How to make attending trade shows and industry events relevant?

Written By:

Ruben Gees

July 22, 2020

When I'm recruiting a new head of marketing, I've always asked the same questions to the potential candidate. It goes like this... "What is the most important thing to do when you attend an industry trade show". The answer I got the most was "The Message!", others were sure it should be about "The Brand" and some were sure that having animation at your booth, like organizing beer drinkings or recruiting booth studs and babes would make all the difference. To be honest, I believe I never got what I would call 'the correct answer' 🤔?

I'm not saying that the messaging, the branding, and the beer drinking is not important (not sure about the booth studs and babes except if you're Abercrombie & Fitch, although I believe they want to get rid of that brand perception as well,...), but let me tell you what the real most important KPI should be for the marketing team when you're attending a large tradeshow.

Number of Qualified Opportunities

"But isn't that the role of sales?"  No, the role of sales is to further qualify an opportunity, plant a need with the prospect and hopefully close the deal at the show, within a week, a month or a year depending on the length of a typical sales cycle. Furthermore it's a good opportunity for them to have a chat with existing customers and mingle with your partner network, so I wouldn't waste their time on looking for new qualified opportunities.

Don't put your bets on walk-ins.

Are you that marketing manager with a wheel of fortune installed at their booth, promising the newest Apple Watch if you participate in the draw and handing out, worth a candy shop supply, of free mints to the unfortunate wheel spinner who couldn't win his wife's Christmas present being Apple's latest activity tracker? You wouldn't be in my team as finding good contacts at a trade show shouldn't be a gamble (even if your trade show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center). Your team will probably have more contacts scanned at the trade show than mine, but unless you're trying to sell the mints you're handing out (and you're basically a sampling company), the number of relevant contacts in your database will be rather limited.

Wheel of fortune at a tradeshow.

If you have to choose where to put your efforts (because of budget or human capital constraints) I would suggest you put your team efforts focus on pre-booking meetings over managing walk-ins. Before we dig in that topic, if you do want to get valuable walk-ins, what can you do?

Here are some tips and tricks.

  • Make sure you get a speaking opportunity. During that speaking opportunity talk about how your product improved the general business of your customer (don't talk about your product, nobody cares (note to myself: write a blog post in the future why nobody cares about your product anyway and why all products are the same). Furthermore, make sure you have prints of that case study, which you quickly put on the chairs a few minutes before the start of the presentation (here the stud or babe might be helpful). Like this you make sure if someone wants to continue being in the presentation theater they come back.
  • Don't oversize your booth. If you have a large booth and a limited amount of visitors, it will look like you're not important within the industry. It's really not the case anymore that people will value your business on the amount of money you can spend on booth size. Au contraire, if you have a small booth with a massive amount of people on it, you will drive walk-ins based on perceived popularity. If people are already familiar with your brand, this might be that small push they need to engage in a conversation.

How to book a lot of meetings at events.

So we finally got to the part why I wanted to share this blog post in the first place. As I've mentioned, pre-booking meetings is the most important task of the marketing team and should be their number one focus. But how do you organize for this? And how can you reach the right people?

Can you identify who is attending the event? Prior to the event you'll probably get contacted by dodgy companies who will try to sell you the list of attendees. Should you trust them? I never did. I typically ask for a sample of a company that's already a customer and I know that will be going and analyse the quality. As the quality has been typically pretty poor, I never bought the list. If you've done it and you had great results feel free to share it in the comments section.

Another approach is to send an e-mail to your event organizer and ask them if they have a list of attendees available. Most likely (and especially now with GDPR), you'll get a message back that they don't share the contacts, or they'll have them for sale. So yet another approach without a lot of luck.

So we will need to be a little more creative in identifying who'll be attending the event. By creative I mean, not all the methods I'm describing here will work for all events. It's more a mindset we're discussing now, and that is the mindset of what nowadays is called growth hacking. What comes are some growth hacks. By nature, this is not scalable, but it can give you fast and good results with minimal efforts. Let's have a look.

The limited "who's attending event page" approach: Sometimes a new approach for event organizers is to access small data-sets of people at a given time. If you see that, you should say Bingo. What does it mean? It means that normally about every developer within your company should be able to fetch the complete attendees list by scraping the website. And I will tell you a secret, although they are working with processes like Scrum and Agile, developers are typically extremely helpful people. When I had to convince them myself in the past I would sit with them during lunch (gold tip, whenever you have lunch in your company, always talk with someone else and try to familiarize with everyone in the company, it will give you valuable insights. Furthermore, if you're well know it makes the conversation with your developer a lot easier). Then I would start the conversation.

"Me: I've found this website with all the people attending event X, I have the feeling I could scrape it. Now over the years my development skills have become a little rusty what would you advice me to use to scrape the contacts?"

Developer: "Oh, just send it over, so I can have a look"

"Me thinking: Bingo, Me saying: oh, that would be so great. Can you explain me afterwards how you did it?"

What you will get is an Excel list which typically consists of Company Name and Job Title, but if you're lucky even has the full name. It's then up to your outbound executives to use sales navigator and start reaching out.

So "thank you", every developer who has helped me doing this over the past years. 🙏

The popular "event connection/communication" app: Events want to follow the latest technological trends. So often, they have created an event app. Although you could question the quality and content of these apps, they often allow you to connect with others attending the event. Can you see the similarity of what's discussed above? A good developer can scrape this content as well. Tools like Fiddler for instance, allow them to monitor and spoof the API calls (or communication with the database in this case) the app is doing. As a result the developer can extract the full list of contacts with just a few easy lines of code.

Scraping LinkedIn Groups or Twitter Accounts: There are tools, (Phantom Buster for instance), that allow you to scrape complete LinkedIn Groups and Twitter Accounts. They are sometimes a little tricky to configure, but once up and running you can start to scrape complete LinkedIn Groups, Twitter Accounts, Facebook Groups,... with a little creativity, this can become very powerful. For instance for events. Every respectable event has a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn page. Typically the people who are following such a page are the people who've already attended. So it makes sense to have a look at these lists and extract the relevant contacts and companies for outbound.

Can you see the pattern? With a little, out-of-the-box thinking, there are ways to get to the complete list of event attendees, which your SDR team can use to organize relevant meetings, which will drive traffic to your booth, which will increase qualitative walk-ins, which will result in the best show results. Now the above cases are just examples. Instead of learning these by heart, it's more important to translate this mindset to your team. For instance, a former High Potential candidate I know, figured out that one event were promoting people to Tweet they would attend the event. The event obviously implemented this as a growth tactic, where attendees, likely connected with other attendees would generate potential new leads. For us this was a gift from heaven, because we had a sheet filled automatically with the latest people attending. Talking about potential hot leads...

There are some other things to take into account when attending industry trade shows. But the above should probably be your most important KPI. Does this mean you should start sponsoring all the trade shows again? No, but it could make sense to select a few of the big ones, define a solid strategy for them and focus on your preparation, as-in, start booking meetings as early as one month prior to the start of the trade show. Just remember one more thing, don't be the marketing manager installing the wheel of fortune, because unfortunately the odds might be your career ends the day your CEO is reading this blog post.

Have a great start of the week!