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Reaching your prospects begins before the show

Hello, class, it’s time for another lesson. This month, we’ll be focusing on the various options and opportunities you have to reach out to attendees in advance of a show in order to draw them to your booth. There are a lot of opportunities such as direct mailers, pre-show networking sites, press releases, etc., to maximize your prospecting efforts. While not all of them might make sense in your specific case, only one of them by itself is usually not enough to achieve the best results.

If you’ve been following my column, the next few sentences should give you a feeling of déjà vu, but I can’t stress the importance of this enough, so expect to read this a few more times in the months to come.

Before you can start planning your pre-show campaigns, you need to know exactly who you want to reach. If you followed my previous advice, this should be easy since you already have a very good target prospect profile ready to go from your existing show planning tasks.

Always keep in mind, the objective shouldn’t be to have the busiest booth on the show floor. The objective is to get all the qualified prospects that you can to have meaningful conversations with you in your booth. But just in case you haven’t done your homework in the past, create a well-defined profile of your key prospects. Who are they? What are their positions? How do they influence the purchase of your products or services? What are their needs, interests and concerns? Below are the data points you simply need to have:

* Vertical/Industry

* Job title(s) of purchasing influencers and buyers

* Product users and how they use the product (note – these are typically not the same people that are the decision makers)

* Business size

* Business revenue

* Regional location

* Regional characteristics

Knowing who your key prospects are is a prerequisite for finding the right marketing mix to attract them to your exhibit. In the coming months’ lessons, we’ll talk more about at-show and post-show marketing activities, but let’s focus on the most effective types of pre-show marketing activities for now.

The first thing that comes to many marketing professionals’ minds is direct mail, which if done properly is indeed a good tool. But even if you decide on that route, you should create a mix of campaigns and consider some of the options below as well:

* Pre-Show social networking sites offered by the tradeshow producer enable attendees, exhibitors, media and others to connect before the show. Typically these sites give you the ability to create a profile and search other profiles for people to whom you’d like to introduce yourself. Other features often include the show schedule, event listings, company collateral, personal calendar, special promotions, press releases, show specials and more.

* Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook allow you to announce that you are exhibiting and invite attendees to visit your booth. You should start your efforts several months before the show to build enough interest for attendees to give you a few minutes of their time while at the show.

* Press releases are a good way to announce that you will be exhibiting at a show, announce product releases and more. There are many options for distributing a press release. Sometimes the show offers you the ability to distribute a company profile for free, or you can use a fee-based site like Business Wire. There are also many free press release distribution options online. Unless you are a well-known business, such a release will probably not be used in media, but it will show up across quite a number of news sites that get their data from those submissions, so it always helps with search engine results and creating awareness.

* Schedule pre-show meetings with

– Key prospects to discuss new business opportunities

– Members of the media to discuss your company and products and to offer your expertise so they will contact you as needed when they are working on articles covering your industry

– Existing customers and suppliers to foster your relationships

– Pre-show mailers and e-mails are some of the most common and most effective pre-show marketing avenues to pursue. Here are some tips and information about pre-show mailers:

– Always ask the show if you can get a list of attendees; either an address list or e-mail. Some shows will offer this as part of the exhibit package, while others sell it as an add-on you can purchase. There are some that don’t offer it at all.

– If you can’t get the current attendee list, ask if you can get the previous year’s attendee list.

– If the list provides enough information, don’t just mail everyone. Sort it based on the attendee’s profile, so you only send to your key prospects, driving more targeted prospects to the booth and costing you less money.

– A word of caution about offering a general give-away promotion to draw mass amounts of attendees to the booth: you want to collect leads from qualified prospects who may buy your products or services, not from everyone under the sun who wants your give-away but not your products. This not only costs you money you could spend otherwise, but worse, all those useless leads will slow down your sales team and prevent them from dedicating enough time on the leads that count. I always suggest drawing attendees to your booth by pointing out the benefits of your product. This gives attendees the ability to “self qualify” and determines whether they should visit your booth.

– If you are able to sort the list, then I suggest sending a mailer only to your qualified prospects. In this case it can be a good idea to offer a promotional item, since these are the people with whom you are looking to do business. The most effective type of promotions are two-part promotions where you send a piece of the give-away before the show and tell prospects to come to the booth to receive the other piece. Examples for that are sending out a key and tell prospects to use it to open a chest in your booth where they will find a promotional item, or sending out a calculator sleeve telling people to get the actual calculator at the show. There are quite a few clever things you can do. Just use your imagination.

These were just some of the things you can do to promote your show presence before the actual event. To maximize your show’s return on investment (ROI), you have to do at least some of these marketing activities. And be sure to start your marketing efforts several months before the show.

That’s all for this lesson. Bye for now!

Homework

Research at least two of the options above and make them part of your next show plan!

About Linda Musgrove

Linda Musgrove is president of the tradeshow training firm, TradeShow Teacher. She focuses on teaching companies to significantly improve tradeshow results through strategic, customized tradeshow training for individuals, departments or entire teams. Musgrove also presents customized training programs for tradeshow producers to offer exhibitors. Most recently she authored The Complete Idiots Guide to Trade Shows, published by Alpha Books/Penguin Publishing. Learn more at /www.tsteacher.com and sign up for the free monthly Trade Show Tactics newsletter. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/tsteacher or send an invite to connect on LinkedIn via e-mail at linda@tsteacher.com.


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