Trading in on Trade Shows

`At any given trade show,’ says Nasco’s Tom Belzer, `we could get 90% of the attendees at our booth or 10%, depending on the market and the other show attractions.’

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), a Chicago-based trade show industry group, claims that it takes an average of 3.7 phone calls to close a sale in the field without a lead, vs. 1.3 calls to convert a show lead into an order.

“Without question,” says John Borta, assistant vice president of marketing operations at Chicago-based cataloger Newark Electronics, “exhibiting at trade shows generates new customers. The value [of a show] depends on how well you capture information – and what you do with it.”

Of course, before you can capture data and use it to gain new buyers and retain or upsell current ones, you have to attract people to your trade-show booth. “We send personalized booth invitations to our customer database,” Borta says. “We might, for instance, send a promotion with a key enclosed. The person whose key opens a locked toolbox displayed at the booth gets the prize.” Newark, which offers 85,000 electronic components and installation tools in its 1,900-page catalog and on its Website, expects to exhibit at 10-12 national and regional trade shows this year.

Multititle mailer Nasco often has a drawing at its booth. The Fort Atkinson, WI-based marketer exhibits at about 200 trade shows a year. “Trade shows are an enormous part of our marketing effort,” says director of educational sales Tom Belzer. Nasco has 22 titles, serving the education market and agricultural businesses, such as small farms and ranches in various livestock categories, and mails more than 2 million books a year.

In contrast to Nasco, New Pig Corp., a manufacturer/marketer of waste-containment and industrial clean-up supplies, exhibits at just one trade show a year: the National Plant Engineering mega-show in Chicago, which attracts about 25,000 people. Spokesperson Carl DeCaspers says the Tipton, PA-based company uses outside designers to create new themed booths each year. New Pig also features all sorts of attention-getting contests, and activities at its booths.

To justify its trade-show investment, which hovers at $100,000 a year, DeCaspers says the company sets specific show goals such as gaining feedback on new products through surveys and meeting with trade-press editors. New Pig also seeks leads from 500-1,000 “qualified buyers,” adds trade-show coordinator Tammy Workinger.

Separating browsers from buyers One drawback to offering contests, drawings, and whatnot is that you may attract show attendees who are less interested in buying your products than in winning the Palm Pilot you’re offering as a prize. To distinguish qualified prospects from gawkers, Newark’s Borta makes sure he has trained salespeople working his company’s booth.

“Gathering as many specifics as possible is part of the skill required for manning our booth,” Borta says. “Discerning the better prospects is a skill they’ve developed, whether they’re selling through a booth, on the phone, or face-to-face.”

Sometimes a Newark salesperson will spend the time to suss out a booth visitor’s specific needs or interests in a particular product or service; the salesperson will then follow up with the visitor after the show. Other times, especially if the booth is crowded with visitors, salespeople will collect the prospects’ names, job titles, companies, addresses, and phone numbers, and those names will be entered into the Newark database.

The Nasco employees at the trade show booth always try to qualify the lead by asking if the person already gets a catalog, has a specific request, or is just interested in signing up for the drawing. If someone asks for and receives specific information, Belzer says, that often turns into a sale.

After the show Time is of the essence when following up on trade-show leads. Wait more than a few weeks to contact the prospect, and your initial good impression may have faded, or the prospect may have already been won over by a competitor.

Within days of a show, New Pig sends catalogs to those who requested them and flyers to the others. For specific requests, the sales department may follow up with a phone call as well. Nasco also mails catalogs to requesters and to prospects who aren’t on the company’s mailing list, or sends a short note thanking the person for stopping by.

If the show is in a newer marketplace, Nasco may add all of the names from the show to its database, Belzer says. “But our larger catalogs work from purchased lists, and we don’t want to duplicate the names,” he adds.

New Pig does enter all show leads into its database, which it merge/purges to eliminate duplication. Those prospects then receive the next scheduled mailing. “A trade-show lead – someone with whom you’ve talked face to face and who has a need for the product – is a qualified lead,” DeCaspers says.

Just to be sure that its trade-show names truly are qualified, Newark runs them against a database to determine SIC code, size of company, and customer history. Then, Borta says, “depending on the number of leads we have, we either call them or send a mailer, asking if they’d like a catalog. But the name isn’t automatically added to our catalog mailing list. Our catalogs are too expensive.”

Newark is installing a centralized system to track all its trade-show activities to determine which are the most productive. And it recently hired an events manager to coordinate all its trade-show business.

“We’re not that far along yet where we can differentiate trade-show customers from those we get from other sources,” Borta explains. “It’s certainly possible to capture an ROI on a given trade show to figure out which ones are successful. And that’s the direction in which we’re moving. Intuitively, we think trade shows are working for us; quantifiably, we’re going to find out.”

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