The Email Marketer’s Guide to Working a Trade Show — 8 Rules for Success

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I have a love/hate relationship with trade shows. On the one hand, I love the opportunity to walk the floors, learn from my industry peers and network with like-minded people — many of whom I only ever get the opportunity to meet at trade shows. On the other hand, regardless of whether I am attending the event as a delegate or an exhibitor, trade shows are such hard work (long days, endless pitches, mad dashes to and from the airport, time away from the family, etc.).

Expensive Marketing

No matter how you look at trade shows, there is one thing I think everyone can agree on: They are expensive in terms of the time and money you need to invest in them.

Note: Regular readers of this blog will know I don’t believe in expensive or cheap marketing. There is only marketing that works and marketing that doesn’t work. However, in the case of trade shows, I make the assumption that they are expensive for most organizations because the organizations attending them don’t work them to their full potential.

Bad Trade Show Experiences

I have attended too many events where employees staffing booths are not suitably qualified to be placed in such a high-profile public role.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been ignored by an exhibitor who was more interested in their smartphone or laptop, too busy chatting with their colleagues or fellow exhibitors in the neighboring booth, or just too bored (or occasionally too hungover) to care.

How many people cannot be bothered to smile at you as you walk past and say “hello”? How many exhibitors turn their backs on you and appear disinterested because they don’t instantaneously recognize you as a red-hot lead? Conversely, how many people jump on you because they only see you as a red-hot lead?

Some people just weren’t built to work at trade shows.

With this in mind, I’ve created a set of rules that I insist be followed every time I take a team to a trade show.

8 Rules for Working a Trade Show

  1. An email always goes out prior to the event, encouraging customers, prospects, and partners to visit your booth and say “hi”. Offer an incentive for them to visit (free coffee is always good) — but remember, gimmicky giveaways can often attract the wrong type of visitors.
  2. Everyone on your team must be able to pitch the product or service you are promoting. Even the most junior member of your staff should be confident with an elevator pitch and preferably be able to demonstrate how your organization can help any suitable prospect. Don’t carry passengers; if a team member cannot pitch, they should stay home (and that includes your marketing and events staff).
  3. Everyone on your team should know what your objective is. What is the key message you want to share at the event? How many leads do you want to generate? How many product/service demonstrations do you hope to achieve? It’s not just a case of turning up and “winging it” — your people need to be fully briefed in advance.
  4. Everyone on your team should know what time they are expected to arrive, go for lunch and leave. If you don’t set a schedule, you risk running a booth with either too many staff (intimidating) or too few (frustrating).
  5. Nobody walks past your booth without acknowledgment. A simple smile and a polite “hello” is often enough to start a conversation. Yes, you might be shy, but so might your prospects — so you should always make the first move.
  6. Everyone on your team should be able to identify the various types of prospects who visit your booth. Regardless of whether they are a hot lead or a tire kicker, their details should be taken (scanned) and segmented accordingly for follow-up. Even tire kickers get follow-up emails because you never know who they know or when they might move into a more serious position. Team members should always ask politely if they can scan each prospect’s badge so they can send them further useful information relating to their conversation via email. NOBODY LEAVES WITHOUT HAVING THEIR BADGE SCANNED!
  7. Everyone likes a networking drinks party, but nobody likes a networking drunk. Don’t let a team member’s inability to hold their drink be the main reason why a potential customer remembers your organization.
  8. Leads are collated, uploaded and followed up with via email and (if required) phone as soon as you are back in the office — no excuses. In an ideal world, you’ll have a series of campaigns ready to target the various types of leads you have collected at the event based on their lead status (red hot, warm, lukewarm, cold). Let the unsubscribe functionality decide who doesn’t get future emails. Remember, it will undoubtedly cost your company a lot of money to attend a trade show. Email marketing is perhaps the only sure-fire way of seeing a return on investment — so make it work as hard as you do at the event itself.

How have you used email marketing to secure a return on investment from attending trade shows? Share your comments below:

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.

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Marketing Strategist, Author of #BecomingTHEExpert, Content Marketing Trainer, and Cyclist. Check out my author profile:

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