Trade Shows for Start-Ups: Five Things You Must Know

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You’ve spent hours, days, even weeks selecting the perfect trade show at which your company is going to exhibit. Now it’s time to prepare to get the most bang for your buck.

After attending the largest B2B marketing expo in Europe, on top of the numerous trade show experiences we’ve planned for our clients, the SAGE Marketing team has narrowed down years worth of insights into what makes for a successful trade show for a start-up. 

5 Things You Must know about Trade Shows for Startups

1) You Must Stand Out from the Crowd 

People walk through trade show exhibitions at a very fast pace and will only stop for one of two reasons:

  • You have a really cool giveaway or activity
  • They can get a feel for what your company does within a few seconds and understand that it’s relevant to them 

Most likely it’s the first one, but let’s start by talking about the second.

Your company does WHAT?

While exploring the marketing trade show, one thing stood out the most – I could barely tell what the majority of the companies did based solely on their booths’ visuals. So what happened? I stopped at fewer of them. Who wants to engage in a conversation with a salesperson on a product that’s not relevant? Your booth must have visuals that make the passersby understand within a few seconds at least the very basics of what your product or solution does and/or that it addresses a pain point of theirs.

Sometimes summing up what your product or solution can do in one sentence is virtually impossible. So get creative! For our client, Octopai, who has an automated metadata management SaaS solution, SAGE created the slogan “Where the F&#% is the Data?” for their booth visual. This in and of itself has been engaging enough for people to stop at the booth, even if at first it’s just for a photo opp. The message is risky but definitely makes our client stand out from the crowd and hits a pain point of show attendees.

Avoid the Boring Trade Show Giveaway Trap

Be honest – would you stop at a booth for a pen? A stress ball? A plastic water bottle? Probably not. And neither would most conference attendees.  Attendees are on the search for (and expecting) creative and unique giveaways. Again, this is what gets people to stop at your booth and give you their information, so it’s worth the investment.

Keep in mind that everything, including the giveaway, needs to reflect your brand, and correlate with the booth theme. If you find a cool, unique promotional item, regardless of how awesome it is, you shouldn’t give it away unless it can somehow relate to your brand. As long as your giveaways are both memorable AND relevant, they don’t have to break the bank.

Here are a few that we’ve created and ones we’ve seen at trade shows that we’ve loved and have been successful:

  • Eye Masks with the slogan “Close When You Fly, Open When You Supply” for an IoT client, Youtiligent, who wanted to emphasize the fact that they help operation managers get supply insights they couldn’t get before. 
  • Microfiber Glass Cleaners with the slogan “See Your Data Clearly” for Octopai
  • T-shirts with a maze and the slogan “Where the F&#% is the Data?” for Octopai
  • A plantable pencil with the slogan “Grow your brand” promoting a creative merchandise company
  • A 3D printed chocolate lollipop of the attendee’s face for a company that does B2B website personalization

Finally, you can also encourage people to stop by having an engaging activity – a game that is quick and easy to play (think Plinko or Pop-A-Shot), a photo booth, or even a five-minute massage – as long as you can correlate either the activity or prizes (or both) with the overall theme.

2) Speaking at the show? Spend just as much time choosing the name of your talk as you do on the content

Just like any email that no one opens because the subject doesn’t interest them, no one is going to show up unless your session name is catchy. So while it’s important to have solid, relevant content in your talk, if no one shows up it won’t matter.  The attendees want to know exactly what they’ll get out of coming to your session and how it will benefit them and their business.

Here are some examples of successful session names vs. much less successful ones from the marketing trade show. Don’t underestimate how much the name impacts attendance.

Sign Me Up, Please!
Successful Session Names

  • Five terrifying risks you should definitely take with your content
  • How to plan an inbound marketing campaign in 20 minutes
  • Thinking like your customer and seven ways to grow market share
  • How to 12x your Marketing ROI
  • 2019 marketing trends worth paying attention to (and some to ignore)
  • Website not working as well as it should? 4 Ways to triple the leads and sales your website generates in the next 10 days

Uh, I Don’t Think So
Less Successful Session Names

  • Cutting Through The Digital Noise
  • Make B2B Prospecting Great Again!
  • The evolution of domain name endings

3) Look for Creative Sponsorship Opportunities

Don’t have the budget to be a Gold or Platinum sponsor? Know that the opportunities don’t end there. Check with your conference organizer for other outside-the-box sponsorship opportunities. You could sponsor the conference lanyards, for example. Your company’s name around every single attendee’s neck? They have no choice but to know your name afterward. Another great opportunity is WiFi sponsorship – in order to log-in to the conference WiFi, the attendees have to enter in their details, which as the WiFi sponsor, you will receive. They’ll also see your branding on the WiFi landing page.

4) Choose Your Staff Wisely

Sure, Ryan from Pre-Sales can explain to any prospective customer what your amazing solution/product can do in-depth, including all of the technical details. But nobody’s got time for that! Who you also need to bring to man the booth are the most outgoing, extroverted, and dare I say, shameless employees – oftentimes referred to as “hunters” in the industry. You want those who can go out hunting the relevant attendees, and not investing too much time with unqualified prospects. You want someone who is able to engage with anyone and everyone who passes by (or of course, are interested in your awesome giveaway), and won’t tire after a few hours of small talk. While it is important for the booth staff to be able to explain what your product/solution does, they first and foremost need to have strong interpersonal skills.

Once your perfect booth staff are chosen, the marketing team should prepare them with the following:

  • A consistent message including the “elevator pitch” of how to introduce the company
  • How to qualify a potential lead
  • Designating who is the “go to” person when a technical question arises
  • Who will share pricing when someone asks “how much does it cost?”
  • Who is allowed to talk to the press
  • And more, depending on your product and the type of show

5) Pre-Show and Post-Show are Just as Important as the Show Itself

Come prepared to the show with several pre-scheduled meetings to help maximize your ROI. There are a few ways of going about doing this. The first, promote your attendance at the trade show on your website, with the option to schedule a meeting. The second, contact your potential clients in the area where the trade show is taking place, and invite them to meet you there. Third, your trade show organizer will most likely have a list of attendees that they can send you – without names, but with titles and companies. Do a little data mining on LinkedIn and reach out to the most relevant leads to set up meetings ahead of time.

Just as important is to prepare your follow-up strategy and content before the company heads to the trade show. Decide how you want to segment your trade show leads. Do all of the leads get the same email? Probably not a great idea. You’ll want a few different versions of the follow-up email on hand to send out – hot leads, general leads (they may have only stopped for your awesome giveaway), speaking session attendees, etc. The more personal you can make it, the better.

Keep in mind that this is your chance to shine – your chance to show how much your product/solution addresses their major pain point. However, just like with the speaking session title, spend time creating a subject line so spot-on that the reader feels like they MUST open the email.

Your sales team will also need to be on-board to make follow-up calls, so make sure that they know these leads will be coming into their pipeline once the conference is over. For them, your CRM plays a critical role here. Be sure to enter all of the details your booth staff gathered about the leads into your system. A lead that might not be ripe at the moment, with the proper nurturing, could turn into a future buyer. Since personalization is key these days, the more information documented in the CRM, the more personalized the nurturing can be.

An industry trade show is a great opportunity for brand exposure, networking, and lead generation, and we know you’ll get the most out of each trade show you attend by following these five “musts.”

Here’s one more trade show tip for you – make sure you have the right marketing team creating, organizing and following up for you. Want to know more about how SAGE can be that team? 

Contact us today!