Trade shows on the cheap: Can you do it?


Trade and consumer shows, with intensive face-to-face connection and marketing opportunities, continue to be valuable lead and relationship-maintaining events for most architectural, engineering and construction businesses. They also can be extremely expensive. In addition to the show fees, you have to pay for your staff?s time and resources, sometimes extensive travel and exorbitant rental rates for show services. (One show site I know charges almost $500 for three days access to an Internet Wi-Fi account, that for all practical purposes, should be free.)

Contrast these costs with the rewards. You are face-to-face with people who can actually purchase your services and (if you plan ahead) you can speak in front of groups at related conferences, enhancing your reputation as you assess the competitive landscape. Still, how do you manage your shows for effectiveness? Over the years, I?ve learned these points:

Measure, measure, measure

Trade shows are the perfect first stage in any metrics program, because of your data?s extreme tangibility. You can count and record your leads and then, even with a simple Excel spreadsheet, observe how they move through the process until you either sell them or they fail. You can also quite easily calculate your show costs ? so then you can calculate your cost per lead and cost per sale.

Co-operation and trade-outs

Trade outs are easy for us, because we are a media business. (Show organizers want to reach our readers, so give us space in exchange for advertising in our specialized publications.) However you may be able to find your specialized services are worth a booth in some shows. Alternatively, as suggested in this blog posting, you might be able to share your booth space with someone else or negotiate with a sales representative to help out. We?ve applied this technique at some major shows, reducing our operating costs and enhancing booth coverage.

Speak out

If you can participate in the relevant conference program as a speaker, your return on investment will be much higher than if you just purchase a booth. If you are really fortunate, you might be able obtain free booth space as part of your speaking opportunity, but even if you don?t your investment will be much more worthwhile.

Exhibitor training and management

Show organizers often provide supporting training and resources for your booth staff. You want employees to be alert, ready to capture leads, and to create a positive impression on potential clients. Spend some time and use the free resources if available to improve your show effectiveness.

With these ?do?s? I should add a big ?don?t?.

Don?t cheat and try to sell as an visitor rather than exhibitor

Nothing annoys exhibitors (and show organizers) more than people arriving as visitors at the booths, trying to sell their own products and services. It happens. The temptation of rows of ?free leads? is hard to resist ? so various reps and others make the rounds. Some of this is legitimate (if irritating) intelligence-gathering (here you are the competitor if you are an exhibitor), but some is downright cheesy selling. Sure, visit the show a year before you plan to exhibit and talk with some exhibitors about the show?s effectiveness, but be there to learn and buy, not sell, if you are not an exhibitor. (Note it is quite okay for exhibitors to sell to each other ? there is an informal understanding that you should only do this sort of thing when paying customers aren?t around, but there are quiet times in every show.)

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