It’s always a little sad to walk around a trade show as the exhibitors are packing up. Down come the popcorn machines, espresso bars and batting cages from the massive displays in the middle aisle. Out at the periphery of the exhibit floor are the small businesses. Relegated to their 100 square foot stalls somewhere between the men’s room and the loading dock, all they have to show for three days and many thousands of dollars are a Snickers hangover and a fishbowl full of business cards from psychics and dog groomers.
For many small businesses, trade shows mean little more than having traded blinky yo-yos for t-shirts squished up to look like a fire suppression system, when they should be great places to find new business, meet with customers, launch products and generally build your company’s profile.
Booth space at major shows and conferences is running at $50 per square foot or more these days, so it’s time to get creative about maximizing your return.
Skip the booth:
Nothing says you need to have a booth at every industry show. If you’re a small player, try registering your salespeople as full delegates to the event. Trust me: Salespeople love over-chilled rooms with no wireless signal. On the plus side, they’ll have access to all of the sessions, which is great for networking, and they’ll have more flexible schedules for customer meetings than if they were stuck at a booth. Make sure your sales team spends the weeks leading up to the event filling their schedules with meetings. And remember, you want to send your best salespeople to events, not the ones who couldn’t move fast enough to get away from you when you were booking the flights.
Get a room:
Hospitality suites have a bad reputation among finance departments. I think it’s because accountants almost never get invited to fancy hotel suites with chocolate fountains and all-you-can-eat shrimp, at least not in their professional lives. And that’s too bad because a good suite can bring in big business. Here’s what you can do with a hospitality suite that you can’t do with a booth (you can apologize later):
What trade show hacks have you tried?
Elizabeth Williams is a Toronto-based marketing executive with a particular interest in business-to-business marketing. She rants regularly as Bizmarketer on http://www.bizmarketer.wordpress.com.