Trade Shows Are Back: New Ways to Maximize ROI

by | Jul 28, 2022

Myth: Trade shows are an outdated way to generate leads. Everything is digital now.

Fact: Trade shows are still one of the most effective ways to capture quality leads. All depends on the approach.

Before the pandemic, nearly every serious startup and Fortune 500 had a trade show game plan. Now, in this post-pandemic world, trade shows are starting to feel like a lost art. Most companies are losing that trade show muscle they’d worked so hard to gain. After two years of putting trade shows on the backburner, is it possible to reverse conference atrophy?

According to trade show experts and a March 22 survey, the answer is yes, with 87% of B2B executives putting conferences back in their plans (execs had equal interest in buying and learning, at more than 95%).

Now’s the time to reboot and refresh the whole trade show pattern – with a few key tweaks.

How effective are trade shows? What are the benefits of trade shows? What are the best methods for collecting leads at trade shows? Let’s dive into a comprehensive breakdown of how to strengthen your company’s trade show muscle.

Tech-Enabled Sales and Trade Shows

With trade shows getting back on their feet, here are three words companies big and small must know: tech-enabled sales.

Tech-enabled sales is the core and foundation for optimizing trade shows as part of your mix. New tech is changing the game for both trade shows and sales in general. If you’re prepared, you can use new technology to your advantage before, during, and after the event.

The first big tech or system you need in your stack is a robust lead database. One of the leaders in the space is ZoomInfo. You can use ZoomInfo’s B2B database to find information about businesses that you will want to connect with at a trade show. From the conference team, you can find both attendees and exhibitors you know to be going to the show.

From there, you can find the companies and contacts known or likely to be attending and import all of their contact information into your CRM. You can use this information to schedule key meetings to ensure you’ll make the most of your lead-generating opportunities before you arrive.

If you can’t get confirmed attendees from the conference team, depending on the niche of the show, you can leverage the many industry filters and social media to create a high-confidence list.

Suggestion: Focus on C-level executives and directors that are decision-makers for your product. They tend to be the people traveling. If not, they probably know who will be attending; a forwarded email from a C-level executive will get the attendee’s attention.

ZoomInfo is great for helping your figure out the “who,” but you also need help with the “how.” The actual outreach and follow-up can be made easier with applications that utilize automation, scheduling, and even AI insights to help you execute an effective campaign. While there are several of them, Outreach.io is an example of a software that makes outreach and follow-ups easier and more effective.

Martech tools like ZoomInfo and Outreach.io, lead capturing, and sales execution tools perform best when effectively integrated into robust CRMs like Salesforce.com, Hubspot, and Zendesk. They are powerful tools that prioritize, lead-score, store information, and track progress all along the process. These integrated systems will help you curate quality lists and execute an outreach campaign that doubles or triples the efficiency of your team through task automation.

Plus, you are able to touch on C-level executives in a contextual, non-threatening way. These are C-level executives that may have never heard of your company but will now open your email and forward it to an associate; your brand and name will stick with them.

Recent Confirmation:

We recently ran a campaign for a mid-size company in the niche field of nuclear medicine for a once-a-year international trade show that had been suspended for two years due to COVID. Most of the attendees at the show were going for reasons other than meeting our client or for discussing their services.

If we didn’t get their potential customers’ attention pre-show, our client would have depended on a trickle of walk-in attendees.

Here are the steps we took for our client:

  1. We started with a target list of companies in the nuclear medicine industry and matched that list with a list of the companies that had booths or were speaking at the show.
  2. Two weeks before the show, we also added the anticipated attendee list to our master list.
  3. Starting with ZoomInfo, we filled the leads list with the C-level executives and directors who were in the decision-making line for our services. That gave us 2-10 target individuals for each company attending. The contact information included emails, phone numbers, and LinkedIn profiles.
  4. That lead information was then fed into the CRM and pushed to Outreach.io.
  5. We developed a 12-step rapid sequence over 3 weeks for our Outreach.io engine. It was much more intense than our standard outreach sequencing, but we only had a short time to get their attention.

We quickly tested combinations of emails, calls, texts, and LinkedIn connections for the sequences, always keeping the messages short, light, and friendly. You-language instead of us-language. We tried to personalize each message based on insights provided by ZoomInfo or LinkedIn, which resonated. Emails followed by a call, generally a voicemail message, followed quickly by a text message, worked the best for these target customers.

We followed the formula suggested by Justin Michael and Tony Hughes in their book Tech-Powered Sales. Our motto was “Design, Test, Refine.” New designs, refinements, and iterations occurred daily in our outreach. The team had fun, along with great success.

Despite being an offshoot for the show, our buyers were there, and the results were outstanding. Our sales and marketing show team went into the show with back-to-back scheduled meetings that were with high-level executives who they would have never met had we not touched on them before the show. Our database of target leads was converted into high-quality opportunities requesting quotes and proposals at the show.

Our after-show analysis using conservative metrics for deal sizes and close rates produced an almost unbelievable 15,000% ROI. That high-revenue velocity will easily exceed their annual sales targets and will increase their trajectory for the next few years.

So, let’s break down the process.

Preparation and outreach programs for maximized lead capture

Whatever tech-powered sales tools your company uses, the first step is to identify the hottest leads and contact them before the trade show to maximize your ROI. Otherwise, your strategy is to hope by crossing your fingers, believing you will line up in a buffet line with a target prospect.

Here’s a look at the pre-trade show outreach process:

  1. Identify your vertical market. Take time to define the detailed ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and strategize how you can maximize appeal at the trade show, from trade show booth visuals to face-to-face meetings. Know your audience and refine your approach.
  2. Find a trade show with the right target attendees (or exhibitors). Sift through and find one with the right players in your vertical and ICP. When you research and choose the right trade shows, you’ll avoid misdirecting your energy and resources. Quality over quantity is the key.
  3. Analyze the potential of each lead on the guest list. At this point, you can start your trade show lead generation. First, compile a list of potential prospects along with their contact information. Then, prioritize the leads that seem most promising and start with those. Start at the C-level at the top of the functional silo and work down through director-level and managers. For instance, if you sell IT products, do target that functional decision-making silo, but also test some of the tangential functions such as procurement or operations or finance. Don’t be afraid to touch on top-level persons who may not make the final decision but could influence it.
  4. Reach out before the trade show and personalize. Set up outreach sequences via email with a simple message letting them know you’ll be there and that you’d love to get the opportunity to connect. Avoid being pushy or too salesy. Take a moment to personalize the message based on a little research. Use information like their social media actions, alma mater, or years in the industry or the company, or specialized interests to start with “I see that you are interested in xyz.” Personalization will gain their attention and give you a chance they will respond. Use text if you have their cell, particularly if you have a little time to connect with them. Just be short and friendly.
  5. Schedule in-person meetings. That is the goal — both yours and theirs. Live is where communication is most memorable and creates the most trust and credibility. Locking down meetings ahead of time is key to managing your time most effectively, as well as getting a blocked commitment of time from your prospect. If you don’t lock in a meeting, a busy executive will likely have their time filled otherwise at the show. However, if they promise to stop by the booth and don’t, then you have a reason to connect after the show — and that slight guilt on their part can become the beginning of a more personalized relationship in the future.
  6. The importance of a timely and personalized follow-up. Follow up with your leads in a personalized and timely manner. A few days after the show, reach out to them again to advance or close the deal that you opened during the show. The rush of energy after the show quickly evaporates, and memories quickly get cloudy — so don’t delay. Pull out those business cards or napkin notes and get them into the CRM. The sales or marketing leader should schedule a roundtable review to make sure everyone “gets their cards on the table” and out into the database. Particularly, if you can also recall the personalized discussions you had with those customers at the show and get them in the database. Did they talk about their passion for golf or for skiing? Whatever it was, get it into the CRM before you forget.

The Risks and Benefits of Trade Shows

Trade shows offer near-unparalleled potential ROI compared to other old and new marketing methods. At the same time, a lot of time and money can be wasted on an inefficiently planned and executed Trade Show.

Back in 1983, Harvard Business Review magazine declared, “Too many managers, trade shows are, at best, a necessary evil, to be endured rather than exploited.” After this statement, the article quoted various C-level executives who claimed they essentially go to trade shows to keep up appearances even though it costs more than it’s worth.

Fast forward to post-pandemic 2022 – are trade shows worth the investment? What’s the potential return on investment for trade shows?

The Benefits of Trade Shows

As a tried-and-true marketing method, trade shows come with many benefits for large and small businesses. Trade shows are uniquely suited to capturing well-targeted leads.

Benefits of trade shows include:

  • Beyond new leads, reaching out to old colleagues in that space is a great catalyst for fresh networking.
  • Making old-school connections. While digital connections have benefits, nothing can replace the value of an in-person connection. Face-to-face meetings at trade shows help build trust, allow you to communicate your company’s culture, and ultimately help you to solidify deals you may not have been able to make online or over the phone.
  • Enjoying huge profit potential. Since the audience is so unique to your vertical at a trade show, you have a lot of sales potential. Just one or two leads that are turned into customers can provide a great ROI for the show, but a pile of leads can change the entire business trajectory of a small or mid-size company.
  • Raising brand awareness. Trade shows let your audience see first-hand what sets your company apart and what role your products and services can fill. They can get to know your company’s values and get familiar with your brand, building trust and leading to conversions.
  • Tapping into a curated market. Almost all potential attendees at a trade show are potential leads because they wouldn’t be attending if they weren’t directly interested in or operating in your industry. The audience at a carefully selected trade show has a much higher potential of becoming your customer. Going to a trade show is like driving an ice cream truck past a crowded beach on a hot day. The people are bound to be interested.

The Risks of Trade Shows

While the benefits of trade shows are too good to pass up, companies must also be aware of the risks. A poorly planned and executed trade show program can be a big money drain and waste of time for your sales resources.

Risks of trade shows include:

  • Choosing the wrong trade show. Failing to research trade shows and find the right fit can be costly. Use caution when choosing a narrowly-focused trade show because you can either hit the target and have a smashing success or miss the mark and waste precious resources. Find the right balance between being too focused and too broad.
  • Failing to use tech-powered sales tools. Companies that fail to integrate powerful tech-enabled sales tools are being left in the dust. By the time they turn up at the trade show, all the leads have gone elsewhere, and everyone’s schedules are booked up.
  • Poor planning. Committing to a trade show means carefully preparing all the materials, merch, presentations, visual aids, and more. It’s a lot of work, so companies need to start early and plan well.

When it comes to trade shows, a thoughtful planning process is essential. Before committing, companies need to ask themselves; Is this the right trade show? What indicates a good ROI in this trade show?

Trying to tackle lead generation and tech integration in-house can be hard. It’s like doing home renovations yourself; it ends up costing you the same and taking a lot more time and frustration. Hiring an outside expert agency can help you coordinate all your trade show efforts – from leads to booths – and maximize your ROI.

Collecting Leads at Trade Shows the Easy Way

In this post-pandemic era, collecting leads and integrating new tech-powered sales solutions can be tough. At Altus, we help small to medium-sized businesses take advantage of the ‘new meets old’ opportunities at trade shows – using cutting-edge technology to help make face-to-face contacts with potential customers. With us in your corner, you can regain your trade show muscle!

We collaborate with your company to understand your target audience and goals for the trade show, as well as set up tech-enabled sales tools for you to close sales and collect leads efficiently. As we generate leads, we incorporate your thinking for maximum efficiency without disrupting your workflows or sales. Check out our list of happy clients and their feedback to see why our partnership will be worthwhile.

Get in touch with us to get started!