Part 1: The plan
Tradeshows are a big investment. The sooner you start, the bigger the potential return.
For innovative technology companies, tradeshows are often one of the biggest line items on your marketing and sales budget. They are a heavy lift, any way you slice it. As budget- and time-intensive as they are, most companies don’t spend enough time or plan far enough in advance to get the most out of tradeshows.
When you work year-round on aligning sales and marketing efforts before, during and after the tradeshow, you can dramatically improve the return on your investment.
For the first in our three-part Tech Tradeshow Tips series, we’ll share advice and stories on the best and worst things to do in preparation for a tradeshow.
1. No rest for the tradeshow-weary
When you get back to the office after a show, you want to get back to work. The last thing you want to think about is another tradeshow. Maybe you’ll make some follow-up calls next week — but otherwise, you don’t want anything to do with tradeshows until the next one. This feeling is totally natural. And it contributes to the vicious cycle of tradeshow tardiness.
When is the ideal time to start planning next year’s tradeshow? The day you get back from this year’s show.
While the experience is fresh in your mind, document what worked, what could work better and put a plan in place for next year. Work backward from next year’s show date and plot out when you’ll need materials in hand. Factor in enough production time to avoid rush charges — whether or not it’s a line item on your invoice, rushing tradeshow materials almost always increases both price and risk.
Next, plot out the time you need to develop or hone your positioning messaging. Determine how your tradeshow strategy can dovetail with your content marketing plan for the year. How can you better align sales and marketing efforts throughout the year to make better use of your tradeshow investment?
Running your schedule backward from the show date will give you the time to do it right. You’ll compromise less, panic less and get a lot more out of the tradeshow.
2. Allocate funds for marketing and design
Coming from a marketing and design firm, this may sound a little self-serving, but hear me out.
Tradeshows cost a ton of money: conference registration, union fees, travel, hotels, lost work hours — the expenses add up. If you’re going to spend the big bucks required to attend a show, it pays to make that investment count. Carving out a budget for marketing and design will put you in the best position to make the best impression — whether you spend it in-house, with a freelancer or an agency.
A well-designed tradeshow presence can take you from, “Oh crap, we need a booth!” to “Oh yeah, we’re awesome and we look the part.” When you get to the show, it will be easy to tell the professionally designed booths from those that aren’t. You can and should be among the elite.
3. Think of everything you want to your booth to say, then cut 95%
There are enough best practices that go into designing an effective tradeshow presence to fill another lengthy article. But the most common booth design mistake is worth noting here: too much content.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell folks everything about your company. Your tradeshow display is not the place to do it. Rather, your display should convey your high-level positioning statement and be designed to visually draw people in.
Determine the one big pain you resolve for customers and put that on your display. Make it nice and short. Make it nice and big.
Your pre-show outreach, in-booth talk track, handouts and follow-up materials can all dive as deep as needed. Make sure the first impression your brand makes is clear, concise and compelling.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell folks everything about your company. Your tradeshow display is not to place to do it.
4. Set measurable goals
Some marketing efforts, like digital advertising and direct mail, are delightfully trackable. Some efforts, like a rebrand or ad campaign, are less so. Tradeshows fall squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Setting specific, measurable goals can help justify your investment. Are you there to get the word out about a new product release? Sell product? Gather qualified leads? Move prospects along their buyer journey?
Set realistic goals for the show, then plot out a strategy for hitting and tracking those goals. What needs to happen six, 12 and 18 months after the show for it to be a success?
5. Prime the pump
Prospects, partners, clients and colleagues are all likely to be attending the show. Let them know you’ll be there too and why they should care. Engage them prior to the show through postcards, emails and social media outreach. Consider sending a more premium mailer to your hottest prospects. If you’re hosting a happy hour or planning to schedule sit-downs during the show, get on their calendars before someone else does.
Case in point:
Encompass, makers of route accounting software for beer distributors, had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: A recent industry merger had nearly doubled the number of beer distributors who could choose to use their software. Time was of the essence in getting the attention of these potential customers.
Beer distributors have all the toys they need, so sending them something that would get their attention and be useful was a challenge.
The Big Idea: In advance of the industry’s biggest tradeshow, we sent BottleKeepers to Encompass’ hottest prospects. Brand new to the market at the time, BottleKeepers are stealthy, insulated containers allowing you to bring a beer to any social occasion — keep it cool, keep it discreet. Encompass messaging was emblazoned on the container and an inserted marketing piece.
The results: Encompass made a big splash prior to the show, boosted brand awareness and gathered hundreds of qualified leads. The mailers worked so well, in fact, they had to put the effort on hold in order to take care of all the new leads. We’ll drink to that.
6. Utilize the available tools
Tradeshow organizers understand the time, money and energy you’re committing. It’s in their best interest for you to have a productive show. Smartly, they provide a lot of resources — often at no additional cost — to help you get the most out of a show. Many organizers will offer free tradeshow planning tools, social media support and PR opportunities.
Tradeshows can quickly become overwhelming and companies can fail to take full advantage of these opportunities. Don’t fall into that trap.
Earlier this week, I scrolled through the exhibitor list of an upcoming tradeshow. Half the exhibiting companies had not provided a web address or social media links to conference organizers. It’s conceivable those companies might want to fly under the radar and be as hard to find as the A-Team. What’s much more likely is someone didn’t fill out a form completely, and as a result, potential customers will have a harder time connecting with them. The basics matter.
8. Get on the podium
One of your likely goals for the tradeshow is to get in front of as many people as possible. What better way to do that than from the dais? In this case, start planning for next year while you’re at this year’s show. Look at the lineup of speakers and panelists to identify where you might be able to add value next year. If you have a unique perspective and a history of thought leadership in the space, getting on the podium might be easier than you think.
Next: It’s showtime
In part two of our Tech Tradeshow Tips series, we’ll explore how you can get the most out of your team, get the most out of your tradeshow and get even the most introverted techie moving it like a sales machine.
About Tom Campbell:
Tom is Toolbox’s co-founder and creative director. When he’s not keeping the ‘Box rocking, Tom can be found backstopping his beer league hockey team or playing drums for local bar bands. He’s also a founder and fairy godfather of Art Lab Fort Collins and keeper of TomLovesTheLibertyBell.com, a quirky repository of stories and stats on Liberty Bell replicas.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping the 3D Printing, AgTech and CleanTech industries change the world. We distill complex technologies into powerful identity systems, websites and marketing tactics that align sales and marketing efforts, create lasting impact and build brand love.