This is the 34th post of a 50 article series for beginners building marketing at B2B startups.
While we may only attend massive trade shows once or twice a year, our 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 do yield a good amount of leads. To make them worth it, we need to carefully plan the logistics and get the details right. After fumbling our 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 and a limited budget. Therefore, we need to understand the ROI case for each event we consider. This means assessing:
- Will our precise target customer persona be there?
- Are decision makers attending the event?
- Is the event structured to give us direct access to sell?
- Do we receive a list of attendees and contact info for follow up?
With the answers to these questions, we can do some quick math to determine if an event is worth attending. If there will be 100 qualified leads there, and we end up closing 3 new customers worth $5K per year ($15K total), and the event cost $6K, we’ll profit $9K. We need to also keep in mind the many 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 we determine which events we are attending, we should keep track of all them in one place. I like to make a spreadsheet that shows 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. We use the master event schedule to kickoff marketing activities and pre-event preparation.
Leading up to an event, we typically follow this schedule:
- 8 weeks: confirm we are attending and that registration is paid, book travel
- 6 weeks: determine table experience and collateral items needed
- 4 weeks: design any collateral items (flyers, banners)
- 3 weeks: ensure collateral items are printed
- 1 weeks: review with team to confirm logistics
4. Create an event box
Since events happen so frequently, we 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. We want to keep all of these items in stock within the event box, so we aren’t ordering them from scratch for each event.
We ideally want to reuse collateral for multiple events, although some events mandate specific collateral with unique messaging. In that case, we need to design and print that collateral weeks in advance so it is easily shippable in the event box. When in doubt, order less collateral — there is usually extra.
To drive traffic to our 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 we 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 pile of technology that we need at the table for events. Again, this material should be organized, labeled and tracked as inventory so we can easily pack and unpack the event box with the right items.
5. Standardize pre and post event marketing
Each event should have a standardized, defined marketing mix. Before the event we should attempt to send an email blast to attendees with a special offer if they purchase at the event. We may do a similar strategy for after the event.
Prospects that we have personal conversations with at the event should get a personal follow up from the sales rep they spoke to. Prospects that we missed should get a more standardized follow up email with value-added content and an offer to connect with a sales rep.
6. Arm our sales reps with marketing intelligence
Leading up to the event we should carefully track the marketing actions from prospects on the attendee list. Those who open our email, visit our website and click on our 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.