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In this week’s Relatable Leader podcast episode, I tell the story of going to New Orleans for a trade show. The industry was male dominated; in the early 90s business owners took top customers out on the town to party and the $100 bills were flying. My comfort zone was definitely stretched to the max on that trip!
Listen to the episode!
I’m glad my trade show days are behind me, but I’m glad I had the experience. The most creative planning session I ever had for a trade show was when a manager walked me out to my car to tell me about the beach-themed show coming up in San Diego. She asked me what ideas I had for the show booth, threw sand at my feet and said, “Okay, go!”
When I showed up for work the next morning, I had a form core model of the show booth and a video loop intro for our product videos which included home movie footage of my mom with my brother and I playing in the sand on the beach in Southern California. Our booth won a prize at that show.
My favorite trade show experience was being hired to go to the show and walk the floor asking customers what product they would like to see next from the company. I love talking with customers and it was terrific to gather useful information. At that time, the company who hired me was developing a prototype the engineers were very excited about. The machine would cost customers more than $200,000, but the engineers were convinced they’d go for it because it was “futuristic” for that industry. But that’s not what customers told me they wanted.
Most of them asked for a very simple piece of equipment to help them lift material to the main machine. The cost they said they’d be willing to pay was around $11,000, which gave the company plenty of room for a decent profit margin.
When we returned from the show, the sales manager excitedly shared the data. The president of the company and the engineers ignored the data and pursued that outrageously costly prototype for a product customers didn’t want. Not surprisingly, I heard they didn’t sell that product and ended up in a drastic financial struggle. They changed their business model in the effort to survive.
These days my role is helping companies plan for trade shows. I develop pre-show planning templates focused on the type of industry they are in. The basics include:
Customer types attending this show:
Show goal (measurable: most commonly sales or new “A” customer leads)
Team members attending:
Each person’s role at the show:
Required actions at show to support after-show follow-up plan:
What did we learn last time we attended this show?
Good to know:
When people return from the show, the team meets to put the follow-up plan in place: who is doing what by when?
Back in the day, it was all about cold calling. These days I focus on an email written specifically for the customers at that show that will create value for them based on what we learned at the show. Although a prompt to check out the company website is part of the message, it is a very soft sell approach at this point. The primary goal of the message is to encourage the relationship building that hopefully started at the show.
The pre-planning and action plan follow-up are places many teams can improve. This is especially the case when employees have worked there for many years, have gone to the same shows repeatedly, and forget new team members don’t know what they know. Also, accountability programs for measuring the success of the show can tend to be vague.
Without proper planning and follow-up, you company might be throwing your trade show money out the window.
What did we learn?
What are we going to Stop/Start/Continue based on that learning?
Who is responsible for next steps?
I encourage you to be as specific as possible when setting event and trade show goals. Assign the right people to the right follow-up tasks. Don’t waste customer time with lack luster out calls like, “Just checking in. Did you get the catalog I sent you?” Annoying!
All follow-up communication should be customer focused and create value for them, even if their purchase point is a year in the future. What’s in it for customers if they take time to communicate with you?