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Now Is The Most Important Time Of The Year For Your Trade Show Program

Most of the year you’re on autopilot:  Send out the pre-show promo, ship the booth, arrange the staffers, do the show, process the leads.  Then repeat.  And repeat again.

Now’s the time to turn off the autopilot and grab a hold of the wheel, while the 2010 fall trade show busy season is winding down, and it’s still fresh in your mind.   And not only is it a good time to look back, it’s also a good time to look forward, as you are preparing your 2011 trade show marketing budget as well.

Take advantage of this crossroads to really look at your trade show marketing program.  Set aside an hour, a morning, or a day to look at these 5 things:

1.  Your 2010 trade show results

If you haven’t already measured the results from your trade show program, get to it.  Compare your results to the objectives you set at the beginning of the year.  Get your list of trade show leads, and  compare them to your recent sales to see which leads closed.  If you don’t have a sophisticated enough database to do that, get some help from your finance or sales department.  If all else fails, call all the leads yourself, asked them what happened, and total up the results.  Find out number of sales and dollars sold.  If you have a longer selling cycle, see how many leads are deemed active leads that have generated follow-up meetings.  If your goals were more about brand awareness, ask if they remember meeting with your company at the show, and if they are more likely to do business with you because of their interaction there.  If you had other objectives, see if you met them.

2.  Your 2011 trade show objectives

If you have a list for 2010, put it on the board and see if the list needs tinkering.  Check to see that your objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and to be met in a specific period of time.   There are lots of reasons to exhibit at trade shows, but limit your objectives to the top 3 to 5, so you can focus your activities and have a better chance at measuring your success.  If you didn’t have 2010 pre-set objectives, get with your management and agree upon why you will exhibit at trade shows in 2011.

3.  Your 2011 trade show schedule

Once you have your 2010 results understood, figure out which shows were winners and losers.  Depending on your objectives, winner shows provided good ROI, a successful product launch, increased brand awareness, and productive interactions with existing clients, partners, and vendors.   Loser shows had too little traffic, and the traffic there was not high enough quality or a good fit with your target audience.  Keep and perhaps expand booth space in the winners.  Trim space or perhaps cut shows that were losers.   And of course, filter that list to keep the shows that will best help you achieve your 2011 trade show objectives.  And you may be adding other shows to the list that look promising, too.

4.  Your trade show strategy

What are you doing right and wrong at trade shows?  Write down the top 5 things you do well, and the 5 things you most need to improve.   Think back to the moments of frustration and insight you had during the course of the year on how you could improve your trade shows, and turn those insights into a plan.  Have you tried setting appointments before the show?  Using high-end promotions targeted to your top prospects?  Reducing your ongoing exhibiting costs with portable trade show displays and modular trade show exhibits?  Selecting shows based on your key vertical markets, not your industry shows?  Training all booth staffers, not just the newbies?  Starting a more thorough lead follow-up program?  These are just suggestions for you and your team to consider.

5.  Your trade show budget

Do you usually start with the budget number?  If so, it may seem backwards to save your budgeting for last, but after you’ve documented your 2010 results and figured out how you want to improve upon your performance in 2011, now you can take a better story to management to justify investing in the trade show marketing program you believe in.   Prepare your ideas into a good report and presentation.  Remember, your management wants to grow their business, increase their brand awareness, and build relationships with their clients.  Prove to them that you’ve got a trade show marketing plan to do just that, and they’ll give you more funds to achieve it.

So, while we’d all like to relax a bit after the Fall busy season, use the time instead for an invigorating re-examination of your trade show program.   All too soon you’ll be too busy again, or else someone else will tell you how much money you have to spend.  Now’s the time to research, brainstorm, and plan for a better next year.

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