In today’s hyper-connected sales and marketing environment, companies in the B2B space are fighting for a smaller and smaller slice of the attention span of purchasing agents in their targeted industries. Fierce competition across a variety of marketing channels has placed a high premium on qualified lead generation as the core component of any successful B2B marketing effort. With the recent implementation of the GDPR in the European Union wreaking havoc on email marketers around the globe, though, it’s important for B2B marketers to diversify their strategies to keep their sales pipelines full.
As it turns out, there’s a decidedly old-school marketing channel that can fill the void for B2B marketers if they execute an effective strategy: events and trade shows. Industry surveys indicate that in-person marketing events are the most effective strategy for B2B marketers year after year – and this year they’re poised to play an even bigger strategic role than ever before.
Making the most of events and trade shows as a B2B marketing cornerstone takes some careful planning and execution, though. If your business is creating an events strategy or looking to refine your current tactics, here are the three keys to making the most of your next B2B trade show.
Activate Your Current Customer Base
A trade show, like almost any other in-person event, is all about optics. There are few things that can be more damaging to a company’s display than for it to sit empty for long stretches of time during the event. While you may not be able to forecast the organic traffic that your business will generate at a given event with any certainty, that doesn’t mean that there’s no way to make sure your booth stays busy.
To succeed, make sure to advertise the event to your existing customers well in advance of the opening dates. Whenever possible, make direct contact with them to let them know what products and services you’ll have on display, and try to make viewing appointments with purchasing agents. In this way, you will not only guarantee that your booth will remain busy (nothing draws a crowd like a crowd), but you may also guarantee enough sales from existing customers to offset the whole cost of your trade show appearance.
Commission an Engaging Display
One of the biggest expenditures that many businesses make when preparing for a trade show is to buy customized branded items for giveaways during the event. While giveaways are a tried-and-true method for getting a brand into a potential customer’s consciousness, it’s important to remember that quite literally every other presenter is trying to do exactly the same thing. That’s why it’s a much better idea to save your budget to commission a display that will give visitors an experience they’ll never forget.
According to Jorge Navarro, an exhibit designer manager for ExpoMarketing:
“The most important part of a trade show display isn’t the color palette or the overall design aesthetic; it’s the feeling that the display imparts to the visitor. Most trade show attendees won’t remember the style of the seating or the materials used to construct the booth, but they will remember if the display made an emotional connection with them.”
Games that involve the technology from the products on display work especially well, and where applicable, Virtual Reality (VR) displays also tend to make a lasting impression on visitors.
Prioritize Relationship Building, Not Sales
Maintaining a steady stream of visitors to your booth and keeping them there with an engaging display will make sure that your company makes a strong impression with potential customers, but that won’t translate directly to sales by itself. That reality is what pushes many companies to adopt a sales-heavy approach for their employees at a trade show, but that can backfire. Trade show attendees are most often coming to learn about new products and services, not to make on-the-spot purchasing decisions – so building a relationship with them is far more valuable than getting to yes on a single sale.
For a trade show to be a valuable part of a B2B strategy, it’s important to realize that it is primarily a vehicle for qualified lead generation, not sales. In fact, it’s an exceptional example of the former, in that attendees are, by default, announcing themselves as your target market. It’s crucial to make sure that your on-site staff is willing to take the time to engage with visitors and to let the conversations flow where they may (taking copious notes along the way). It’s a very valuable opportunity to get to know potential new customers and will prime them for follow-up communications long after the event ends.
The Personal Touch
In a very real way, trade shows are the perfect marketing channel for companies in the B2B space. They represent a rare opportunity for a business to stand out in direct contrast to the competition, and to do it in front of an audience of industry decision makers. They also allow for the kind of personal, face-to-face contact that’s becoming so rare in our connected world. That’s probably why trade shows and live events continue to draw huge crowds, despite the ongoing digitization that’s evident in so many other marketing channels. If you keep these three keys to trade show success in mind when planning your company’s next trade show or live event, it’ll go a long way towards supercharging your sales pipeline – and make your brand one that customers won’t soon forget.