Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lesson #48: Trade Show Strategies for Startups

Following up on my previous post, about The Importance of Networking, I figured it would be good time to talk about trade shows and how a startup needs to incorporate them into their marketing strategies.

To start, it is my recommendation that B2B facing trade shows are more relevant than B2C facing trade shows.  Given the high costs of participating in trade shows, B2C companies are typically better served in redirecting those marketing dollars to higher reaching, higher ROI vehicles (e.g., search engines).  As an example, a $10,000 investment in a booth at a consumer show may get you in front of 10,000 people at a trade show, versus 50,000 people via the search engines.  Now that doesn't mean B2C executives shouldn't be networking at trade shows, as they definitely should.  But, they would be much better served attending more industry-related events where they can learn and network with their peers (e.g., gathering of online marketing executives).

But, for B2B companies, trade shows can be one of the most important and targeted ways to market their businesses to prospective clients, given the highly targeted nature of the audience at that show (e.g., corporate buyers of their product or services).  As an example, if you are a developer of a digital video platform for government clients (e.g., Department of Defense, NASA), where better to find targeted clients than at the annual Government Video Expo, where sellers of government facing technologies exhibit to government buyers of such technologies in this very niche market segment (where all key people will be in one place at the same time).  So, as a B2B company, it is critical you research the key trade shows in your industry, and incorporate them into your marketing plans.  And, the more targeted the trade show the better (e.g., Government Video Expo, better than Video Expo, in this example).  So, prioritize accordingly.

Now, identifying the trade shows are only half of the exercise.  More importantly, you need to decide how you plan on participating at these trade shows.  Will you exhibit with a booth?  Or, sponsor the show? Or, be a presenter or a panelist?  Or, simply attend?  The answer to that question is directly proportional to: (i) the importance of the show to acheiving your overall sales goals; and (ii) your budgets to afford the various options. 

As a rule, sponsoring a show tends to be very expensive, but can be a good way to get branding benefits for your business and exposure in front of all the attendees of the show, both during the show, and in any marketing materials for the show.  If you feel sponsoring the show would be important for you, find the least expensive options to get your name out there (e.g., buying name tag lanyards with your logo on it, would be cheaper than buying the entire lunch for the event). 

Exhibiting with a booth is also an expensive proposition.  Not only do you have to pay for the design of the booth itself, but you have to pay to ship the booth to and from the show, store the booth after the show and pay for the time and travel expenses of the people who will be running the booth.  As a startup, you only want to go down this road if having a booth presence at the show is mission critical.  As an example, if all your key competitors are exhibiting with live demos of their products via booths, perhaps you should also be there with an equal presence.  But, only if the audience of the show are direct buyers of your products.  For example, if you are selling technology to CTOs, you want to make sure the CTOs are the ones attending the show, not CMO's.  And, where you can, focus on shows with CTOs (in this example), not lower level technologists that ultimately will not be making the buying decisions.  But, this is not always possible, and you may have no choice than to meet the junior level person and then work up the chain of command.

Simply attending a show is a very inexpensive way to have a presence at the show, gathering business cards as you roam the room and network with other attendees and exhibitors.  But, where you can, actually getting invited to be a featured speaker or panelist at the show, is typically free to attend and gets you quickly exposed to everybody at the show.  And, as we talked about in the previous post, it is always preferable to be the "hunted" at shows like this, where prospective clients are searching for you, than having to track down your prospects on a one-off basis.  So, apply to be a speaker or panelist at all of these events, and come up with a unique pitch to the event producer on why you would add value to the official program (e.g., "hottest new innovation in the industry", "real life data you can share with audience").

So, in summary, trade shows typically work better for B2B companies than B2C companies, given the lack of better marketing alternatives.  Both, B2B and B2C executives need to participate in trade shows where their peer executives are participating.  And, you need to prioritize your participation at these trade shows (e.g., sponsor, exhibit, attend, present), based on the importance of the show to your revenue goals and the budgets you have to spend.

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1 comment:

Bill C. said...

Very informative post. The most important thing, however, when deciding whether to attend a trade show, is to have a plan.