3 Answers to Know Before Your Next Show

Note paper graphic: iStockphoto / chictype
Note paper graphic: iStockphoto / chictype

How successful was your last exhibit? Did you meet your goal? Did you even have a goal? If not, how do you define success?

The sad fact is that less than 25 percent of exhibitors bother to set goals, yet it’s fairly easy to do. There’s no one right answer — you must figure it out for yourself based on a number of factors. Yes, you have to do your homework!

It’s highly likely that your exhibit budget is tighter these days and you face increasing pressure to justify return on your exhibiting investment. But proving ROI starts before you ever even sign a contract for space at a show. You must first ask yourself three things:

  • Why are we exhibiting? (objectives)
  • Who is our target audience? (ideal client definition)
  • What do we want to accomplish? (measurable goals)

So let’s break each of these down.

Start with why exactly are you exhibiting … to gain qualified leads? Generate on-the-spot sales? Launch a new product? Each of these is a worthwhile objective, but incomplete by itself. Why do you say you want leads, or visibility or whatever? What will that do for your business? One of the worst reasons to exhibit is simply because your competitors do or you fear your presence will be missed if you’re not there. If you say your objective is to generate leads or sales, yet you’re going to events that don’t draw the right audience for what you offer, you might as well save your money and stay home.

Which leads to the second question … who is your target audience? You’ve got to nail this question before you book any booth space. Just because a show draws a crowd in the thousands doesn’t mean much if that audience is not in the market for what you offer. Study the exhibitor prospectus (if the show offers one), or ask previous exhibitors (when you have no personal experience with the show) to discover who’s attending. Now look at your definition of an ideal client/customer … you do have that in writing, right? If not, there’s no better time than now to create a customer profile, or what’s often referred to as a “buyer persona.” Flesh out details of what your ideal customer is looking for, the challenges they face, and what would make their life/job easier. Then see how well that aligns with the description of a particular show’s audience.

And finally … what is your actual goal? It needs to be measurable with specific numbers attached, and must be realistic and attainable — aim too high and you’re setting your entire team up for disappointment. Setting an ambiguous goal of “a lot of leads” or an unrealistic one of 4,000 leads at a show with 5,000 attendees isn’t helpful. I like to set a range for goals, with a very realistic low-end and a “wouldn’t it be nice” high-end. That way, wherever I land in the middle I can feel like goals were achieved. But don’t worry if you don’t meet all your goals, that isn’t a bad thing — you likely came a lot closer than if you hadn’t set any goals at all!

Now that you have a plan, the most important step is to take action. Hold yourself and your team accountable for implementing these strategies. Yes it takes work, but with a solid plan, you’ll see your trade show goals coming to fruition. When you follow these guidelines, after the show you’ll be able to truly celebrate with concrete proof of your success.

Want to know more about how to set benchmarks for success and what to measure? It’s our featured Strategy of the Month for May in the Exhibit Marketers Café! You’ll discover the formula for setting leads goals and tracking ROI, plus how to be a detective on the show floor to gather some competitive intelligence.

© 2013 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the April 2013 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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