Trade Shows are Coming Back, but do you Still Need Them?

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By Frank Tolkacz, Square 2 Marketing

Refocus Your Trade Show Strategy To Better Connect With Qualified Prospects
As the severity of the pandemic lessens and people slowly begin to get back to the “new” normal, company leaders can’t help but think about how they marketed and sold their products and services before March of 2020, when everything went into a sort of suspended animation. They’re also wondering how they’re supposed to do it now as we move into the second half of 2021 and plan for 2022.

Trade shows are not dead; they’ve just been reborn. Smart marketers will realize this and take action now (yes, now!) to stay ahead of the competition and use these events to create a more robust pipeline.

The old days of “gripping and grinning” for eight hours a day on the show floor and capturing business cards in a fishbowl just won’t cut it post-pandemic. You’ve got to think and act differently.

Here are three reasons you still need trade shows as part of your mix but with a smarter approach:

1) Show Off
Chances are you’ve got a great product or service and you need to spend a great deal of face time telling that story, live and in person. Make demos and discussion a top priority – in groups or pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings. Buyers want to see what they’re considering buying in action, and your booth is a great place to make sure demos and brief but compelling pitches are always in play.

Deploy your top talent on the floor, enforce protocols like no looking at phones while working the booth, warmly greet and make eye contact with attendees, and train your team members to know how to quickly qualify a show prospect to make the maximum use of their time. Also, always make sure you have a nurture strategy in place post-trade show. Sales cycles are usually very long, as you know.

Besides a one-on-one in-person demo, there is no better place to showcase your product or service than at an event with a large number of qualified prospects passing your booth.

Forgo the multiple branded giveaways and raffles at your booth. Instead, attract prospects with interactive, interesting and fun demonstrations and discussions (consider offering prizes during the demo for attendees who can answer a relevant question correctly, etc.). Post a schedule of these events so interested prospects can plan their days accordingly, digitally and at the booth.

Use these events to sell. Sounds simple, huh? You’d be surprised how many companies do not focus on this key fact. This is your chance to renew your commitment to selling. Online webinars, online demos, podcasts and video tutorials are all great, but true selling happens in person. People buy when they feel good about the relationship started by the company and their sales representative, so this is your chance to shine.

2) Be Picky
Yes, attend! But seriously scrutinize your trade show or event list and slash shows that have been poor performers in the past or have had small attendance.

Now is your time to analyze these events honestly, as you reconsider going back to in-person events. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is our key reason for attending this show?
  • What was our ROI from the last show, pre-COVID?
  • Do the majority of these attendees really care about our products or services? (Is it the right persona?)
  • Are we doing this because we’ve always attended the show?

It is likely that some associations may temporarily (or even permanently) discontinue their events. It’s imperative that you redefine where you want to spend your time, money and resources.

Trade shows are not cheap, and they can take a significant portion of your marketing and sales budget. Do not fall back into the trap of having mugs, pens, note pads, etc. at your booth so non-qualified prospects in particular can fill a large bag to bring home goodies for their kids. Admit it, you’ve done it (and so have I) with no interest in the company’s offerings.

It’s better to attend a few key lucrative events than try to attend most of them just because that’s what you always did or everyone else does.

3) People Need People
Like the song goes, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Never have these words held so much meaning as pandemic restrictions are lifted and life is on the rebound. More than a year of isolation, halted social lives, anxiety and boredom have made people ready to live life to the fullest again – and connect!

People are social creatures and crave human interaction. It may take until Q4 of this year, and more likely the beginning of 2022, but people are ready to fully get back to the “new” normal – in their personal lives and their business lives.

As much as you are ready to course-correct your business once again, so are your prospects. They are ready to get out there. It may be with a new perspective and some lingering caution, but there is no doubt they will be attending events again.

Just Do It (Differently!)
When it comes down to it, each company or individual has to make their own choices about attending trade shows. There is no one answer for everyone.

But as we see the pandemic lessening considerably, successful vaccination initiatives in place and restrictions lifting, there is no reason you cannot add a new and smarter trade show strategy to your sales and marketing planning. In fact, you should.

Just remember to use your attendance at these select shows to shine. Showcase your products and services, your team, your technologies and your thought leadership.

Forgo the fishbowl drawing for an iPad, and focus on making connections with qualified prospects. Work hard to win their confidence at the show and pique their interest in your offerings. Start them out right on a buyer journey that will bring them back full circle to your company – with a stronger-than-ever desire to buy.

See you on the floor!

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