One of the top questions we get asked at RSM is how to make attending trade shows more effective and valuable. By the way, this applies to both commercial and federal trade shows and we'll outline several the differences in this article. Over the years, we have found that most companies want the flair and excitement that comes with trade shows, but often fail to achieve the results they desire. And to be completely upfront with you, RSM wasn't always as successful as we wanted to be at trade shows. Trade shows and conferences have a reputation for being the holy grail of business success, but many companies suffer abysmal results because they lack one thing. That one thing is a proven system that you use over and over again.
This article is going to lay out for you the exact system that we use at RSM that is PROVEN time and time again to produce amazing results. In fact, this system works so well for us now that it is our number one system for growing our company. Our system is built on four steps.
Step One, Validate that the Trade Show, Conference, or Event is for You. The reason to do this is because you need to quantify upfront that this event has a high value for you and possibly disqualify other events in order to find the most important ones to attend. The reason for this is twofold. First, you can't be everywhere at once and second, events cost time and money away from your business so you need to make sure they count.
At RSM, we validate an event by asking these questions. 1. Who is the target audience? If the audience is your ideal client, it's almost always worth it for you to go. 2. How many attendees are they expecting? Many events will have a past attendee count on their website. If not, you can always email or call the event coordinators and find this out. You want to make sure there are enough people attending to justify the time and effort you are going to be putting into the event. 3. Are there speaking opportunities? While this question is 3rd on my list, it may be the most important. Speaking opportunities have the ability to skyrocket your brand and give you third party credibility with the audience. In order to position yourself for a speaking spot, you will need a powerful bio and abstract of your session. You can email us for more details on this. 4. What other vendors / speakers are attending? If your competition is speaking to your ideal client base, you should consider attending the event. Another great reason to look at the vendors and speakers is potential alliances. There's no better way to gain credibility with someone you want to team with than to speak at an event they are at. 5. Do you have access to the attendee list prior to or after the event? This can sometimes be a deal MAKER for you. If you can put your marketing piece in the welcome kits for the event or have an email list after the event, you can really do some great marketing. 6. Last but not least, What is the cost and does it make sense for you? This should be the last question you ask. Part of this is budget and part of this is a gamble. We can take away the gamble by implementing the next step properly.
Step Two, Building Your Plan. Some simple things to consider for the plan are: How are you going to capture leads? Are you going to bring a fish bowl, do a giveaway, use QR codes, or some other fancy way. We suggest using surveys after your speaking session (assuming you get a speaking spot) and giving away some free product in exchange for attendees filling out your survey.
If you have a booth at the event, you need to know who is going to be manning your booth and everyone needs to be on the same page. For the sake of this article, I won't get into the specifics of what needs to be in your booth or the messaging of the booth pieces. Those are all very important topics that deserve their own article, but if you have questions about that, please email us and we can talk more about that with you. We do recommend that you have your capabilities statement and a custom brochure for any specials you may be running at the event.
If you are speaking at the event, you need to make sure your slides are customized for the event. Use the event's logo's if you can and customize a few of your slides so that the information is not generic. The more your information can cater to your audience, the more you will bond with them. If you are speaking, do a survey. Make it simple and be sure and ask for their name, contact information, and company information. We even ask them to sign it if it's OK for us to use their comments as testimonial. This allows us to rack up a large number of testimonials very quickly.
When building your plan for your event, you will need to ask this simple question. What do we need to do before, during, and after the event? This allows you to create a checklist of tasks such as: coordinate travel, pack and ship booth, design and print brochures, order new company shirts, finish and email presentation to the event coordinators, and much more. Having a detailed list of these things and who is responsible for each one will allow you to have a stress free event.
Step Three, Closing Business at the Event. For many companies, this step is as mythical as a unicorn prancing around in a field of four leaf clovers. Every company talks about this, but no one can show you the money. What we are about to share with you is how we have personally closed over $35,000 in sales PER event over the last couple of years.
In order to close business at an event you HAVE to be prepared for people to want to buy at your event. In many cases, people come to events knowing upfront that they are going to invest in products and services. It's your objective to be one of the few companies that wins some of that business. We love to run some sort of special at the event. Make it event only pricing and irresistible. One of the reasons for this is that once you make someone a customer, they are infinitely more likely to buy from you again. This is true even if their first purchase is something small. Your objective here is just to turn them into a customer. In the case of government clients, this may not be possible at an event, but you can build massive amounts of rapport with them at an event and move much closer to the sale.
Be ready with agreements, order forms, credit card machines, and how you are going to deliver their product or service. The worst thing you can do is get someone ready to buy at an event and then you don't have a way to sign them up or take their money. Depending on what you are selling at the event, you may want to offer free shipping for people from out of town as an added incentive to close the sale.
If you are speaking at the event, be sure that your speaking topic ties in with your event special. Even if you are not technically allowed to sell from the stage, your expertise on your topic will sell YOU and selling YOU is the most important thing you can do. Once people are sold on you, they will want to buy something from you. If your event special matches your speaking topic, it makes a sale very easy. If your event special doesn't match your speaking topic, you will have a lot of selling to do at your booth and that will take up precious time and limit the amount of people you can talk to.
Another great strategy that we have used is to pre-set appointments before the event. You can do this multiple ways. One way is by doing a mailing to the event list prior to the event. Not all events will let you do this and even fewer will actually give you a copy of the list, but many will allow you to submit a marketing piece to them and they will mail it on your behalf. Some larger events have welcome letters when you arrive at your hotel or welcome bags when you register at the event. These are also great opportunities to put a marketing piece in front of your prospects. Our personal preference is a mailer before the event or just the welcome letter. Event bags can be very bulky and your message can easily be lost in there. So if you are going to use event bags, please think through your strategy and how you are going to stand out from the crowd.
If pre-marketing is NOT an option, you can always have a sign up in your booth for consultation or meeting times and schedule them this way. It's not as effective as the other strategies, but it's a simple fall back plan that works.
If someone wants to meet, but just can't commit to something at the event, have your calendar ready to book a meeting for a couple of days after the event. DO NOT let them leave your booth without a tentative date. Your odds of scheduling a meeting after someone leaves your booth is about 10% or less.
One last tip on this. Don't keep anyone talking at your booth instead of attending sessions. If sessions are getting ready to start, ask them to meet over lunch, dinner, or a break and move the sales conversation to that front. Disrespecting your prospects time will not win you any business.
Step Four, Follow Up After the Event. Priority number one for me is having an email introduction ready to go on my phone. In fact, I use break times, lunch, and evenings to get intro emails sent on the day of the event so that I don't have a pile of emails waiting for me afterward. We also get a lot of comments of how fast we responded and how prepared we were for the event by setting this up beforehand.
Understand that people meet a lot of people at events. You will be judged on how you stand out from the crowd, how professional you are, how you engage your prospects and partners, and ultimately how much value they feel you can bring to their business. You will also be judged on how you follow up and how you follow through with anything you promised them at the event. So if you promised to email them something, DO IT!
Another great strategy for event follow up is to send a simple post card. It's another touch in the sales process and it makes you stand out from the crowd. It could simply ready, "Hi [NAME}, it was great meeting you in Atlanta. I look forward to working with you". Keep this simple, personal, and handwritten.
Something you may need to do is extend the event pricing a couple of days. It's very common that people will want to talk and want to buy from you, but just not have the time. So feel free to extend your offer a couple of days. This also gives you another reason to reach out to everyone who didn't buy and make another offer to them.
Last but not least, put any prospects that donât close at the event into your normal sales cycle and follow your sales process with them. Make your follow-ups and check-ins with them powerful and you will get more sales. And understand that some people just take time. Remember, you just met this individual or company at a trade show. It may take a while before they buy from you. This is all part of the relationship and rapport building that needs to happen for some prospects. What we have found is that the prospect that takes a long time to buy also stays with you a really long time. So it's worth it to pursue that company or organization knowing that if you land them, you will most likely retain them much longer than your average client.
Following our advice on these four steps will not only win you more business, it will accelerate your maturity as a company. Many of the techniques and strategies listed here directly apply to other marketing activities that you are already doing. In fact, the best companies on the planet take advice like this and weave it into their everyday activities so that it becomes part of their normal business procedures. But don't take our word for it. Try this process and send us your feedback. If you have questions, please call us or send us an email. We want to hear how we can help you be more successful at trade shows, conferences, and events.
Michael LeJeune is a Senior Consultant and Program Manager at RSM Federal, a federal consulting and business-acceleration strategy firm that helps businesses in accelerating the education and processes necessary to winning government contracts. For more information, videos, and contact information, please visit www.rsmfederal.com