Trade Shows - Active vs Passive Participation.....

Updated: Aug 29

OK, so this is going to be a boring post. Honestly, I wish it didn’t have to be but I have just come back from a trade show in Paris and have been reminded of the most common sins I see regularly from certain exhibitors. Shows are back after a two year COVID hiatus but the missed opportunities are back too!

So today I am going to talk about some of the things we can all do to maximize our effectiveness at trade shows. Now, please forgive me for not dwelling on the really obvious stuff like: Don’t forget to ship your booth on time. I only mention this because I see people standing at empty booth spaces complaining that their stuff hasn’t turned up and usually it is their own fault for not following the guidelines from the show organizers.

Today, I am going to assume that most of us get the basics right and focus on the things that we all can easily miss that will help us maximize leads from a show. I think that the tips below make the difference between active and passive participation at a show.

Why should you care?

A typical larger show charges about USD$ 5K for a booth. Of course you need to add furniture rental, electricity, etc. to that. Then there are the directly related other costs such as hotel, flights, taxis, food, and shipping of displays and equipment there and back. It is not unusual for a three day trade show with only one person on the booth to end up costing 10K. I would budget another 2k+ for each additional person you send. So, a single booth with two people will probably run up a bill of 12k to 14K. Now, there are some smaller and very targeted trade shows where the booth cost is only a fraction of the 5K I mentioned above and where it only makes sense to send one person but even these shows will incur a direct outlay in the region of 6K.

Of course, direct costs are only part of the picture. There are also indirect costs. These are what economists like to refer to as opportunity costs, i.e. what was the opportunity lost by a decision to commit time and money to a specific project. In other words, saying yes to something usually means saying no to something else.

The most obvious opportunity cost is that a salesperson away from their desk in the office cannot do their normal day-to-day work of lead generation, qualification, sales support, etc., etc. So you may want to take your salesperson(s) payroll and overheads for show days and add that to the direct costs above. Indeed, my experience has been that planning for a show and recovering from travel effectively mean even more days away from normal sales activities. A note of caution here! Be very wary of the salesperson who believes that they can keep on top of everything while away at a trade show. This should only be possible if either (a) there is so little activity at the show, they didn’t need to be there anyway, or (b) if they are coasting when they are back in the office and could and should be getting way more done.

So if we add the direct and indirect costs then we get a more realistic figure. Say, for example, your direct costs are 12K and the indirect is 6k then you have invested 18K in a trade show. So what did you get for it? Let’s say, hypothetically, that you got 30 strong leads and 30 weak ones and say 3 weak leads equals one strong one, then that works out at $450 per lead. Your math may be different but I’d gamble that when you do it you will be amazed at what each lead is costing you and that cost is why we all need to maximize the effectiveness of trade shows.

What and When?

What you can additionally do and when you should do it will vary depending on the product category, price and a myriad of other factors but below I will suggest some things to consider.

Before you go…..

1. Set up your booth in your office and decide what you want to bring and how you want it to look. If a show has a particular focus then those are the products to bring and promote. Make sure that a passer-by can clearly understand what you have i.e. don’t just bring everything, throw it on a table and assume people will come flocking in to beg for quotes.

2. Do some quality pre-show marketing. Consider buying a list of attendees. If you don’t want to spend the extra money then you can usually find last year's attendees for free (with a little detective work!). 80-90% of this year's attendees will be the same people. Also, contact any current prospects that you think may attend and invite them to your booth.

At the show…….

3. Make sure your booth is selling your products and that your team is welcoming delegates. Remember that a salesperson sitting with their back to the aisle tapping emails on a laptop doesn't send a positive and inviting message to passers-by.

4. Research the poster sessions to find out when topics that are relevant to your products will be covered. If you have two people on the booth then one of you can visit the posters and get some real human to human prospecting going there. Minimally, make sure that everyone presenting a poster that mentions your products knows you and where your booth is. So they can tell people they describe their work to during the poster sessions. It’s free!

5.Take quality notes about leads, not just product of interest and contact details but also how “hot” the lead is, why they are interested and any other relevant information from the conversation. This data will arm you to start great follow-up conversations when you get back to HQ.

After the show……..

6. Follow-up with leads quickly and show personal interest. Don’t just send a quote. Tell the prospect that you remember your conversation with them and drop in some of the details (like, “I recall you were interested in measuring XXX from neonatal rodents”). We are social animals and we tend to reciprocate when we feel we have received quality engagement.

7. Finally, do a debrief. Find out what worked and what could have been better. Were there missed opportunities that can be covered at the next trade show? Most importantly, how many leads did we get and what was the lead acquisition rate i.e. (cost per lead) / (gross margin per sale). If you LAR is high then the show probably wasn’t worth the cost and you should consider dumping it!

I know that the above involves plenty of work and I know it isn’t the type of work our sales team are in a rush to do but it is important. It can be boring but it can also cut your cost per leads significantly. Indeed the debrief I mentioned at the end may help you cut out bad shows completely and think of how much that would save.

Good hunting!

Rory Geoghegan

August 16th, 2022

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