traffic flow at the conference, exhibiting is a waste of money. Gather intelligence beforehand to make sure you understand who attends the sessions and when.
Where are the breakout sessions? Is there a popular gathering place? Do the decision-makers stay for one day? These are among the strategic questions to ask.
There is a transportation construction conference in Pennsylvania I have attended since 1993. One of realities of that show is that many of the contractor executives show up for a board meeting on the first night, stroll through the exhibit hall, and leave the conference. The window of greatest opportunity is small for exhibitors. Understanding this allows them to bring out the A game during that time frame.
GET STUCK IN TRAFFIC
Traffic flow comes into play again in the selection of your booth. It goes without saying that entrances are the most coveted locations. Event organizers do their best to create attractions throughout the hall to drive traffic, but dead zones often remain. Make sure you understand the layout and traffic flow in the exhibit area before locking in a booth.
Understand that you won't always be able to nail down the prime locations. If you're forced to accept a less desirable home, make sure to have a member of your team working the hall to direct traffic to your booth. This is a strategy you should deploy regardless of your exhibit location, but it's especially critical when you're faced with low traffic and visibility.
ALWAYS QUESTION THE INTENT
No one shows their cards when touring exhibits, but most have a specific intent. Optimistic exhibitors want to believe that everyone comes in looking to make deals, but that isn't always the case. There are many conferences, for example, where construction executives are prodded by an association to tour the exhibit hall. In most cases they have no specific needs.
Some visitors drop in to see people they know. Some may be curious about a brand or company. And yet others may simply enter the hall with an open mind, prepared to meet new business partners. Understanding this is critical to attracting attention within a limited time frame. The goal of your team is to establish the intent quickly to determine the best follow-up approach.
THE OVERLOOKED BENEFIT OF TRADE SHOW MARKETING
Many exhibitors walk away from trade shows bitter if they don't make a deal. The big problem is that too many start off with unrealistic expectations. Dishing out a substantial amount to exhibit often primes exhibitors for disappointment.
In most cases, construction equipment firms can accomplish more at a trade show than could be accomplished making sales calls from the home base. The time, travel, and other costs associated with dispersing multiple salespeople across your territory would probably outweigh the cost to exhibit.
The trade show brings your target market together in one place, allowing you to display your equipment and your team. Not to mention, you may generate new leads and connect with hard-to-reach prospects.
SHOCK THE CROWD WITH EXPERIMENTATION
An entire article could be written on how to stand out at trade shows. This concept is the Holy Grail in marketing. Sadly, there is no definitive tactic. One thing is true. If you take the same approach at the same show year after year you will get the same results.
Experimentation is beneficial when it comes to trade show marketing. Allow me to illustrate with a story. I toured the exhibit hall at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) national convention in Philadelphia this year. As I entered the hall, I saw hundreds of booths. Most aisles were like streets full of brick-faced rowhouses. It was a sea of monotony.
Do you know what stood out? A Tyrannosaurus Rex. A building material supplier had placed a roughly four-foot-tall replica of the dinosaur in the booth. When I asked him about the significance, he told me it was meant to be a conversation starter. It worked.
BEYOND SHORT-TERM, SHORT-SIGHTED FOLLOW-UP
Woody Allen once said “80 percent of success is showing up.” Considering that would leave only 20 percent for follow up, he obviously wasn't referring to trade show marketing.
Following up is critical. Make sure you have a marketing strategy in place that goes beyond phone calls, e-mails, and a spot in your database. What valuable content can you deliver in the future to deliver value and keep those leads warm?
We started by discussing the questionable ROI of trade show marketing. Following these tactics will improve your measurable results at the show and shortly thereafter. Cultivating and converting those leads long after the conference, however, requires a more comprehensive approach to your overall marketing program. That, of course, is an entirely different discussion for a future issue of CED.
Brian M. Fraley is the owner and chief strategist for Fraley AEC Solutions, LLC, a marketing communications consultancy that builds solutions on a foundation of industry understanding for the construction and design marketplace.