Note: Be sure to check out the Trade Show Dollar Challenge at the end of this post.

Putting trade show dollars to work. Many companies are tightly squeezing their dollars right now, and that is understandable. One easy target is to pocket unspent or refunded trade show dollars as quick savings. This too is understandable. However, what if you can save a good portion of those 2020 trade show dollars while also investing today in a marketing tactic that could deliver MORE leads than you would have gotten from your trade shows. And, at the same time, this tactic could also:

  • greatly increase your visibility in the market as a trusted leader
  • engage your target audience with great content
  • generate far more actionable leads for sales (vs. the “visited the booth” type of leads)?

Would that sound reasonable? What is this tactic?

The answer is NOT a virtual trade show

This new tactic is definitely NOT to rehash the idea of a virtual exhibition or what some have called a Virtual Trade Show. Why not? Well, it doesn’t work.

There is a fairly lengthy history in the B2B marketplace of various media companies or actual B2B companies trying to promote the concept of a virtual trade show where people can browse booths and a resource center online to get magazines and materials. Compared to physical events, they typically disappoint.

In the physical world, trade shows enable attendees to (a) get out of the office and visit someplace fun, (b) hang out with peers to network and learn, (c) quickly see and compare ALL the relevant vendors and their offerings.

The most successful, traditional trade shows also offer valuable educational sessions for attendees in addition to the above-mentioned value propositions. Many association-owned events are content-first events, particularly rich in valuable information.

The virtual world simply cannot deliver the first three value propositions. Attendees don’t visit someplace fun, can’t get the same level of networking as over dinner, coffee, etc., and can’t browse a variety of vendor products and services. And, using online search, buyers can easily find the product information they need. They don’t need to visit a booth for that.

The kind of event(s) that will deliver

The good news is that your prospects and customers do like to engage with great content – and live and on-demand webinars are one of their top sources. This means that creating either a single event (a virtual event), a webinar series, or even using the webinar format to deliver educational “lunch and learns” gives you a strong option right now. Let’s dig into the keys to success for executing any form of digital event by using the virtual event as an example.

A well-conceived and managed virtual educational event can provide an effective alternative to a traditional trade show that will immediately deliver the leads you need today. With appropriate help from experts in this area, you can launch and execute a virtual educational event that will attract and engage those in your market who want to learn and will want to learn more about you. By doing this, especially during this crisis, you can accomplish a great deal, including:

  • take advantage of those working from home looking for new ways to learn
  • show that you are investing right now – that you are here for the market – increasing visibility and trust
  • create content that will not only engage your audience in an event, but that can be repurposed in so many ways going forward, yielding both immediate and ongoing ROI (repurposing your virtual sessions as a variety of marketing content)
  • and most importantly, generate far more actionable (vs. “visited the booth”) leads

Proof Point – Virtual Event

Another B2B manufacturer partnered with us to execute a two-day virtual event featuring a keynote session and multiple tracks (five tracks, four sessions in each track – 20 sessions). The event results included:

  • 2,783 unique attendees over the two days
  • nearly 50% of those attendees being prospects
  • attendees attended an average of 3 sessions
  • attendees downloaded an average of 5 pieces of content
  • attendees averaged 2.75 hours in live sessions
  • manufacturer identified over 400 qualified leads
  • manufacturer sales teams followed-up to identify over $8.5M in potential business

This was an ambitious event featuring a lot of content. Whether a large event or an event featuring just a few sessions, you can see the kind of opportunity you might create by featuring great content sessions.

Keys to Success Digital Events

You must flawlessly execute five key elements to create an event (series or single one- or two-day event) that will generate the results described above:

trade show matrix

  1. Identify Content Your Prospects/Customers Will Find Compelling and Engaging
    • Your content is what will drive registrations
    • The best content starts with audience needs and pain points – how can you help them, NOT what can you sell them
    • The best content has to be a focused agenda, a clearly defined top that is organized and presented well, whether in a series over time or multi-session days
    • Fewer, higher-quality sessions featuring good presenters sharing actionable information
  1. Effectively Promote the Event to the Right Audience
    • The better your prospect (and customer) list, the easier it will be to promote
    • As needed, supplement the event with a carefully targeted media plan that reaches the right personas
    • Hire (or have) the skills to build integrated, effective registration pages (there is an art to this that has been mastered by some marketing firms)
    • Hire (or have) the skills to engage in real-time analysis and adjustments to your promotional messages, ads, and sources
    • Leverage your sales and channel sales personnel’s contacts (provide them with ready-to-send invites/messages) and measure whether they send them to potential attendees
  1. Focus on User Experience/Engagement
    • Hire a marketing firm that understands how to coach your speakers on slide preparation and presentation skills to ensure professionalism and eliminate sales pitches (except in sessions specifically noted as product sessions)
    • Select a presentation platform that is easy to use
    • Engage the customers with discussion, networking, and Q&A opportunities
    • Provide easy access to, and ensure delivery of, follow-up materials (copy of slides, sales literature, etc.)
  1. Follow Up with Customers
    • Determine how you will identify and convert engaged attendees into actionable leads for sales
    • Nurture registrants and attendees with related content (e.g., solution pitches, automated nurture, on-demand records for sessions they missed)
  1. Performance management to learn, improve, and create accountability
    • Measure everything to learn
    • Measure promotional list/tactic performance (internal and media)
    • Measure sales engagement and follow-up with event leads
    • Measure sales engagement and follow up
    • Measure effectiveness of speakers
    • Measure sessions interest and engagement

You cannot be good at only a few of those; an effective event requires you be good in each and every area. Most B2B companies lack the internal marketing expertise and/or time to pull this off. Many providers offer the virtual platforms needed to execute the event itself. However, don’t expect those providers to have the knowledge and relationships with the right media companies, to have promotional capabilities, or to understand your content or customer personas. For that, you likely need to partner with a marketing firm that can deliver that portion, or manage the entire event, for you.

Do you Accept the Challenge?

You have an opportunity to not only repurpose some of your trade show budget (probably far less) and to also, at the same time, get better results. That is what this is all about.

I’m going to break the norm for these posts because this is not a normal time (for future reference – April 3, 2020 – in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis). We at GrowthPoint are prepared to back up what I am writing – to make sure any B2B company interested in investing some of your new-found trade show savings can invest only part of that and get MORE results for your money.

Reach out and set up a meeting with us here at GrowthPoint. We will meet and assess (a) the budget you want have, (b) the quantity and quality of your internal list for promotion, and (c) the content/SMEs (subject matter experts) you can bring to the table. If we decide to make a proposal to you for some form of event (series or educational webinar or a focused one or two-day event), we will guarantee that you will get more leads than you would have gotten with that trade show investment from your booth. Ready to take the challenge and put your trade show dollars to work?

Proof Point – Webinar Series

One B2B manufacturer has partnered with our firm to deliver a new branded (meaning, the series has a name) series of educational webinars. The manufacturer simply identifies the desired educational topic area and the subject matter expert speakers. We create, promote, and execute the webinars, and process the leads immediately to manufacturers’ sales reps and channel partners. So far, after six (6) webinars, the manufacturer has identified over $1M in sales based on a $25k investment. This type of webinar series is another alternative to a physical trade show presence.

Note: As you can see from the two proof points – webinars can be repurposed to create a virtual event (cluster of webinars tied to a few days with single registration), or presented as a series of independent webinars (branded series, register for each), and we have even worked to enable our clients to deliver pre-packaged educational materials (pre-packaged so that each sales person gets the same materials) to qualified sales people to use as a series of measurable virtual lunch & learn sessions.