Have you ever been to one of those great self-help weekends where a totally dynamic speaker shares all of their great acorns of wisdom and gets you so pumped up you want to change the world? Sunday night you go to bed determined that you won’t ever be the same person again. Then Monday morning rolls around and you have no idea what to do first? I call this the “hot bath.” It feels great while you are in it, but then you have to get up, dry off, and figure out what’s next. Sometimes people attend a trade show, conference, or networking event and have that same exact problem – they get home and then have no idea what to do next. As hardened trade show veterans our team has learned a lot over the years about how to maximize the opportunities each trade show presents. Here our are top tips:
CONNECT Connect with as many people as possible. I know connecting with people sounds so simple but the trade show environment is so conducive to leveraging your time that it would be crazy to go to an event and not meet as many people as you can. Think about the economics of traveling to meet with 20 prospects or current customers: The time, travel, and opportunity cost of being on the road for 20 trips is enormous. Luckily, with proper planning and keeping a loaded calendar at the trade show you can accomplish those same meetings during the event.
At the trade shows I attended last week, I scheduled five productive meetings a day for 4 straight days. Those 20 meetings would have cost my company at least $30,000 if I took each of those trip separately. The value of face-to-face conversation in today’s world of email, text, and voice mail is enormous. Attending a trade show and making great use of the time is like compressing 6 months of business travel into a week.
Then to get even more leverage, we work outside the box. In addition to meeting with a bunch of possible prospects and current clients at the show, at IAUG, our team met 30 new possible partners on the trade show floor during slow times at our booth and the social events. At the right event, you might find that many of the other exhibitors are perfect partners or customers for your product of service. All total, in four days we did about a year’s worth of prospecting, and six months worth of connecting with our current client base. We didn’t stop there though! We also make sure we found some time as a team to have strategic planning sessions and had meetings with two companies that were not attending the trade show but since we were in town we wanted to visit. We also scheduled a sales training with one of our key partners in Dallas the day after the show.
Overall, we packed as much work as possible into every crack in the schedule to make sure the time, effort, and expense of going to the show was worth it. It was an exhausting but very effective week. There is no way we could have had a more productive 4 days.
FOLLOW UP Ok, so you’ve utilized your time effectively, connected with prospects, customers, and partners, what next? You have to follow up with a strategic, methodical, and disciplined approach. I once saw a statistic that said less than 3% of all trade show leads are ever contacted after the show. What a crime! Think about all of that wasted opportunity!
There are many ways to do effective follow up, but here are three things that work for our team:
- In the hotel room after each day, our team divides up the new prospects and we reach out to them with an email thanking them for stopping by our booth and an inviting them to connect on LinkedIn. We think it is critical to make sure that this step happens the same day we meet people. Don’t wait to do it in a huge block when you get home. If you wait, your email will just get lost in the infinite morass of other email the new connection will receive the Monday after the event or you will never get around to following up at all. By sending an immediate email, it is more likely your new connection will respond that same day, maybe while they are still at the show.
- If there is an immediate action item, such as a follow up meeting or they have requested a demo of our products, we send a calendar invite request that same day as well. Often I can get my schedule for the week after the show booked before I even fly home.
- In addition, all the leads go into our database to receive one of our automated nurture email campaigns. Our nurture campaigns will drip seven targeted email messages about the show content and invite the prospects to attend our upcoming webinars, visit our YouTube channel, subscribe to our Tech Tips newsletters, follow us on Twitter (@VXSuite), and receive additional product information.
By strategically and systematically following up with the people we meet, we hardly ever have anyone fall through the cracks.
GET SOCIAL! You have to attend the social events. It is critical to go out and socialize with the people that attend the event. While standing in the bar, drinking a Sprite, and getting to know my new friends I often learn more about other people’s companies, what their buying drivers are, how they think, and how I might be able to help them than in any other setting.
I honestly think that the time spent socializing, and even buying a round of drinks (my mother would faint at the thought), has probably produced more sales over my career than almost any other single activity. In the bar people let their guard down and let you find out who they really are. When you know that, you know how to help them. Simply buy a round of drinks, ask some good questions, and then just listen. You will be amazed at what you hear.
The other night we had some drinks with a couple of new friends and that time invested has already resulted in a connection to a huge channel partner we weren’t previously connected to, an invitation to an exclusive event with a strategic manufacturer we were trying to meet, and a scheduled exploratory meeting with a like-minded company that could be very promising. We heard some great music from REO Speedwagon and a phenomenal band called Hey Jimmy, got a taste of the Nashville music scene, had ribs at Rippy’s BBQ, and had a ton of laughs. Imagine if I had just gone back to my room to answer email or watch TV! The social events are where the real networking takes place and people who avoid the socializing part of a tradeshow are missing a critical piece of the puzzle.
I attended two trade events last week. On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I was at the Technology Assurance Group (TAG) in Nashville, TN and on Wednesday and Thursday I was at the International Avaya Users Group (IAUG) in Dallas TX. I have been almost 200 trade shows, events, or conferences in my life. Many people see these things as a total waste of time because they never get any business out of them. I couldn’t disagree more. I have worked at companies where their entire lead base for the year came out of one large trade event. So what is the difference between the people who think these events are a giant waste of time and money and people like me who get huge returns from attending? I think it comes down to taking action and treating the trade show like a key business development opportunity. What tips do you have to make trade shows successful? What trade shows are best for you? Do you prefer large international groups or small regional based ones?