I’ve done a lot of tradeshows in my life, it’s not something I really enjoy. I’ve also spent a ton of money on tradeshow fees, travel, hotels, meals, staff, and don’t forget paying the union guys to move my stuff around. You have to ask yourself why am I doing this? Will I get anything out of this? Is this really working? I have to tell you I think there is nothing worse than the feeling of standing on concrete floor from nine o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night. To make matters worse you get to haul a bunch of stuff out to the vehicle, the stuff that we don’t dare leave in the booth so we pack it in and out every day. Are you getting any return on this huge investment? Do you know if you’re getting a return? How do you know if you’re getting a return? The reality of it is I’m sure you don’t know.
You are participating in what I like to call “hope marketing” it’s a very common practice so don’t feel bad, we throw out a bunch of literature, handout a bunch business cards, talk to a bunch of people, and hope some of it sticks. We hope somebody will look us up and buy our product, partake of our service, or at least allow us to give them a quote. Like most people, I’ve spent thousands of dollars printing up really nice cards, brochures, product literature and full-color business cards. People would come into my booth and I would spend tons of time talking to them, explaining stuff to them, and of course giving them stacks of literature. For icing on the cake I would even make sure to let them know that they could call me toll free, I’d pay the phone bill.
What happens to all that literature? Your customers are walking through the tradeshow filling up a huge bag that weighs 17 pounds by the end of the tradeshow. If you’re lucky they haul it out to the car, they haul it home, it probably kicks around the trunk of the car for a week or two and at some point it gets hauled into the house. The famous tradeshow bag now finds it’s home on the doorknob going into your bedroom. After it hangs out there for several weeks your spouse finally gets irritated enough to toss it in the trash. Chances are nobody ever looks at the stuff that leaves the tradeshow in the famous tradeshow bags.
There is always the upside that you might be charismatic enough that you burned an impression into your customer’s mind, one that they won’t forget. On a rare occasion they might actually remember you and might look for you when planning to purchase your particular product or service. Chances are they will have to “Google You” and guess who else they will find? You guessed it, they will find your competitors, probably all of them! There is a good chance that they can’t quite remember your business name or your name and they will end up buying your product or service from one of your competitors. So here you are, sore feet, tired back, long days stuck in a tradeshow booth for days at a time eating bad food trying to make a quick run for the bathroom during a slow time In the booth, sleeping in a hotel room with a horrible bed only to advertise for your competitors! Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it? Well guess what it’s more reality than you think.
If you’re going to a trade show and thinking this is how trade shows work and you think trade shows are going to bring business to your door, you’re wrong, 100% wrong. Every trade show I’ve ever been to was nothing more than massive information over load. Chances are unless it was something that I absolutely went there looking for I won’t remember you and I’m not going to partake of your goods or services. Most people think that the actual trade show is the marketing opportunity, the trade show is only the mechanism to capture leads. The marketing opportunity is actually the days and weeks following the event as you follow up, educate, and entertain those leads. It is generally accepted that customers have to experience your brand seven times before doing business with you. It is impossible to do this at a trade show.
I’m going to tell you something you’re not going to like, if you’re going to a trade show and you’re not capturing leads you’re wasting your time! You may have hundreds if not thousands of people come through your booth in a matter of a few days and at the end of the show you’re hoping they’ll remember you! At an absolute minimum you need to be getting a name and an e-mail address, if you can get a phone number that’s fantastic. I will also caution you that if you ask for too much information you won’t get any. Do you have a plan for capturing leads? Do you have a process? How are you going to capture leads? How are you going to follow-up on leads? How are you going to remind all of those customers who you are and why they spent time in your booth?
Before you sign up for another multi-thousand dollar trade show, make your airplane reservations, hotel reservations or travel plans I would encourage you to develop a strategy and a procedure and a mechanism to capture leads. If you are a regular at trade shows this is probably the single most important thing you can do for your business before you venture out again.