Tradeshows can be an excellent source of new business. Speaking directly to prospects can speed up the sales cycle and develop better client relationships. However, not many people can ‘work’ a tradeshow effectively. And, if you recall the last tradeshow you attended, how excited are most people when wandering past vendor booths? Not very – people will avoid eye-contact, pretend to be on their phones, look the other way or be too timid to enter the booth for fear that their curiosity will be mistaken for interest – because it shouldn’t be. Usually, this is the result of poor planning or seeing a tradeshow as a single opportunity. Tradeshows should be one element in an orchestrated campaign or plan for your organization.
A tradeshow or conference should never be a last minute decision. Long range planning will always benefit you and will allow you to implement clever ideas, create relevant content, and generate a better return on investment.
Think about what you’re going to do at the tradeshow and how you’re going to attract potential customers. And don’t forget about current prospects. Before the tradeshow, invite current prospects to attend and visit your booth to participate in your booth activity.

Think about what this activity will be. Some quick ideas are:

  1. Promote an upcoming webinar and invite your booth visitors to your (related) upcoming webinar. Combine this with visitors submitting questions they would be interested in hearing answered in the webinar.
  2. Take a survey of which tradeshow attendees would be interested in knowing the results. The tradeshow organizers may even be willing to share a teaser of the results. Combine this with #2.
  3. Give away a piece of interesting content and offer to follow-up with booth visitors by sending them the second piece of content via email. An example of effective content would be free research findings.

Most people will enter their card for a draw, but not all those cards are prospects. You can limit this by offering something a prospect would be interested in. Avoid the trap of a free iPad and instead give them free registration for your upcoming paid event. This gives you the 1-2 punch because you could offer a discount for all entries and entice their attendance (more one-on-one time).
Now, all these suggestions are the basics at a tradeshow. The most important piece is selecting the tradeshow and your level of involvement. Combining a table or booth with presenting or speaking is always a great idea. If you aren’t able to speak, look at the sponsorship packages. Sponsoring can also generate a few inbound links for your website which can contribute to SEO.

The Tradeshow Giveaway

Most tradeshows and conferences allow sponsors to put something into the conference bag for every attendee. If you do this, make it something unique for that audience. An item that only your target audience would see as valuable – it’s worth the effort to give them something they’ll hold on to or share. Including a resource code that gets redeemed on your website can be an effective way to bring them to your website. Giving something to redeem at your booth will draw them to you in person. Just remember that the whole point to giving them something is that it will be kept and displayed or used at work so that your organization is kept in mind. Put some thought into this, a great giveaway can bring a lot of traffic to your booth and reduce the stress and embarrassment of looking bored and alone in a crowded room.
Tradeshows, conferences, and other events don’t have to be a pricey affair. Just make sure you have a budget to guide your decisions before you commit. And if you need help planning your next conference or tradeshow participation – I’m here to help, get in touch.

Carolyn Bergshoeff is the founder of WindWater Marketing, a Toronto-based small business marketing firm. Carolyn helps her clients ensure that their trade shows result in strategic actions and outcomes.