Once January arrives, trade show season is upon us. Shows will typically run pretty heavily all the way through June. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a company to attend more than one show in a single week during that timeframe.
The main purpose of attending commercial trade shows is to exhibit new products and services. A company’s presence at trade shows reinforces their brand and allows them to get in front of many potential customers. Sales representatives also have have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with existing customers and network with industry leaders.
For this trade show season, we’ve built a list of the five most important aspects of pre-show planning. Our list is based on the experience of Westmor’s Trade Show Coordinator, Tim Esterling, who has been planning and working shows for the past 24 years.
1: Establish Pre-Show Goals
Before exhibiting at a trade show, you must develop a theme for your booth, determine which key products you’ll be displaying, and integrate your promotional materials with existing company marketing. There’s a lot of details that go into a successful showing. Tim explains that he and his team try to prepare adequately so they don’t “show up and throw up.” Tim collaborates with the key teams working to put the show together on the messaging, product displays and collateral material. All of the planning is tracked and updated constantly through very specific methods to keep everyone updated on the show plans.
Another essential component of pre-show planning is arranging sales meetings with customers. Tim is the primary contact for knowing the show location and being able to assist in selecting venues for customer meetings.
2: Budget With ROI In Mind
Tim says that a very important part of budgeting for a show is the “return on the money we invest there.” The ultimate goal of a trade show is to collect quality leads that generate sales. Tim’s team uses a special platform to help capture leads at each show. The platform allows salesmen to enter leads directly into the company’s CRM and will deploy requested information directly to the customer’s email inbox.
The team sets a goal for the cost per lead for each trade show. Setting a clear metric allows the company to assess the value of attending each show. Although most shows are all about generating sales leads, some shows are very important for industry support and maintaining relationships with customers.
The budget and ROI for each show should be reviewed to determine if improvements can be made and if attendance should continue. After each show, Tim creates a survey that he sends to all his salesmen to fill out. The team uses the data from the survey to improve future shows. Tim also creates a digital dashboard containing information like cost per lead, number of show attendee and number of staffers. All this information helps the company determine if there’s value in the shows being attended.
3: Staff Your Booth With The Right People
Working a trade show booth isn’t for everybody. Staffers must be energetic and know the product well. They also need to be able to engage customers. It’s important to find people who can strike up and maintain conversations with customers. Selecting team members with good interpersonal skills is important when staffing a booth. Salesmen often have to wake up early, staff the booth for very long hours and then take customers out to dinner in the evening. The schedule is quite demanding.
Tim focuses on giving salespeople the right tools and encouraging them during the long days. He gives salespeople information about the show up to eight months prior so they can begin planning accordingly. He also conducts a pre-show meeting at the booth. “We review key products, themes and industry information that we know will be discussed,” he explains.
4: Optimize Booth Design & Graphics
It’s very important to consider how people see images when planning your booth layout. “You’ve got less than 20 seconds to get an impression when people walk by,” he says. In the past, conventional booth design included multiple small images. Now, best practice for capturing attention incorporates, “fewer images and less clutter so the eyes can focus.” Trade show managers must work with a graphic designer to ensure that images are professional and align with the overall booth layout. If your company doesn’t have an in-house graphic designer, make sure to outsource the graphic design tasks. Professional grade graphics are very important for your show image.
5: Build Relationships With Trade Show Organizations
The organizations that put on each trade show can be a valuable asset to your company. We recommend sponsoring the shows and supporting the people who run them.
In addition to strategically sponsoring shows that are important to Westmor, Tim serves on board for three trade organizations including the Minnesota Propane Association, Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association, and National Propane Gas Association. Its very important to be actively involved and contribute to the industry your company is involved with.
If you’re interested in following Tim’s team as they exhibit all across the country this year, follow us on Twitter.