After spending umpteen hours and dollars on attractive booths and flashy giveaways, many IT vendors are abandoning trade shows or questioning their value. While these events can do wonders for brand awareness and lead generation, they also can consume large amounts of time and money with little return.

The problem isn’t the events themselves; it’s how some exhibitors approach them.

The “Field of Dreams” approach — “If you build it, they will come” — doesn’t cut it for trade shows. Merely having a display and handouts will bring people, but not necessarily your best prospects, or even attendees with any interest in your products or services. They may only want to pick up your swag and enter a drawing.

A strategic approach with steps before, during and after the event can help you get the most out of your investment. You’ll land more face-to-face meetings with targeted prospects and shorten sales cycles. Here are ways to do just that:

Before the show

  1. Promote your presence. List the show name and your booth number on your website’s events page. Add it to your corporate signature. Share it via social media (use a Twitter hashtag for the show). Mention it on your blog. Include it in your customer newsletter.
  2. Target your ideal audience. Build a targeted list of potential attendees, using your own database, the attendee list from the show organizer, or a list from a provider of IT sales intelligence. Then deliver a message (via e-mail, direct mail and/or voicemail) that speaks to your audience’s pain points and offers a compelling reason to visit with you. Develop separate messages for current and prospective customers.
  3. Schedule meetings. Send any hot prospects an e-mail from the CEO or a strategic direct mail piece. Set up meetings in advance. Make meetings short (10 to 20 minutes), and consider throwing in drinks or coffee.

During the show

  1. Approach serious decision makers. Understand and only connect with your potential buyers. Our buyer is the person dressed in a suit and not carrying a bag or briefcase because serious buyers aren’t out to collect giveaways or gather vendors’ brochures.
  2. Ask a qualifying question. Formulate and pose a question to identify people in your target audience. For example, salespeople with my company ask, “Does your company sell to IT people?” If the answer is yes, engage in conversation. If not, wish the person well and politely move on to a better prospect.
  1. Email prospects during the show.

For example, you might write something like this:

“John,

I noticed a few folks from xxx (John’s company) at the xxx (name of trade show) — are you here as well?

If so, I thought it would be ideal timing for us to get 15 minutes between sessions — I’ve been wanting to share with you how we are working with xxx (company in John’s industry) to manage its unstructured data.

There’s a break between 11:00 and 11:45 — can we meet?

Best regards,

(Your name and contact information)”

After the show

You came. You met. You conquered the trade show. But your job isn’t over. Now the real work — and payoff — begins. Your post-event sales strategy should include the following:

  1. Clean up your lead data. Capture and add information not on attendees’ badges. Make sure that your booth staff takes notes on key prospects, using an on-site qualification process or a post-show review. Delete duplicates of people who stopped by multiple times for a free T-shirt. Complete missing information or verify contact information using a sales-intelligence database.
  2. Make your first touch immediate. Follow up with qualified leads as soon as possible after the show closes. Your communications may differ based on priorities, but the minimum should be a short thank-you email saying you’ll be in touch. Include an image of the booth or similar creative to jog memories.
  3. Increase your reach. Explore opportunities to leverage trade show interactions. If you met with a junior employee of a targeted company, use sales intelligence tools to identify an appropriate or additional decision maker with the organization.
  4. Continue to engage with your leads. Whether your long-term strategy includes a drip campaign or telemarketing or both, continue to nurture the leads from the show to maximize the potential return from exhibiting. Consider setting up alerts and triggers for your prospects, using a sales intelligence solution, to glean timely information. These tips will go a long way toward making your next trade show participation more effective. You’ll discover how essential trade shows can be for marketers and sales people.

Want to learn more? Register for our webinar.

Carolyn Hollowell is senior director of marketing of DiscoverOrg, a leading sales and marketing intelligence solution used by the top IT vendors, staffing companies and consultants targeting IT departments of Fortune-ranked, mid-market and SMB companies in North America and the EU.

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