According to CEIR, 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority, which means more than 4 out of 5 people walking the aisles are potential customers for exhibitors. Even in a world that is becoming more digital by the minute, nothing can replace in-person connections.
I see this in my own business all the time. My best lead generation technique is speaking at industry conferences, despite doing lots of email, social, digital, content, and other strategies.
At the same time, events are expensive. The travel, the staffing, the shipping costs of materials…it all adds up REALLY fast.
The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to have an effective event. I’m going to share some of the strategies I’ve learned over the last 15+ years of managing and attending all different types of events.
1. Research: Look at the events you’ve attended or hosted in the past and try to determine the ROI. This can be tricky if you didn’t have any tracking in place, but the idea here is to quantify your past successes so you can determine which events are worth attending again, or perhaps sponsoring.
If you’ve never attended a particular event, start with bullet #3 on this list.
Some info to gather:
- Number of leads generated
- Number of new customers generated
- Recent attendance and demographic data from the event itself
- Feedback from any of your staff who attended
- Feedback from other attendees and/or sponsors (get on the phone and call them!)
If you do a lot of events and track carefully (which you should), doing this exercise for each will help clarify which are producing the greatest ROI for you.
Side note: there IS value in brand recognition that is nearly impossible to quantify. There will be some events you may have to attend no matter what, even though you can’t draw a straight line between the event and direct results. This is okay and should be filed under “investing in your business and brand.”
Also, if you’ve been attending or sponsoring a particular event for a long time and then suddenly stop, it could cause an unwanted reaction. “ABC Company usually has a big presence at this event and now they don’t! I wonder if they’re struggling financially!” I’m not saying you need to continue attending events that aren’t working for you. Just consider all the potential consequences — good and bad.
2. Overall event budget: Carve out a specific percentage of your overall marketing budget for in-person events. If you don’t have a marketing budget at all, you may want to READ THIS BLOG and then circle back here when you’ve established that.
Only you can determine what that budget should be. You know your company and industry better than anyone. Some companies place events at the top of their marketing priority list, and others not so much. If you’re just starting off, it may be best to start with one per quarter, so you get your company “out there” frequently enough to start to stick in people’s minds, but not so much that you’ll spend a fortune.
3. Individual event budget: Now you’ll want to consider each individual event to evaluate:
- Sponsorship / registration fees
- Booth space
- Electricity, WiFi, carpet rentals
- Union fees for set up and tear down
- Trade show booth
- Shipping for all of the above
- Time away from office / Lost work time
You may want to create an event budget spreadsheet to track all these things per event so you can see in one place how much was spent.
4. Get thrifty by planning ahead and shopping for deals. Costs are sky high the closer you get to the event. You have much more negotiation power with the event itself when it’s further in the future.
Here are some other money-saving tips:
- Set up travel alerts for any flights you may need to take over the next few months. I use Kayak.com for this and it’s saved me thousands on flights.
- Buy travel insurance. Emergencies happen and plans change. That extra $20 could save you hundreds in re-booking fees.
- Sign up for travel rewards. I’m a member of all the major airlines’ reward programs as well as Marriott rewards and Hotels.com. If you do a lot of travel for events, the points quickly add up and turn into free flights, rooms, and upgrades, especially if you continue to use the same airline and hotel chain.
- Choose credit cards that offer aggressive travel points, and put everything you can on the cards. Both my business and personal credit cards were chosen because of their travel points (Chase Ink and Chase Sapphire), and I now put every dollar I spend on one of those two cards. (Just be sure you can pay your balance each month or you’ll end up with totally different problems.) Again, the points add up really quickly and have translated into lots of free travel for me and my team.
- Get your printing done early. Rush fees for print jobs are astronomical, and a rush print job typically turns into overnight shipping, which is mega-astronomical. Save yourself the headache and hassle by planning ahead. Also, print mistakes happen so give yourself enough time to get corrections done if the printer makes an error.
5. Other Miscellaneous Event Tips
- Use this checklist. Put together by event planning veteran Dalyn Wertz of Comcast Business, this worksheet outlines all the major categories you’ll want to tackle with any event.
- Go deep rather than wide. It can be really tempting to “dabble” with events to test out which ones will work best for you. The challenge here is that you may only get in front of a particular group of people one time. Since marketing works better with repetition, you may want to test doing four events within one organization or industry rather than one event across four different organizations.
- Partner on events for better results. Who are your partners that are going after the same target audience? Would it make sense to split the event costs and go into it together? There are lots of benefits here, the obvious one being reduced costs. You can also cross-market to each other’s lists, and share the workload at the event itself.
- Think vertically. Do you have a vertical market you specialize in? Align yourself with its associations and events. You’ll have a built-in audience that will appreciate your expertise. Make sure to be able to “speak the language” of the industry prior to attending so you’ll be sure to impress.
- SPEAK!!!! On panels, in breakout sessions, in pitch sessions, in keynotes. Speaking is BY FAR the best strategy for generating ROI from events. If done properly, your audience will walk up to you after you’ve spoken saying “We need to talk!” I’ve got this technique perfected, and wrote all about it in the blog post Will Speak for Leads. If you aren’t a great speaker today, join a Toastmasters Club near you and get crackin’.
Whether you’re a newbie to events or a veteran, I hope these tips are helpful. Was there anything I missed? What tricks have you learned over the years? I’d love your feedback in the comments.