"Hooray, I can't wait to have that booth at the next trade show!" These are words that marketing professionals rarely hear from lawyers, executives and other professionals in service firms. The thought of spending one, two or three days standing in an exhibit hall trying to garner the attention of potential clients has most executives longing for an extended visit to the dentist. Those with any seniority usually find a reason to not attend the event, and if they do, they make an appearance to walk the floor, but do not commit to working a shift at the booth. Most avoid even stopping at the company's booth even when they are in attendance. They leave the responsibility of staffing the booth to the more junior members of the team or worse, just have the booth sitting alone with some brochures on the table.
If this is the attitude of the senior members at your firm, then spending the money to sponsor the event, ship the booth, and print the materials is a total waste. They would get more ROI from that money by sending a check to me and hoping that I will write about them in my blog. Yet professional services firms continue to spend large sums of money to participate in local, regional and national trade shows with no results. Why do they do this? Well the competition is having a booth, right? It is good PR, right? Name recognition? I have heard dozens of reasons why companies continue to participate in such events, with no return on investment.
The truth is that trade show participation can be a great place to invest your limited marketing funds, but only if those who are client facing fee earners are willing to invest their time to help develop more business. A glossy brochures has never, in the history of business, made a lasting connection with a potential client. No prospect has ever gone back to his office and told his co-workers about the amazing conversation that he had with a booth about ways to increase productivity. You see, business is still about people. In my new book, "Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships" (available from New Year Publishing in July 2005. More information at www.thomsinger.com), I talk about how you need to create personal connections with a variety of other business people if you want to succeed in your career. Finding those people is one of the tricks, and trade shows are one of the places that business people congregate.
How to get the most from attending a trade show
1. Plan ahead. Spend some time before your company exhibits at a trade show to discuss who will attend, when each person will staff the booth, and whom you wish to meet while you are there. If you know in advance that clients and prospects will be in attendance, call them and schedule times to meet with them at your booth or make plans to buy them dinner or a drink. Just waiting to see them until the show means that you may never cross paths, or that your competition could invite to dinner before you get to make the ask.
2. Never leave your booth unattended. Law firms are the worst offenders of having unattended booths, but many are guilty of this offense. Not only will nobody stop at an empty booth, often people at shows negatively judge companies with deserted booths. Those who are walking the trade show are doing so with the hopes of meeting interesting people and companies. Do not disappoint them, be there to talk about your products and services.
3. It is everyone's responsibility to staff the booth. If your senior team thinks it is beneath them to have a shift at the booth, then do not make the financial investment in participation. While some marketing people are very good at working trade shows, those in attendance want to meet the people with whom they would be working when they become a client. This means people at all levels in your firm need to be involved at the trade show booth. In addition, if one person is staffing the booth, then they can only talk to one person at a time. The more members of your team on hand, the better your odds of making some good contacts at the show.
4. Follow up. The most important part of a participating in a trade show is how you follow up with the people you met. Most firms fail at doing any follow up. Your whole team should have a post-show meeting where you sit down and go over the list of everyone that your company made contact with at the event. Then action items should be assigned senior team members to make follow up contacts. Again, if follow up is delegated to junior staff members or the marketing department, then you are leaving money on the table.
Go all the way or stay home
You can either dread trade shows or you can embrace them, and your results will be directly correlated to your attitude. I recommend that every company evaluates how their team views trade show participation. If the consensus is that they are a waste of time and the senior team will not agree to actively participate, then your firm should decide to just not participate at all. If you make the commitment to sponsor such shows, then jump in with both feet, fully staff your booth and meet as many people as possible. And don't forget the follow up! You never know who you will meet at a trade show that could lead to more business.
Have a great day.