Using a Tradeshow to Your Advantage

How to get it right the first time with a solid plan for the show floor

Trade shows such as ASIS International's 50th Annual Seminar and Exhibits and ISC-East, represent significant opportunities to generate leads and new business, build awareness, establish partnerships and reconnect with existing clients, as well as catch-up on the latest trends and technologies. By exhibiting, you have made a tremendous investment in measurable dollars and man-hours which often leave companies disappointed at the non-quantifiable end results of their trade show efforts.

The excitement of speaking with clients and prospects across several days makes it's very common to hear exhibitors discussing the terrific number of qualified leads they developed and the significant value of the show only to hear them later bemoan the show when discussing it's value versus their investment.

To fairly evaluate results may take several months before and after the event, starting with the establishment measurable objectives for the tradeshow and a plan for achieving them, implementation and evaluation intervals post-event. These plans should consider pre-event promotions to drive or encourage booth visits from client and prospects, and creating schedules and assigning responsibility for networking during social events and other activities. In addition, plans should include organized breakfast, lunch and evening meetings, as well as coordinating visits with particular fellow exhibitors and attending educational sessions of potential interest to your clients.

Planning should start for the following year during this year's trade show starting with booth selection and spending time at the show determining what other exposure and communications opportunities exist such as the media room, advertising and sponsorships, speaking and others. The trade show plan should be integrated to support your efforts, if you've selected an event to participate and are expending significant resources; you should take advantage of as many of the opportunities as possible to support the booth.

These activities and initiatives should focus on achieving your stated objectives, both tangible and intangible such as increasing brand awareness, new product introduction and maintaining your competitive position. Quantifiable metrics should be outlined for the team including numbers for lead and contact collection, hot and warm lead response, screening booth traffic to identify level and area of interest, as well as purchase authority and budget availability. This information should be cataloged and entered into your business development database and tracked through the sales cycle, from discussion and proposal to closed or lost sales. These figures will provide clear insight into various shows and their value to the organization.

The number one problem associated with determining value is the follow-up efforts - or lack thereof - with qualified leads from the conference and exhibition. Trade shows not only require pre-event and onsite planning and a serious commitment of resources and effort after the show. Getting back to the office after the event typically means a pile of unattended work, as well as countless personal errands and "To Do"s. A week on the go, followed by a week of catch-up, can leave little time for follow-up.

"When we get back to the office we typically have a stack of business cards with notes on the back and a disk of leads with contact information and little more," said Rick Shannon, Director of Business Development, Vance International Uniformed Protection Services, "The leads must be broken-down and distributed based on interest area, service area or sales region and vertical market for the necessary follow-up. Tracking the interactions after the show is difficult and the measurement criteria are lost making it extremely difficult to measure."

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