Running successful exhibitions and trade conferences

One effective way of generating new leads and business, is to be involved in trade conferences or exhibitions.

When done well, the return on your investment (or ROI), is well worth the effort it takes to create such an event. These style of events are a goldmine for lead opportunity, so if you’re building your brand or launching a new product or service, they may be exactly what you need to increase clients and revenue.

I’ve been involved in hundreds of trade shows and conferences, either as a guest, an exhibitor or an organiser, and attended events and conferences of all sizes across many industries. The thousands of business cards I’ve given out, and received, is mind-blowing, however, there is a common theme to all of these events – they can be one of the strongest business development activities for businesses. 

So if you’re planning on running a successful exhibition or trade conference, there are six key elements you need to consider in order to maximize your return on investment.

1. Knowing your objectives and strategic success

A well thought out plan = a well-executed event

Setting objectives and determining the business’s ROI requirements is critical to the success of any campaign. It will also give you the best chance at achieving real results, which is key to running a successful event that provides you with leads, sales and engagement that gives a customer experience that people rave about!

Next, you want to ensure you’re exhibiting at the right conference, exhibition or trade show that is aligned with your campaign objectives. This means understanding the audience and visitor that particular show will attract.

Finally, make sure your exhibition stand or display is in the right location, has an attendee avatar to attract your ideal visitor, and offers maximum exposure for successful engagement. 

2. Strategic planning

Strategic planning brings the key decision-makers to an event, engages them at your stand and helps to ensure your business objectives are achieved. 

The essential elements of your strategic plan should consider:

  • Space and position negotiation
  • Sponsorship 
  • Stand design and build (this should attract maximum brand exposure)
  • Optimal exposure for your ideal client
  • Communication and engagement strategy 
  • Design and implement data capture for lead conversion
  • Engaging experienced staffing and support
  • A specific and detailed data collection plan
  • A Committed schedule for lead follow up post-show
  • OH&S requirements 

My two top tips which are often overlooked:

  1. I strenuously recommend exploring other opportunities to add weight to your negotiating power such as sponsorship and additional activations within the show. 
  2. Plan, commit and schedule resources for your lead follow up after the show otherwise, simply don’t do the show is my best advice.

The core reason you are investing in being part of an event, is to generate business and revenue. Neglecting the people who stopped by and are interested enough to chat with you and your team, and provide their contact details, is a major error some businesses make. 

The leads you attract are the future of your business, so by dedicating time to follow up on every single one of them is essential to a successful event investment.

3. Communication and marketing

Having a communication plan is essential to marketing your presence at the event, and making sure you’re ahead of the game by alerting your current clients that you’ll be at the trade show or exhibition. Now you can even tap into visitors that are in your immediate geographic location at the time of the show via Facebook.

Some important promotional activities you may include to create awareness are:

  • Personalised invitations
  • EDM’s
  • Social media
  • Trade advertising
  • SMS marketing
  • Enewsletter
  • ‘Show’ exclusive incentive to purchase/book
  • Collaborate with complementary exhibitors

4. Staffing is success

You can have magical unicorns floating in the air at your booth, but your biggest tool for success is dynamic, experienced and professional staff with an engagement strategy.

Your brand is being represented by every person at your booth so make sure you brief and train your team to know everything about your business, product and service. They must be professional with personality, and suggest a loose script guide accompanied with the tools to assist with potential lead generation.

Make sure there is a dedicated resource that will coach and educate every person working for you before showtime. I always think it is helpful to have a meaningful daily prep and debrief session planned to keep everyone on point.  This can literally make or break the success of your sales success.

5. Plan, plan and plan

I cannot stress this enough – planning is essential to generate success at any event. Our team always follows a well-defined plan that includes:

  • Budget & Targets
  • Project timeline 
    • Booth design
    • Preshow
    • Show
    • Post Show
  • Responsibilities of everyone involved
  • Processes
    • Engagement
    • Sampling 
    • Sales or order provision
    • Lead conversion
    • Follow up on leads and enquiries
  • Logistics
  • Product or Service ready for presentation and to sell
  • Equipment and technology required
  • Photography or videography for future marketing

6. Post event follow up – a not negotiable

I know I’m repeating myself here but seriously, if you aren’t planning to follow up then don’t even bother is my sentiment. Please!!! Schedule this time within your pre-show planning phase! 

We believe the follow-up process of an event is as important as the event itself. Having a concise follow-up plan is critical for results, prioritising and measuring the value of your leads.  

Plan in advance – make time to connect with warm and hot leads, create a personalised thank you and follow up email or SMS sequence, and be accountable. With hot leads, I always recommend you pick up the phone and make a time to meet with them to discuss your business or offer further. Do it on the day! You don’t have to wait until after the show. 

Old fashioned commitment and service are winners when it comes to an identified potential lead from an event – remember they could be being bombarded with many other exhibitors sales information or actually, potentially not at all. Whatever your follow up plan is, make it relevant and  stand out!

From a process perspective, remember data capture, database cleansing, direct marketing, converting leads and appointment setting is key to achieving sales & future business growth.  

At the end of the day, the number of quality leads you generate versus the amount of money you spend, is the only way to assist you in making informed decisions which events are the most successful for you, and which ones are worth taking part in again.