A typical b-to-b marketer's single largest budget item is trade show and event marketing -- averaging 20% of its total marketing budget, according to a recent Forrester study. That's bigger than what they spend on digital marketing (13%), content marketing (12%) or their websites (8%). Justifiable, since business buyers consistently rate events as a key source of information about new products and solutions. According to a recent study from Bredin, trade shows and events are the second most-cited source of new product and new vendor information -- after peers and colleagues -- among small- to medium-sized business owners.
With that kind of investment on the line, b-to-b marketers would do well to pay particular attention to three important points of leverage in their trade show marketing activities.
Trade shows and conferences are such a powerful element of the marketing mix primarily because they offer a relatively efficient way to conduct a face-to-face conversation with customers and prospects. Think about it: Your target audience is flying into a single location, where, over a period of several days, you can have a series of encounters to either kick off or deepen a valuable business relationship. Compare that to the time and cost of flying your salespeople all over the country.
But to take advantage of the opportunity, you must focus on ensuring that you will 1) Meet the right people at the event, and 2) Use every minute of face-time for productive conversations. This means pre-show outreach, to set up meetings, drive traffic to your booth or invite targets to your private get-togethers, like breakfasts or parties.
Oddly, business marketers seriously under-utilize this highly leveragable option, devoting only 5% of their event budgets to pre-show promotions, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
Marketers should pursue two pre-show communication strategies:
1. Targeted communications to registered attendees. Extract high-potential visitors from among the trade show attendee population and encourage them to visit your booth or set up an appointment, using outbound email, mail and telephone.
2. Communications to your house file. Invite your own customers, inquirers and prospects to meet with you at the show. If they are not planning to attend the event, your invitation reminds them that you are exhibiting, and serves as a useful part of an ongoing relationship-building communications stream.
Much has been written about how to get the most from booth location, design and signage at a trade show. But to my mind, the single greatest leverage point lies with the staff that will populate your booth. This is where those all-important business conversations take place. If those interactions are missed -- or flubbed -- your event ROI will suffer. Two key areas require your focus:
1. Staff training. We may think that our sales, marketing and technical people are naturally suited to booth duty. But investing a few thousand dollars in expert training can triple their productivity, getting you more leads and more business relationships for the fixed budget you've invested. In just a few hours, your booth staff can be trained to engage -- and disengage -- effectively with customers and prospects at levels that will astonish you.
2. Convenient data capture. A mere badge scan won't capture the content of the conversations these staffers are having with prospects. They need a fast and unintrusive way to record the prospect's interests and next steps, whether it's a paper- or tablet-based tool for data capture.
Which leads us to the final point of leverage:
Much has also been written about the importance of timely and relevant followup after an event. But I would take it a step further. I say that if you don't have a followup process in place at your company, you shouldn't be attending a business event in the first place.
Except in the rare instance of shows where goods are sold on the floor, your entire revenue payoff will be post-show. Make sure your lead qualification and nurturing processes are ready to receive the influx of data generated at the event, and that the specialized data captured by the booth staff can be worked into the followup communications to make them relevant and professional.
With a focus on these three leverage points, you can take your event marketing to new levels of productivity.