If you are a professional service business or retailer, attending trade shows and events is a crucial way for you to promote your business to B2B customers or wholesalers. But before you go online and register for your next event, there are a few things you should now. Here are my rules of thumb when I work an event or trade show to promote a small business.
During the Show:
1) Never buy a booth the first year. Always walk the show the first year to get the feel of the event. Trade show booths can run $2,000-$4,500 per event, so it's best to do your research up front.You want to make sure that your niche target customer is well represented among the attendees. You also want to talk with other companies at the show to see if they thought it was a worthwhile investment.
2) Brand your team. You and your team must be walking billboards for your business. Create branded trade show uniforms, such as t-shirts or monogrammed polo shirts. Create a flyer or post card advertising your booth location and any special giveaways that might bring people back. You and your staff should hand out the flyers during networking sessions at the event to generate buzz.
3) Have a professional trade show display. Consider investing in a branded table skirt and two pull-up banners to flank your table. One banner should speak to your niche specialty and one should have general information about your company. Be sure to include the states where your business operates or if you work nationally or internationally.
4) Have a giveaway. You need a giveaway for two reasons: a) To collect contact information, and b) to spark a conversation. You can use candy, mints, branded pens, mouse pads, t-shirts, etc. You can also purchase electronic gadgets such as a Kindle, iPad, or cell phone to raffle off.
5) Have an FAQ for your team. A “frequently asked questions” list will help everyone on your team understand your sales protocol. Using a script will help your sales people, so that as potential customers come to the booth or approach at the networking functions, everyone gives the same, uniform answers. It's best to prepare 8-10 questions.
6) Have multiple ways to collect contact information. Use a sign-in sheet, have a bowl to collect business cards for the raffle, and use a card scan machine on the spot to collect information in your electronic database.
7) Get a great booth location. Request a floor plan of the trade show floor layout and pick your booth location strategically. Being on the end of a row in the middle three aisles of a room is usually a good spot.
After the Show:
After you’ve attracted some warm leads at an event, the follow-up work begins. You have roughly 10 days after an initial meeting to reach out to your new contacts in some meaningful way.
How to Follow Up. You can connect with contacts on LinkedIn, send an email, write a personal hand-written note, mail them a marketing packet or give them a call. You may also want to do some combination of these tactics. People do business with people who offer a solution to their problem that they like, know, and trust.
When to follow-up with a call. The best times to reach out to sales targets with a personal call is Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Be sure to always ask if this is a good time or when would be a better time to talk. Remember, your call is an interruption, and being thoughtful is always appreciated.
Use Social CRM software. You need to have a way to track your communication with your customers. A Social Customer Relationship Management System, or CRM, allows your business to capture interactions with your customers, organize these interactions so others in your business can effectively help customers and use the date to facilitate decision-making.
Understand your sales cycle with your target customer. It could take six to 12 months of cultivating before there's a piece a business that you will have the opportunity to bid on. In the meantime, you need to keep in touch at least monthly to learn more about the customer's needs and build a relationship. Consider using some combination of email marketing and personal interaction to develop your new contact. He or she is your best internal advocate at that company, so always remember that. It's okay to call just to say “hi,” too. Your goal is to keep your business top of mind.
Do you have any other ways to cultivate new contacts?
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Melinda F. Emerson, known to many asSmallBizLady is one of America's leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure.As CEO of MFE ConsultingLLC, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine recently named her one of the Top 20 women for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blogwww.succeedasyourownboss.com Melindais also the author of the national bestsellerBecome Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)