Practical strategies to maximize your trade show ROI | BDC.ca

Practical strategies to maximize your trade show ROI

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If you're like many business owners across Canada, trade shows are a key part of your annual marketing plan.

You probably attend trade shows to generate new sales leads, keep up to date on what's going on in your industry or build awareness for your company.

Unfortunately, trade shows can turn out to be a colossal waste of your time and money.

Planning is the key to trade show success

The success or failure of your trade show efforts depends on whether you make the necessary preparations to maximize your return on investment.

"Your success at a trade show is determined before it even starts," said BDC Consulting Partner Brian Pleet, a sales and marketing specialist. "You need to set out objectives before the show so you can measure your success."

With that in mind, here are 5 tactics for your next trade show.

1. Have a marketing plan

Many smaller businesses lack a marketing plan and a clear understanding of how exhibiting or just attending a trade show could help increase sales. Among other things, a comprehensive marketing plan should include a review of all marketing tactics used by your firm in the past year and those you plan to use in the coming year. If exhibiting at a trade show makes sense in this context, it's likely worth the expense. If not, your marketing dollars are better spent elsewhere.

2. Select the right show

Every industry features a wide variety of annual trade shows and events that may or may not benefit your firm. Pleet says there are two key questions you should ask when determining which ones to attend. How many of the people I really want to meet will be at the show? Are there other ways (online marketing, advertising, cold calls) to reach them and achieve the same goals more efficiently?

Once you've decided which shows to attend, outline clear business development objectives. How many sales leads or outright sales do you want to generate? Are there other business partners, such as suppliers, acquisition targets or joint-venture partners, you want to connect with?

3. Target high-value visitors before the show

You can attract more top sales prospects to your booth by reaching out to them before the show. Promote your presence at the show on social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, and use your email contact list to invite prospects and other potential business partners to visit your booth.

4. Give them a reason to say hello

Investing in an engaging display will boost your chances of snagging the right type of attendees. Both the design of your booth and the information and gifts you give away should drive home your company's value proposition and competitive advantage. Ask questions of visitors to determine whether they are good sales leads; then record their contact details.

5. Prepare to follow up

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when attending or exhibiting at a trade show is collecting plenty of cards and generating leads and then failing to follow up on them.

Pleet recommends designating a team member to enter contact information into a database, and then following up according to the contact's preference (via social media channels, email or telephone) within 72 hours. Be sure to track the progress of the lead so you can make improvements to your business development process in the future.

At the conclusion of every trade show, you and your team should sit down and review how you did at the show versus your objectives. Was it worth the time and money? What could you do better next time? Should there be a next time?

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