This is article #34 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.
While you may only attend massive trade shows once or twice a year, your sales team often finds themselves setting up a table at a conference to meet with prospects and sell. Every industry has these conferences, and while expensive and time consuming to attend, they usually yield leads. To make them worth it, you need to carefully plan the logistics and get the details right. After stumbling my way through the first few, here is the approach that my team now takes:
1. Create an ROI case for each event
There are many opportunities to attend events on a limited budget. That’s why you need to understand the return-on-investment (ROI) case for each event you consider. This means assessing:
- Will your precise target customer persona be there?
- Will there be decision makers attending the event?
- Is the event structured to give you direct access to sell?
- Will you receive a list of attendees and contact info for follow up?
With the answers to these questions, you can do some quick math to determine if an event is worth attending. For example, if there were 100 qualified leads there, and you end up closing 3 new customers worth $5K per year ($15K total), and the event cost $6K, you’re profit would be $9K. You need to also keep in mind the total costs of attending:
- Registration for the table space
- Travel (plane, taxi)
- Materials for the table and shipping
Those expenses quickly add up, so be sure to include them in the ROI calculation.
2. Maintain a master event schedule
Once you determine which events you are attending, you should document them in one place. I like to make a spreadsheet that depicts each event, start/end date, location and which staff is attending.
3. Plan in advance
It’s important to have the schedule written out far in advance to avoid overlaps. You use the master event schedule to kickoff marketing activities and pre-event preparation.
Leading up to an event, you typically would follow this schedule:
- 8 weeks out: confirm you are attending and that registration is paid in full and book travel
- 6 weeks out: determine table experience and collateral items needed
- 4 weeks out: design any collateral items (flyers, banners)
- 3 weeks out: ensure collateral items are printed
- 1 weeks out: review with team to confirm logistics
4. Create an event box
Since events happen so frequently, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel each time. To make managing collateral and table materials simple, we created an “event box” – a large plastic crate that has everything we need for most events, and can be easily shipped. This eliminates the need to deal with cardboard and packing tape. Within this one box, we include:
Typical event materials involve tablecloths, plastic collateral holders, candy, giveaways, emergency kits, pens, etc. Keep all of these items well stocked in the event box at all times so you are not having to order them from scratch before each event.
It’s ideal to reuse collateral for multiple events, although some events mandate specific collateral with unique messaging. In that case, you need to design and print that collateral weeks in advance so it can easily be shipped in the event box. When in doubt, order less collateral — you usually end up with extra.
To drive traffic to your table, it is sometimes helpful to offer swag (free giveaways). This might include pens, stress balls, candy or something more unique. My general philosophy on this stuff is that it is an added expense, and the focus needs to be on presenting the product well. If you have the flexibility, having one giveaway (plus candy) is nice, but it isn’t required.
From iPads to chargers to power strips, there is typically a lot of technology that you need at the table for events. This material should be organized, labeled and tracked as inventory so you can easily pack and unpack the event box with the correct items.
5. Standardize pre and post event marketing
Each event should have a standardized, defined marketing mix. Before the event you should attempt to send an email blast to attendees with a special offer if they purchase at the event. You may also follow a similar strategy after the event.
Prospects that you have direct conversations with at the event should get a personal follow up from the sales rep they spoke to. Prospects that you missed should get a more standardized follow up email with value-added content and an offer to connect with a sales rep.
6. Arm your sales reps with marketing intelligence
Leading up to the event, you should carefully track the marketing actions from prospects on the attendee list. Those who open your email, visit your website and click on your landing pages should be compiled into a list in the marketing automation system and delivered to the sales team on a regular basis. This way, they can begin conversations with those warmer prospects and ideally schedule time to meet at the event.