7 essential steps to planning effective trade show exhibits

7 essential steps to planning effective trade show exhibits

Alex Patriquin
Alex Patriquin
July 26, 2021

Exhibiting at trade shows can be a "black box" for big budget dollars or the most effective channel in your company's marketing plan. This year alone, PwC estimates B2B trade shows to be a $15.7 billion market in the US, with that figure growing to $18.5 billion in 2023. Trade show marketing is the second-largest and fastest-growing source of B2B revenue in the U.S. Trade shows are clearly a resilient marketing channel, but most companies still struggle with measuring impact.

In this post, we'll go over 7 essential steps for any marketing team to make their trade shows worth the investment.

1. Selecting the right trade shows to attend

2. Setting event objectives

3. Marketing the event

4. Optimizing booth traffic

5. Capturing trade show leads

6. Following up post-event

7. Evaluating the event with a metric-driven approach

If you’re over unpacking your booth, buying your coffee, and handing out literature until the clock hits 5, keep reading to discover how to bring meaning back to your company’s overall go-to-market strategy and get solid returns on your next trade show.

Selecting the right trade shows to attend

man sitting on bean bag at trade show

Trade shows are expensive! Even if you love making an appearance at these events and collecting free goodies, our bets are your budget likely doesn’t allow for it. To bring value to your organization as a trade show exhibitor, you must choose professional networking events that bring you the biggest return on your investment.

The first step is to check what shows are out there. Check resources like:

  • TradeShowWeek.com
  • TSNN.com
  • Tradefest.io
  • 10Times.com
  • Or google “trade shows (your industry) 2020” and you will quickly see a list longer than a CVS receipt.

You’ll likely start with a long list of shows, but don’t worry - you can easily toggle your commitment level for each event when you’re using EventGeek. Marking on a spreadsheet if you are committed, considering, or skipping shows will work as well. Whatever you do, make sure you are keeping a historical record for comparison.

Next, shorten your list by considering show qualifying factors:

  • Audience match to your buyer persona
  • Quantity of qualified prospects
  • Your cost per qualified attendee

Depending on your trade show goals, you’ll likely want to consider other variables like existing customers vs. prospects, competitors attending, strategic vendors/partners, and the number of sales people you will be able to send.

Finally, go to the source! Ask the trade show management group:

  • What are they doing to promote the event?
  • What was their total net attendance in the past 3 years and what do they predict it will be next year?
  • What competitors will be there?
  • What’s the audience demographic? (titles, industries, company size, buying authority, product interest)

The more information you gather in the planning stages, the easier you’ll make your life when it comes time to report on your objectives.

Setting event objectives

setting trade show marketing goals

To make your trade show exhibit impactful and relevant, you have to tie event objectives back to your “Why,” or the company’s overall go-to-market initiatives. With a clear understanding of the big picture, getting coworkers motivated and committed to achieving those objectives won’t feel like pulling teeth.

Select 1 or 2 strategic objectives and determine what metrics you will use to measure success. This step is crucial! How will you know you are effective without measuring how you’re trending towards your objectives?

Here are some common trade show exhibitor goals you can steal:

  • Generate X amount of MQLs
  • Introduce a new product or service  
  • Enter a new market  
  • Recruit channel partners  
  • Generate RFPs
  • Recruit new employees  
  • Achieve an ROI of X percent
  • Gather new prospects for your database for later nurturing
  • Recruit strategic partners  
  • Conduct market research for competitive intelligence, industry trends, and customer needs  
  • Influence the press or financial community  
  • Retain current customers or “spider-out” into existing accounts

Be careful not to take on more than you can handle. Although here at EventGeek we say “for every business objective, there is an event solution,” keep in mind that a trade show can’t do everything.

Once you set your marketing objectives, list out all the tasks associated with meeting them, along with the planned budget you have for any assets needed.

Marketing the event

Pre-show marketing is the most overlooked opportunity by event marketers.Trade show exhibiting is all about having face-to-face interaction with as many qualified prospects as possible.

Don’t leave this to chance!

Setting up meetings during the trade show is the most effective way to drive ROI and influence prospects converting through the sales cycle. Here are some pre-show promos you can do:

  • Build informative email workflows
  • Design creative direct mail, with online build-and-send tools, like Mailjoy
  • Enhance email signatures, with design and tracking tools, like Sigster
  • Enable leads to book meetings instantly, with appointment setting tools, like Chilipiper
  • Track all event meetings for each rep in a convenient app like EventGeek’s mobile app.

Your goal is to have sales reps spend as much face-to-face time as possible with leads that are as far down the marketing funnel as possible. Although trade shows are a great top-of-the-funnel (or is it the beginning of the flywheel?) tactic, it shouldn’t be the first time any of your target accounts hear from you.

Optimizing booth traffic

eventgeek as a trade show exhibitor at ExhibitorLive19
EventGeek at ExhibitorLive19

Once you are at the trade show, there are still tactics you can use to drive more qualified prospects to your booth.

Selecting the right exhibitor booth layout

If the attending audience is a high match to your buyer persona, design the booth to be open and attractive, and create on-site reasons for people to stop by:  

If the audience is more diverse, your best bet is set more meetings prior to the show and have prospects come to a more private booth.

Staffing your booth

The ideal booth staffer is:  

  • Outgoing, personable, and polite  
  • Well informed about your product  
  • Professionally matched to the interests and demographic of the audience
  • If your product is more complex, mix people with product knowledge and technical skills
  • The best sources for booth staff are often your own sales staff and customer success teams. You can also use services like PopBookings like we did for our ExhibitorLive debut.

Capturing trade show leads

There are several ways to capture leads at events, so what works best for you and your team is entirely up to you. Just try to avoid any archaic methods like having a fishbowl of business cards or writing chicken scratch on napkins you’ll later use at happy hour.

Using a lead capture app that can scan lead information from any source, like business cards, badges, meetings, and instantly syncs with your CRM, is the most convenient way to track trade show ROI.

Whatever you use, make sure it is:

  • Convenient
  • Clear
  • Accurate
  • Speedy
  • Connects to your CRM’s campaign

Following up post-event

Now that the event is over, give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve reached an amazing milestone in the trade show exhibitor journey.

But it’s not over yet…

If you have gathered sufficient information in your lead capture process, you are in a great position to follow-up with the people who visited your booth.

Assuming your leads connect directly with your Salesfoce or Marketo, you can trigger an email drip campaign to nurture leads in different stages of their buying journey. Target sales-ready leads first for the quickest way to get event hero points!

Here is a sample email to get you started:

Of course there are other ways to follow up with leads, such as aligning with your sales team and coordinating a synchronized outreach. The important part is to remind prospects of your products and services. Keeping leads engaged with your company forms relationships that last long after the trade show exhibit.

Evaluating the event with a metric-driven approach

metrc-driven approach

While it shouldn’t be a mystery how trade show investments magically deliver new customers, without modern tools and technology for measuring ROI it’s very difficult to accurately attribute cost and return.

Did you buy a pack of socks and use them across 30 events? Does the line item for shipping the booth materials live in one spreadsheet and the line item for renting the ice cream machine live in another?

Using a trade show planning software with the right features can keep all your costs in one place. You’ll be able to trace all costs back to the trade show, tie any revenue to the specific campaign, and seamlessly calculate your ROI.

In the most simplest calculations, you can measure the quality of a trade show by looking at the cost per lead. In other words:

Cost per lead = (Cost of the event) / (Leads generated at the event)

  • Divide the total trade show cost by the number of qualified leads generated  
  • The numerator should include all costs: including travel, hotels, entertainment, booth construction, swag, etc.
  • Eliminate unqualified contacts from the denominator
  • Put in the denominator the contacts that are still in the qualification and nurturing process, but are expected to convert to qualified leads  

The benefit of this metric is that it provides a consistent view of cost per lead across all marketing channels and other shows. It also serves as a benchmark for evaluating your attendance for the same trade show in future years.  

Being more metric-driven in your approach can be as simple as creating a plan. Grab our worksheet to get started!

And that’s a wrap!

When you tie trade show efforts to the revenue impact that your marketing and sales teams are measured against, you create a natural alignment between what your event marketing team is working towards and what the sales team is trying to achieve.

Update: Santa Fe, N.M.  – Aug 3, 2020 – Event management platform EventGeek relaunched today under the new name Circa, with an updated mission as the first and only event management platform built to help marketing teams adapt strategy and skills to succeed in the new world of virtual and hybrid events. While EventGeek was originally designed to help marketers coordinate logistics for dozens or even hundreds of in-person events, Circa adds virtual event measurement capabilities, ensuring that enterprise marketing and sales teams can adapt existing event programs effectively and unify engagement data across all their events, whether they are hosting or sponsoring an event, and whether events are in-person, virtual or hybrid.

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