Someone recently asked me about their attendance at trade shows as way to generate sales leads and new customers. They used to have great success attending small trade shows. As their business grew, the marketing department started enrolling the company in larger shows. Their theory was “We’ve been fishing in these little ponds. Let’s take this message out to the ocean.”  However, it seems that even though these other shows are filled with fifty to one hundred times more attendees, they are actually seeing less revenue from each show.  Not just less revenue per invested dollar or attendee, but less revenue overall.

It is appealing to focus on large events. The thought seems logical:  “We attended a show with 120 attendees and landed 6 new customers. If we attended an event with 12,000 attendees, we would get 600.  Even if we are half as effective, that’s still 300.”  When the results don’t match, everyone scratches their head. Here are four keys to consider when evaluating a trade show.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

Just because the show is bigger, does not mean that it contains more of your ideal customers. If you target based on the challenge that your ideal client is facing, then see if the show targets that audience, too. You are better-off at an event with 100 attendees where you know 30 of them are your ideal client, than an event with 5,000 attendees with 50 of them. If that sounds counterintuitive, let me explain. In the event with 100 attendees, 30% of them are a good potential fit. In the event with 5,000 attendees, only 1% are a potential fit. You have a narrow chance of finding the 1% in the larger event. But, you’ll have a better chance of finding many of the 30% at the smaller event.

Focused Message

Answer the question “Who would be most interested in what we have, and why would they be excited to meet with us?” if you don’t know the answer, your prospects likely will not figure it out on their own. Your messaging then becomes “People facing one of these two or three issues will have interest in what we offer.” As an example, one of my messages is “If your team is facing pricing pressure for your products or services or your message about your great stuff falls on deaf ears, then come see us to discover how we might be able to help.”

Once you know your message and the problem you solve, be honest about how many attendees at that conference would care about your two or three messages.  You can always test some of the messages via LinkedIn or Facebook to get quick feedback about what might resonate with attendees.

Ask Your Best Clients

Where do your existing customers hang out? Which events do they attend, or where did they attend when searching for your solution? Take a look at their suggestions as there is a chance others facing similar issues to them might be at these events.

If you want to create your own event, plan a special event for your existing customers to invite 3 of their colleagues from other organizations who might be facing the same challenge your great customer was facing. At that event, do not show your “stuff.” Instead, highlight customers who faced challenges and solved them (presumably using your stuff). Make the customer the star, not your stuff.  Don’t worry – even though you do not show off, they smart prospects will seek you out.

Know Your Goal for a Tradeshow

The goal of most shows is NOT to close a deal on the floor. Reps often spend too much time with one or two prospects. Teach a “catch and release” program to attract prospects, qualify, and then schedule follow-up after the show. Hot prospects should have a calendar entry on their smartphone before they leave the booth.  Warm ones should be contacted electronically within a day, and then in person within 3 days of the end of the show. Marketing automation works great for the rest.

It’s Your Turn

What are your keys to Trade Show success? Post your triumphs and challenges and stay tuned for a response or three.