Why Inbound Marketing Might Save Your Next Trade Show

Turn Your Events Into Revenue With Inbound Marketing Tactics

Let me know if this sounds familiar: You invest somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 to attend your industry’s top trade show. You send a few of your best salespeople, and they’re out of the office for a couple of days or longer.

When they come back, you ask, “How was the show?” They tell you it was good and that they got some leads. A few months down the road, you check in again. Nothing has been closed. No new clients.

That’s what they tell you, but what actually happened at the show? More than likely, your people simply stood in the booth waiting for prospects to approach them.

They went with the basic promotional products, giving them out to anyone who asked. They did collect a handful of business cards, but no structured follow-up was ever executed. You’ll never realize any reasonable ROI on your investment in the event.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. When asked if you should do the show again, the answer is, “Yes. If we don’t go, people will think we’re out of business.” So, you make the same mistake every year, wasting the same amount of money (or more) for no good reason.

Inbound Sales and inbound marketing create an entirely different experience, transforming how you think about trade show marketing. Here’s how.

Create A Full Show Strategy Based On Data Driven Marketing

Trade shows don’t execute themselves. You need to plan for your shows, and do so aggressively. Consider an 8-12 week runway to get ready for an upcoming show. Specifically, how many leads will you need to get from the show to make it a winner from an ROI perspective? How many of those leads must close, and for how much revenue? How many per day? How many per exhibit session? This makes the event a fully quantitative exercise and takes subjectivity out of the equation.

Now, you need to know what your big story at the show is going to be, and you have to use content to help deliver that message. Instead of handing out stress balls or pens, provide your visitors with an exclusive e-book that's only available at the event and that will never be available again. If they want the e-book, they have to register with you at the show. This way, you get leads that are actually interested in what you do, as opposed to just your promotional products.

What To Do Pre-Show With Inbound Marketing

Hope is not a strategy. Waiting for people to show up and find their way to your booth is a recipe for underperformance. Instead, get access to the registrants, and make sure there is pre-show communication that highlights your educational offer.

Create a short series of communications that lead up to the show. Build excitement by teasing the educational experience. Highlight your speaking event (because, you are speaking at the event, right?). Or draw attention to your educational offer or the education that your experts are going to provide during the event. Turn your participation into an opportunity instead of the standard “stop by and say hi” activity.

What To Do In-Show With Content Marketing

Now that the attendees are excited about seeing you at the event, give them an in-show experience that turns visitors into leads. Instead of handing out promotional products or running a silly putting contest for a free iPad, actually help them by offering an on-site assessment or complimentary consulting session. If you sell a product, bring samples and offer hands-on demonstrations.

Instead of giving away the iPad, use it to collect conversions. In other words, create a dedicated landing page and have visitors fill out the page right at the show. You don’t need to scan badges or collect business cards. Your new friends can fill out the form right there and get your educational materials in their inbox in seconds. That’s remarkable.

If you're using HubSpot or another marketing automation tool, there’s an IP address configuration that you should turn off so that each lead can be entered appropriately into your CRM or marketing automation platform.

Now, you’re creating an in-show experience that gets all the attendees to talk about your company and your exhibit, driving even more people to see you, hear your story and become a potential lead.

What To Do Post-Show With Inbound 

Unfortunately, none of the work above means anything unless these leads turn into revenue. So, make sure you have a clear lead nurturing plan in place before you go to the show. As soon as the event is over, people get back into their routines, and they’re going to forget all about you.

To prevent that, create a lead nurturing campaign that launches on the day the show ends. Think about the experience your new fans will have when they get an email from you with the follow-up you promised, plus some additional educational material. What about when they get another email one, two or three days later? And how about when you follow up again in a week to close out the conversation? I’ll answer that: They’re going to be impressed.

If you insist on going to trade shows and conferences, insist on putting an inbound strategy behind your investment.

Actionable Advice:  Planning is key. So, if you have a show coming up in less than a month, you’re probably too late. The worst thing you could do is try to rush it. But, if you have shows or events lined up for May, June or July, now is the perfect time to get an inbound marketing event plan in place. Work out the schedule first. Start backwards from the day of the event, and plan your pre-show, in-show and post-show marketing tactics. Once the plan is complete, assign the individual tasks to your team or have your agency help with the implementation. The result should be double the leads and real revenue from your trade show program.