Trade shows are for building relationships

Given that we are embarking on the trade show season, I thought this would be a timely post. Last November, I was asked at a regional nursery meeting “Are trade shows still a viable marketing tool?” As a good economist, I answered the question “It depends.” If you are seeking to generate large amounts of sales leads from going to a trade show, then the answer is no. Let me explain.

The nature of trade shows has changed dramatically over time. It used to be folks went to trade shows to book sales and to generate leads. Not anymore. Today, trade shows now are business marketing opportunities. They are a place to close hot leads and meet prospective buyers you’ve had contact with but haven’t met face-to-face. They’re a place to set yourself apart, to market yourselves as industry leaders, and to reward your best customers.

The main reason to attend a trade show is build better relationships with existing, major customers and ready-to-close hot prospects. And to make this happen, you need to rethink the way that you spend on trade shows. If you’re buying into the “lead generation” myth, you’ll buy a big booth and man it with plenty of marketing staff, and then wait for the leads to roll in. Wrong, wrong, wrong! There are plenty of more cost-effective, efficient and more accurate methods of generating leads.

Instead, consider putting the bulk of your trade show spending into footing the bill to send (extremely hot and near to closing) prospects and your best existing customers to the show. Limit your own personnel to your top guns and the reps handling those key prospective accounts.

Let me sum up. Trade shows are NOT the most effective mechanism for generating leads. They are, however very good tools for building relationships with existing customers. Remember, nothing beats eyeball-to-eyeball marketing. Nothing. Keep focusing on that, and you may be able to get a positive ROI out of the trade show season.

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