B2B Marketing

Make Your Next Trade Show a Lead-Generating Success

Trade shows and events require B2B marketers to not only part with a hefty chunk of their precious budget, but a whole lot of their time and energy too.

Yet even with an unlimited budget and the biggest, boldest stand the trade show world has ever seen, it may not be enough to generate a solid return on your investment.

That’s because a successful trade show lead generation strategy must consider not just what happens at the event itself, but also how to prepare beforehand, promote throughout, and extend follow-up efforts afterward.

Without a solid pre- and post-event plan designed for optimum lead generation, the only thing you’ll end up coming away with is a canvas tote bag brimming with ballpoint pens and travel-sized bottles of hand sanitizer. Even if you do happen to score a decent number of leads, without a strategy designed to filter out unsuitable candidates, it’s unlikely those leads will fit the mold of your ideal customer profile. And this isn’t a risk you should be willing to take.

When it’s all said and done, a poorly executed tradeshow strategy ends up being a missed opportunity for your company, which doesn’t bode well for the bottom line. This is because trade shows offer a rare chance to gather a significant number of warm leads that would normally take months to capture and nurture toward the same spot in the sales cycle.

In fact, a trade show’s impact on the bottom line is so great, regular exhibitors noted a 54% reduction in new business after having to put in-person engagements on pause due to the COVID pandemic.

However, it’s important you set yourself up for success before hitting the road, as a poorly managed trade show can be even more detrimental to your brand than not attending at all. Not only will you waste a chance to generate a ton of new business, but you’ll also run the risk of putting your company in a bad light.

So, before you sign up for your next trade show, make sure you familiarize yourself with these tips to plan, execute, and measure your next event for optimum lead gen success.

Trade Show Lead Generation: Before the Event

The most important part of the planning process ideally begins before you’ve even signed up for your next event. Here’s how to conduct your pre-event planning for ultimate lead generation success:

1. Choose Your Trade Show

No matter how prepared you are, if you happen to choose the wrong event for your specific brand or business, your lead generation efforts will suffer. Instead, embrace a selective approach to trade shows and assess all the events relevant to your industry. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How likely is it that my target audience will be in attendance?
  • Are my competitors likely to attend?
  • Have my competitors attended this event in the past?
  • Have any current clients attended this event in the past?

Check out which exhibitors have already signed up. If competitors are on the list, don’t be put off. Given you probably have similar target audiences, it’s a good indication the event is a right fit for you. Plus, some attendees might be planning to vet all prospective vendors in one fell swoop, which means they’re likely to express strong purchase intent. Those are the kind of prospects you want to meet. But remember: before choosing your booth, make sure to not position yourself next to a rival competitor—it just makes for an uncomfortable situation.

Finally, ensure your chosen event aligns with your wider business goals. Assuming your main objective is to generate leads, make sure the event at hand can help drive reach to relevant audiences and enhance opportunities for customer engagement.

Successful trade show lead generation relies on careful pre-event planning.
Successful trade show lead generation relies on careful pre-event planning.

2. Pick Your Team

Much of your lead generation success is dependent on the people manning your booth. That’s why having the right people in place is vital. Look to your sales team and identify the most excellent communicators. Once you’ve created a shortlist, don’t just assume your chosen candidates will be willing to attend. Genuine enthusiasm is what wins in the event space. Even your best communicator will be likely to let you down if they have no desire to participate. Therefore, you should only count on those employees who are excited to attend and can’t wait to get out on the floor.

3. Set Targets & Train

Once you’ve signed up for your chosen event, don’t proceed any further without setting targets. It’s notoriously difficult to track event success, so make it easy for yourself by setting clearly defined goals, such as:

  • The total number of leads you’d like to generate
  • The percentage of leads you’d like to convert to SQLs
  • The number of deals you’d like to close

Communicate these targets to event staff so they clearly understand the focus. At the same time, make sure to refresh their knowledge of your brand, products, and core messaging in order to communicate more effectively with prospects. A unified communication approach always makes for a better, more positive experience. Also, in the lead-up to the event, don’t forget to conduct regular check-ins with teammates to make sure everyone is aligned.

Specifically, make sure to inform your staff how you plan to capture leads’ contact information while working the event. Whether you use a badge scanner, app, or good old-fashioned pen and paper, everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of methodology and exactly what kind of data will be needed.

Some key information includes:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Company
  • Company size
  • Business email
  • Telephone number

Standardize this process as much as possible to avoid messy data that will later hinder follow-up efforts.

4. Begin Your Promotion

Turning up to a trade show without any event promotion is a bit like scheduling a meeting, failing to invite anyone, and still expecting people show. Maximize your lead generation opportunities by giving prospects and customers alike advanced notice of your participation. An email marketing campaign is an effective way to do this, and you can start as early as three months in advance. You can even go a step further and secure key meetings before the event begins, giving prospects the option to schedule a meeting ahead of time.

Ask the company that’s hosting the event if you can get a list of attendees. That way, you’ll be able to identify any high-priority prospects and reach out to them before the big day. If resources allow, you can also consider targeting them with an account-based marketing campaign in the months leading up to the event.

Don’t forget to talk about the event on your own channels. Create a social media campaign to promote the event and write about your attendance on the company blog. Let your audience know where you’ll be, when you’ll be there, and how they can buy tickets.

Trade Show Lead Generation: During the Event

Once your stand is open to the public, don’t leave your lead generation up to chance. Create a defined strategy to ensure you’re doing as much as possible to generate leads.

1. Listen Before Selling

Your event goal may be to generate leads, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to attempt a hard sell with every prospect that visits your stand. Adopt a listening-first approach to your communication strategy. Ensure staff takes the time to listen to prospects’ needs, getting as much detail as possible about the challenges they currently face and their requirements of a potential solution. Trade shows and events are rare opportunities for two-way communication with target customers, so make the most of the opportunity and listen to what prospects have to say.

2. Prioritize Your Prospects

Some prospects will be more fruitful than others, so being able to spot a genuine opportunity over a non-starter will be a valuable skill when manning a trade show booth. Avoid wasting time by gracefully exiting conversations that appear to be dead ends, but don’t dismiss people right away—common courtesy is still necessary. You just want to make sure your limited time isn’t swallowed up by futile engagements.

Here is where staff can step in. Start by assigning everyone roles, and specifically position outgoing team members as friendly greeters to attendees passing by. As they get talking to these prospects, your reps can gauge how suitable they are for your particular business. If they happen to land on a hot lead, they can then pass the figurative baton over to your seasoned sales reps to continue the conversation.

Of course, an element of “going with the flow” is always ideal—nothing ever goes perfectly the first few times around. But having a basic structure in place can help everyone get on the same page and align responsibilities.

And another pro tip? Make sure to incorporate a lead identification process within your existing lead generation strategy. This will indicate how far along that lead is in the buyer’s journey, which helps sales reps strategically prioritize more purchase-intent opportunities for conversion.

Digital lead retrieval systems are often the most efficient way to capture details at trade shows.
Digital lead retrieval systems are often the most efficient way to capture details at trade shows.

3. Keep Up the Promo

Event promotion shouldn’t stop the second you walk in the door. Stay on top of your promotional activity throughout the event so you can attract more attendees, enhance brand visibility, and highlight certain moments people might have missed.

Social media is a great tool for this, as it gives target audiences a real-time, behind-the-scenes look at what your company is up to. That said, it’s a good idea to invest in a Wi-Fi booster to secure a reliable connection—trade show events are known for their elusive cell service. Ensure your carefully crafted posts don’t get stuck in “upload” mode.

Trade Show Lead Generation: After the Event

At this point, the real work begins, because now you must follow up with all the leads you just captured.

1. Validate & Prioritize

Before you dive in, you need to do two things: validate and prioritize. Faux data is always a risk at events, so before you proceed, check the validity of the contacts you’ve gathered. One way is to cross-check prospects’ details against a database of verified contacts.

Next, it’s time to prioritize. If you’ve already invested in a lead scoring tool, you’re ahead of the game. If not, don’t worry—you can develop your own lead prioritization process that determines how willing and able they are for purchase. This makes the follow-up process more strategic and ensures you contact the right leads at the most opportune time with timely, relevant messaging.

2. Follow-Up

You’d be surprised to learn how often sales reps drop the ball when it comes to lead follow-up. Some contact leads way too late, resulting in a lost opportunity. Some even forget to add this final step to their existing lead gen strategy, making the whole process counter-intuitive from the start. That’s why it’s important to iron out a fail-safe follow-up plan to ensure effective, efficient engagement with top-quality leads.

For example, it’s likely your purchase-intent leads will be more apt to chat with a sales rep over the phone, so why not strike when the iron’s hot? Conversely, if your leads appear to be a little cooler, it might be more appropriate to contact them through an email nurture campaign.

Here’s the thing: follow-up campaigns may start as a slow burn, so don’t expect immediate results. That said, avoid going in for the hard sell right away. Instead, begin correspondence with a simple thank you, and take the time to personalize communications—prospects will be much more receptive to a friendly follow-up email than a sales pitch. Ideally, reference the conversation you had with them at the event, as it sends a message of appreciation and understanding. After that initial outreach, you can then begin developing a drip email campaign based on prospects’ relevant needs.

3. Measure Performance

No sales and marketing initiative would be complete without measurement, and that includes events. The learnings of one event will help you craft a tighter, more effective strategy for the next time.

This shouldn’t be a one-off process either—you’ll need to measure your trade show results at regular intervals as leads progress through your pipeline to gauge accurate ROI. Revisit the goals you set at the start to see if the results you’ve achieved fall in line with what you set out to do. If the answer is yes, you’ve got a great process in place that you can iterate upon in the future to replicate success. If the answer is no, identify the weak spots and work out how you can do things differently next time to yield a better result.

Looking For More Leads?

Trade shows present unique opportunities to communicate face-to-face with prospects at all stages of the buyer’s journey, and throughout your conversations, you’ll be able to gauge purchase intent pretty intuitively. This lends a huge hand to your lead gen efforts, as you’ll be able to flag these prospects for appropriate follow-up after the event ends.

But this ability to quickly prioritize leads isn’t just exclusive to trade shows. DemandScience’s intent-enriched data gives you access to in-market B2B decision makers looking for the kind of solutions your company has to offer. Get in touch with us today to find out more.