Get Your Money's Worth at Trade Shows

Professional gatherings can be pricey, but you can make them worth your time and money.
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Trade shows provide visibility for a company's products and services to potential buyers, users and referral sources, but businesspeople often have mixed feelings about them. People question the value of trade shows because they are typically expensive to participate in, and there always appear to be more people interested in which booths are giving away the light-up yo-yos or bobblehead dolls than in what the companies are about.

There are 10 major costs to participating in a trade show:

1

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Entrance fee

: Every conference charges fee to operate a booth. Fees range from around $500 for a regional chamber of commerce trade shows to thousands of dollars for a major convention in a large city.

2

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Booth

: The booths that attract the most attention are the ones that are professionally developed. They make a statement about the company. I have tried just a basic booth using my laptop to demonstrate and having a professionally created booth that you take to multiple trade shows. The latter drives more traffic, because it makes a positive statement about the company.

3

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Shipping

: Many companies ship their marketing materials and booth equipment to the location of the show in advance.

4

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Setup

: In practically every convention center, there are union employees whose job it is to set up your booth. The only thing you are allowed to do is put your marketing materials on the table.

5

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Personnel support

: You typically need two teams of two people if you have a small booth. If you have a destination booth, you may need two or three teams of five or more people. Working a booth is physically grueling and mentally tiring. because you are on your feet all day and speaking to a variety of people about the same subject over and over again.

6

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Travel

: You might be lucky and just need a car to get to the show, but in many cases it requires air transportation. On top of that, you are paying for a hotel, and few people want to have a roommate, so you are paying for multiple rooms.

7

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Entertainment

: Typically, you are taking prospects and good customers out for meals or hosting a cocktail party in a separate room.

8

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Marketing materials

: Companies usually have boxes and boxes of brochures and one-pagers about their products and services.

9

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Giveaways

: Every booth gives away something whether it is candy, pencils or leather mobile phone holders.

10

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Data collection

: Usually you rent a device that scans in the badge of the participants who stop by your booth and the conference provides you with a list of attendees and their contact information.

After all that, you've probably run up a tab of a few thousand dollars, possibly up to $25,000. That is major money for just about any company. You want to see results. In order to take advantage of this investment, you should do the following:

  • Networking: Have your people visit the other booths and network with the crowd. The more business cards they can pick up, the greater the opportunities for developing prospects.
  • Mail materials: This will cost more, but it will give you a reason to follow up. The problem with giving away material is that attendees collect so much of it that they typically throw a good portion of it out either before they leave or when they get back to the office. It's too overwhelming.Instead, have materials on display for visitors, but tell them you will mail them the material. This will give you a chance to follow up.
  • It's all in the timing: Wait a week after the event to send a package with a thank-you note for requesting the information.
  • First follow-up: Call two days after the package arrives to make sure they got it.
  • Second follow-up: Call within five days to see if they have any questions about the information you sent and ask them if they are interested.

After the follow-up, put all of the people on a special mailing list so you can send emails and newsletters. If you develop a plan in advance with specific attainable objectives, trade shows will deliver a treasure chest of possibilities.

Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.