Events are often the most costly feature in a marketing budget, so how do you make sure you get the biggest return on investment?

1. Research.
Before you even consider signing up to an exhibition or conference, I recommend you do your research first. If possible, visit the event beforehand and check it out from a visitor’s point of view. What are the visitor numbers? How do the event organisers promote the event? Are your competitors there? What’s the quality of the speakers and conference topics? Are your target market talking about the event? How does it compare to other, similar events?

2. Plan.
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to plan ahead. You’ve signed up to a big trade show, industry event or conference and then you do nothing until about a week before the event is taking place, at which point you go into a whirl of panic, its stressful, hectic and a complete headache. Making you decide that it’s just not worth the effort and you won’t re-sign for next year. But, with a little bit of planning, you can have a really successful event.

3. Set objectives.
You must outline what your overarching objectives are in taking part in the exhibition. Are you looking to generate leads? How many? Is it more for branding and positioning? Are you entering a new market? Whatever your objectives are make sure they’re SMART and make sure that you log them and share them with the rest of your team who will be attending the exhibition.

4. Promote.
Exhibiting or speaking at an industry event isn’t just about turning up on the day. You need to drum up interest, tell your customers and prospects that you’re going to be there and that this event is one not to be missed. Your pre-show promotion should begin no less the 3 months before the event is taking place. Simple steps like listing the event on your website and at the bottom of your emails to start with, then building to e-blasts to your contact base, sharing event related information via social media channels and running specific marketing campaigns.

The event organisers usually provide a range of marketing services that are free of charge such as exhibitor listings on their website and in the onsite directory. These are critical. Not only are they free but they are the fundamental ways that visitors to the event will find you. Make sure you submit the online information as early as possible and amend it as your plans for the event begin to take shape. Submit your onsite directory information before the deadline in order to ensure inclusion.

The event organisers also offer paid-for marketing packages. It’s worth considering these in line with your overall objectives of participating in the event. Some of them may be worth doing. For example, if you are launching a new product or are looking to build your brand then some of the high profile sponsorship packages may be relevant. They’re a big investment but they will mean that you get seem by all of the visitors to the event. Make sure you include your stand number so that everyone knows where to find you!

5. Meet.
I always say that it’s the event organiser’s responsibility to get the visitors to the show and as an exhibitor, it’s your responsibility to get those visitors to your stand. To do this, you need to provide a compelling reason for people to drop by your stand. But in today’s day and age, you can’t rely on drop-ins. In fact, most people don’t even just turn up at an exhibition to walk around aimlessly – their time is far too precious for this. Instead, they will do their research beforehand, they will plan who they need to visit and know the questions they have to ask. They will come armed and educated.

You will do much better if you pre-arrange meetings with these individuals ahead of the show. You can do this by including a dedicated event page with a meeting request form on your website. Link to this page and form from the event website and make sure the content is specific to what you’ll be promoting and exhibiting at the event.

Get your sales team involved. The event is going to generate a large number of leads for them to follow up after the show but there is work for them to do before the event too. Get them to actively promote your presence at the event well ahead of it taking place. They should be pre-arranging meetings with their existing customers and target prospects. They should be highlighting the fact that your CEO, product specialists, sales director will be at the event and this is the ideal opportunity for them to meet these individuals. This is their opportunity to move their customers and prospects through the sales cycle in a cost effective and efficient way. Whenever else are your sales team going to get the CEO, sales director and product experts together in one place to meet multiple contacts over a two or three day period? Set meeting targets for them and make sure they achieve them.

6. Train and engage.
All too often, at an industry event you walk past a stand and the staff are all crouching around the reception desk, leaning on the structure and talking amongst themselves. Manning a stand at an exhibition is an art and to get the most out of the event, you need to teach that art to your colleagues.

Your colleagues should be smiling, approachable and strategically placed around your stand. Never let them pace the perimeter of the stand – this can be off-putting for people who walk onto the stand. When people do walk on, they should be given a bit of time to look at your displays and then your colleagues can begin to engage with them. Make sure they ask the right questions. “How are you today?” isn’t a good, engaging question, instead “I notice you are looking at XYZ product, what do you already know about it?” is a much more engaging and open-ended question that is likely to generate a better response from the visitor.

It’s also important that your colleagues are trained to know how to draw information out of the visitor that will be helpful for later follow up. They need to do this quickly and efficiently and then close the conversation to allow them to move onto the next visitor.

7. Intelligently record information.
More often than not, one of your main objectives of taking part in the event will be to generate leads. So you must make sure that you are equipped to do so. Today, you can rent visitor badge scanners that will make the logging of leads as simple as the click of a button but you also need to make sure that you have a mechanism in place to record the details of the conversation you’ve just had with that lead. Make sure that you hire multiple scanners so your colleagues aren’t queuing to use the one device. And make sure that you hire a scanner that allows you to enter free flow copy too. This might be more expensive but it’s a worthwhile investment later on when you are following the leads up.

Introduce a lead classification scale. This will allow you and all your colleagues to classify the lead in terms of how “hot” it is. This is based on the information gathered and the initial assessment of where they lead is in their buying decision process. This will allow you to later prioritise which leads to follow up first.

8. Follow up.
The person who just visited your stand will also visit your competitors’ stands. So the minute they walk away, you need to be impressing them and standing out from the competition. One way to do this is to send them a “Thank you for visiting our stand” email. The email should be personalised, friendly and advise them that you’ll be back in touch to progress discussions after the show. Believe me, this simple action will definitely make you stand out right from the start.

The show is over, the exhibition stand is packed away and you are all breathing a sigh of relief. Well, don’t sign just yet as this is when the real hard work begins. If you haven’t been divvying up the leads generated whilst you’ve been at the show (highly recommended) then your first task when you get back to the office is to do just that. Distribute the leads out to your sales team and target them with contacting all of them within 2/4/7 days. They should have used the lead classification scale referenced above so they will know which ones are the priority. Make sure they call these leads. You were only speaking to them a matter of days ago, so carry on the conversation. Don’t revert to email.

9. Measure.
It’s important to track the ROI from your investment in an event. To do this, you need to log all of the leads in an effective CRM system and track the follow up over an agreed time period. This will no doubt be in relation to your typical sales cycle.

Jo Coxhill is a seasoned marketing expert and can help you organise your upcoming event as well as provide training to ensure you get the most out of your investment in the event. Contact Jo to find out more.

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