Using a Tradeshow to Your Advantage

Sept. 26, 2004
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."

Industry statistics show that nearly 70 percent of all trade-show leads are never adequately followed up, and the average lead fulfillment time is nearly two months. In addition, when left to busy sales people, the show lists are often skimmed for only the "better" companies or leads with the unrecognized leads left to languish. Now is the perfect time to get your plan in place for a more effective follow-up program for ASIS, ISC and other trade shows.

A Pro-Active Approach

Identifying and Categorizing Leads - While not a perfect science, it is vital to go into a trade show with some standard guidelines for categorizing leads. Whether general interest inquiries or ready-to-buy prospects, classifying your booth visitors will allow you to more effectively follow-up with targeted material specific to their needs, as well as prioritize your follow-up efforts upon return to your office.

Pre-Event Planning - Prepare your follow-up materials before leaving for the trade show for each lead category before you go to the show. Some minor tuning and personalization will have your materials ready to go out the morning leads get back to your office.

Train Your Staff - Most likely, your booth will be staffed by knowledgeable personnel familiar with your company's products and services. Trade shows, however, require that your staff not only be able to sell your company, but qualify leads and record detailed information about each visitor. Getting a bunch of business cards is great for your rolodex, but knowing what products and services that individual are interested in purchasing is great for your ROI. A brief, one hour role-playing session can be a great way to actively train your staff on booth strategy.

Identifying and Categorizing Booth Visitors - Your staff can waste a significant amount of time speaking with the wrong visitors while the true prospects wait around for attention or leave based on traffic. We recommend employing one or more screeners to quickly approach visitors and work to categorize them into interest areas, measure their immediate or long-term needs and steer them to the proper persons within the booth. This person should also be responsible for ensuring that each visitor is scanned electronically with the lead retrieval or business cards are obtained.

The trade show floor is full of different types of people with different agendas. Some people have specific goals for attending the show; others do not. As an exhibitor, your observation and questioning skills will be your key to determining who may be a viable sales prospect. Familiarize yourself with the various visitor types likely to frequent the tradeshow floor.

* Hot/Warm Leads or Prospects - If you develop a plan and have completed appropriate pre-show and onsite promotions and messaging, definite prospects and customers will definitely visit your booth.

* Demonstration Junkies - Minimize your time with passers-by attracted to your demonstration or other activity such as games or giveaways. These could be valuable prospects or time wasters, screen them with short, open-ended questions and have a plan to move them on before they waste valuable time and resources.

* Curiosity Cats - Curious about anything from what your company does graphics and so on; again screen appropriately and minimize your time.

* Paper Lovers - Some people simply cannot get enough paper, they are compelled to gather as much information as possible, potentially to demonstrate to the "boss" that the expense was worthwhile. Screen to determine if they are gathering with a purpose, beware of competitive intelligence.

* Eyeballers - Usually extremely friendly, and lonely; they smile and their whole body language says, please talk to me. Questioning will determine whether or not they are prospects worth pursuing.

* The Players - They must play every game and enter every contest. They are always ready, willing and able to drop a business card into a fishbowl for any kind of drawing. Create additional barriers beyond dropping a card to qualify these leads to help deter these types. If you want the contact information for all the attendees, buy the list.

* Hunters/Gathers - Any giveaway attracts these folks; they may even want more than one for family, friends and colleagues. Keen questioning will ascertain if this visitor has potential.

* The Disinterested - This crowd is simply not interested in your products or services and will let you know in no uncertain terms through their body language. Waylaying these types will only upset them and waste your time.

* Hawks - Attend shows for the sole purpose of selling you something; publication advertising representatives are a prime example. They are unlikely to be prospects, but you never know. If floor traffic is slow, it may be worth asking a few questions, if only to gather potential referrals.

* Resume Hounds - Trade shows are an excellent networking environment and represent a quick and easy avenue for people to distribute their resumes. If you looking to fill positions, have job descriptions on hand, if not, have a plan to screen and move these folks onto the next "victim."

* Researchers - These individuals could be underlings in their organization sent to conduct specific research. Do not underestimate them. They may be extremely strong influencers or know the appropriate contact within their organization for your product or service. Time spent with them could be invaluable.

* Snoops - The competition! Check the badge and beware of individuals that know too much or ask precise questions. Minimize their access to any proprietary information and other important materials that could be duplicated and provide insight into your target markets or approaches to lessen the chances of giving away valuable information.

Telephone Screening - It is a wasted effort to work hard preparing for and attending a trade show, only to then send out information to leads without making sure they received the right information. A phone call not only verifies that information was received and questions answered, but reinforces the professionalism of your company and your desire to meet your customer?s needs. Telephone follow-up works best if received within a day or two of the receipt of materials, while they may not have reviewed them yet, they should remember receiving and may get into a brief discussion. Follow-up materials should be personalized and address specific concerns discussed during on the show floor, as well as have appropriate messaging in the letter and on the envelope regarding Materials As Requested. In addition, if you can include value-added information relevant to their position or vertical market such as an interesting article or research, the value of the communication increases starting the contact in a non-threatening, non-sales context, i.e., "Did you receive the article regarding the latest trends in security concerns amongst facility managers?"

Track Detailed Lead Information - The more detailed and accurate all of your follow-up efforts are, the easier it is to track quantifiable results generated from the show. While it is often impossible to track where all of your sales come from, some simple due-diligence by your staff at the time of sale can provide your company with valuable information regarding your marketing efforts, including trade show attendance.

Last, contacting every lead and tracking responses to various campaigns and messages will provide constructive feedback that can be immediately implemented to improve the performance of the campaigns. In fact, follow through and tracking are often the most important elements of the process. Create a tactical implementation plan that provides timelines and measures repetition and depth of campaigns on targeted audiences. This integrated monthly timeline ensures that you reach each target audience with multiple exposures through multiple channels effectively and consistently.

Find creative methods to maintain and increase value-added and anticipated communications with clients and prospects that reinforce your message and position your company as a resource for security-related knowledge and expertise. By creating a continuous communications loop with integrated efforts such as coordinated E-newsletters, advertising, telephone contacts and special events, you will support the efforts of your sales force and operations for increased brand recognition and satisfaction.

Remember, everyone within an organization is constantly marketing. Marketing is what you make of it. Make it a part of your corporate culture, and marketing will make you a success!

About Joseph Ricci, CAE: Joseph Ricci is President and CEO of Ricci Communications - a full service, award-winning, marketing communications firm - and is a recognized leader in the security community. He has spent the past 12+ years developing and implementing marketing, PR and special events for various companies and associations including Securitas USA, ASIS International and IPIX. Ricci serves on the GOVSEC Advisory Board, the ASIS International Private Security Services Council (PSSC), and the National Capital ASIS International Chapter Board and is a frequent speaker, author and resource for security and vertical trade publications including bi-annual columns on security trends in TFM magazine. He can be reached at 703-519-7162 or [email protected] (