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Sunday, March 14, 2010

This week I spent time working a trade show out in Phoenix AZ. Aside from the great weather and opportunity to spend some time reaching decision makers, I thought it was a good opportunity to assess whether or not trade shows are still a viable marketing tactic.

I've been to my share of trade shows and quite honestly, some have been great others were barely worth the time. But I have to ask, "are trade shows in general really worth it?" By the time you add up all of the direct expenses, time, and effort of working a show, the benefits may seem questionable.

Based on my recent experience and years of attending trade shows, I've come up with guidelines that can help anyone make the most of their trade show experience.

1. Only attend shows that reach decision makers.  Now you might be saying, "Hey, it's all about influencers - they don't have the buying power but they talk to their bosses."  Great, then send them a post card.  But don't waste your time trying to influence them via a trade show.  The expense just doesn't justify the potential return.

2.  Focus on local shows.  I'm not saying that national trade shows are out, but more often than not, you can have a greater presence at a local show and have more of an impact.  National shows require you to fly in reps from all over and incur significant expense.  Local shows however usually are less costly and allow you to better reach your target market.

3.  Follow up on your leads.  Did you know that many studies have been done on the effectiveness of trade shows.  Surprisingly, 75% of trade show leads are never followed up on.  This may be the case for a variety of reasons (lead in different territory, other priorities, etc.) but the fact remains that the reason most of us go to trade shows never gets realized.  If you are going to invest in attending a show, follow up on each and every lead.

4.  Make the most of after show dinners and activities.  The best opportunities are usually those that happen during non-exhibit hours.  Invite potential clients to breakfast, dinner, make appointments, have meetings.  Take advantage of having your target market in the area and try to build strong relationships with your prospects.  Have a two minute conversation at your booth is a crap shoot at best.

5.  Only go back to shows that generate a positive ROI.  I wish I had more fingers!  If I tried to count the number of times I've heard, "We have to go back, we saw so many of our customers" or "We had some really great booth traffic", I'd quickly run out of fingers to count on.  Nothing matters except conversions.  If your leads do not convert, then your trade show expense was not worth it.  Instead of investing all of that money to see clients, find other ways to bring them together and achieve the outcome you're looking for.

Trade show attendance makes sense if you can manage your costs and effectively leverage all of the different aspects that trade shows have to offer.  Be very selective in which shows you attend and carefully plan your time there, establish goals, and evaluate your performance.  This is the best way to make each show productive and determine if it's worth returning to in the future.


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