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August 5, 2021
Dust Off Your Trade Show Moves and Get Ready to Roll!
Liz Brohan

If you’re like me, you’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to in-person interactions with prospects and clients. And, as those opportunities have expanded, you’re putting schedules together to meet up again at trade events and shows—either as an exhibitor or walking the hall as an attendee.

Personally, I can’t wait to head to shows, like WEFTEC in Chicago, to learn about what’s new and innovative in technologies impacting water use and quality.

But let’s also be realistic. Live venue trade shows took a big hit in the last 18 months and are not on track to return to their pre-pandemic strength until 2024.  And the Delta variant is adding a new layer of cautionary decision making.

What to do? Be selective. Pick the shows that will re-introduce you and your company to your most likely prospects. The “can’t miss” events you know will attract key customers, competitors, vendors, media and consultants important to your business and industry category. And, of course, follow the rules and regs the shows set up for masking, distancing and other safeguards.

Here are some tips for getting back into prime trade show shape—things to review, refresh and renew before heading out to the TSA pre-check line.

What’s the Plan? Setting Goal Numbers and Success Metrics

Way before you make a plane reservation, define your goals for attending or exhibiting at a show and how you’ll measure success. According to the Trade Show News Network, the top three goals for exhibitors at trade shows are brand awareness, lead generation and relationships building—pretty generic. Put some specificity and quantifiable numbers related to you and your company against those broad goals and you’re in business.

For example, if you’re an exhibitor, be 100 percent clear on the exact targets you most want to connect with at the show. Prioritize—and list—which customers, or customer types, which vendor-suppliers, which industry colleagues or influencers you want to engage.

For your target audience:

  • Recap the types/titles/level of people expected to attend the show, which you can get from the show organizers, your sales rep if you are a sponsor or have booth space, or on the show’s website.
  • Match up the macro attendee profile with the ideal and exact micro audience(s) whom you want to engage. Quantify with a number so you understand how many people fit your target audience profile, because only a subset of the larger audience are the people you hope to engage.
  • Be prepared to have multiple targets at the same show. As an example, current customers, a select list of vendor-suppliers, prospects you want to engage and potentially sign, even competitor colleagues. Within the broad audience attending the biggest shows, you’ll have micro-audience targets that are each interested in—and motivated by—different things.


Once you have your lists, it’s much easier to track and measure interactions with those

Individuals and groups, thereby providing the quantifiable data needed to measure success and show ROI.

Who’s on First?  Identifying your NEW Best Prospects

If you’ve gone through your planning phase, as described above, you’ll have a much better understanding of the individuals—and companies--that are worth your trade show time and effort. Now, do another layer of research.  Because people and businesses that might have been at the top of your prospect list pre-pandemic could be in a whole other place now.

For individual prospects, search LinkedIn and find out if they are still in the job position that squares with your interests. For a company, if it’s publicly traded, cruise through their most recent annual report. The shareholders’ executive summary and financials could give you excellent insights into the state of their businesses, how they’ve survived the pandemic and future plans. Other standard sources of business data like Dunn & Bradstreet are also useful, as is prospecting software like Winmo and even a scan of the prospect company’s social media platforms.

The point is, a lot has changed over the last 18 months. Don’t assume. Be sure the prospects you think you want are still relevant.

What’s the Message? Positioning with ABM Insights

Account Based Marketing (ABM) starts with identifying where your prospect is in their buyer’s journey, then customizing messaging and outreach to address needs and motivators at that particular point. Doing so makes your contact and content strategies much more relevant and compelling.

A good way to adapt an ABM strategy for trade shows is to start small--with individuals with whom you’ve already made contact and who you’d like to meet at the show. Identify your 10 most important prospects and place each of them on a buyer’s journey map, based on your knowledge of where they would be on the continuum. Now craft your outreach—invitations, emails, calls or texts—to show that you understand where they’re at—literally—and make it personal. Create a grid for pre-during-post show engagement.

As an example, for a prospect just getting to know you and the company, a coffee invite or a “meet you at your booth” is relevant. For a prospect that’s already considering a purchase, offer up time with a key executive who’s at the show—someone who represents how customers can have access to top management and important business insights.

Once you understand the tenants of ABM, it’s a perfect way to  inform your trade show communications with priority prospects.

What’s Next? Following Up for MQL Status

The beautiful thing about in-person trade shows is that they really don’t end. They merely set up your next round of prospecting and contacts.

As you come out of a trade show engagement, you’ll have a whole new list of To Dos related to following up with the individuals you’ve met, or who visited your booth, who have expressed interest in your product or service. Remember the idea of ABM messaging, above, because it applies here for sure.

Take those names, position them on a grid to identify where each is on the buyer’s journey, then make some decisions about follow-up messaging that reflects what you now know about their interests vis a vis your product or service.

If you have a CRM system, be sure they are included so they receive communications on a regular basis that can move them along a path that strengthens their interest. In other words, identify them as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), which is the necessary step to eventually converting them to a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), meaning they are purposefully engaged in initiating a purchase.

Brush up on these basics and you’ll be ready to collect your 2021 set of trade show bags and lanyards. Away we go!


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