How to Plan and Execute a Successful Trade Show

By January 30, 2019
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Last March, I left my comfortable role at a large enterprise company to take on a bigger position at a startup. In my new role as EverString’s Event Marketing Manager, I would have to take on the biggest challenge of my professional career— managing some of the biggest events in marketing technology.

Here are the steps that my team and I take to ensure that we have a successful tradeshow plan and execution:

Before the Event

Flesh out a marketing plan for the event

This means creating a theme, setting goals, and making a game plan for the days leading up to the event, the event itself, and even post-event outreach.

The theme doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or “quirky”

Having a theme doesn’t mean you need to come up with this crazy idea to personify your brand in a way that’s never been done before, but you do need a cohesive message. This message should be defined right away, and every part of your plan should be a branch of this message (think of your Email, Social, and SDR outreach leading up to the event, booth graphics, booth loop, booth pitch, booth handouts, and anything else you plan to publish for your target personas to see).

(ex: Modern B2B Platform message ⇒ booth pitch, booth loop, booth graphics, handouts)

You don’t want to sacrifice clarity and conciseness by incorporating a loosely-related theme into your messaging. This will just create confusion, and you don’t want to be mistaken for selling something completely different than what you actually sell. A simple unified brand strategy across every aspect of your plan far outweighs an elaborate theme.

After you have a concise theme in mind, create email, digital, and social campaigns, making sure everything ties back to your theme.

Set a meeting goal for your SDRs

Since SDRs are an extended part of our marketing team here at EverString, setting a meeting goal for them is part of our marketing plan. They should be scheduling meetings leading up to the event, during the event, and after the event. We also like rewarding our SDRs for their hard work.

PRO TIP: Consider creating a fun spiff, like a team outing or even a concert.

EverString’s Dreamforce 2018 SDR Spiff: Drake and the 3 Migos Tour, Oracle Arena

Ancillary events

Will you also host a party or another type of ancillary event? Make sure to create a secondary plan with a similar strategy to make sure the additional planning and budgeting are worth it. These events can be expensive, so consider bringing on a partner that sells to a similar ideal customer profile and persona.

Post-event marketing plan

Post-event strategy is also something to consider in your marketing plan. This can include anything from an email push thanking them for visiting the booth after every day of the show, sending them a follow up for next steps, or having your SDRs follow up if there are prospects they’ve had meaningful conversations with at the event.

Make sure you’re on schedule with trade show deadlines

I like to print out the checklist the company’s event coordinator sends me so I can keep a hard copy visible at my desk at all times and highlight any deliverables due.

This includes deadlines such as badge registrations, booth and meeting room selection, booth graphics, supply/swag shipping, session slide decks, hotel reservations for your team, RSVPing to dinner receptions, etc.

PRO TIP: Adding deadlines to your calendar and daily to-do lists can also help you stay on top of everything to make sure you’re not penalized for late submissions.

Maintaining good communication with the event coordinators also helps keep everything in line.

Have a cross-functional plan with your team

To make sure you have support from everyone involved with the planning and execution of the event or trade show, create an internal cross-functional plan. Sit down with your team’s executives to decide who will be working on what leading up to the event, and who will actually be attending. Create a schedule and delegate responsibilities when necessary.

PRO TIP: Don’t select who will attend the show yourself; instead give each group a quota of tickets and allow them to select who they want to attend.

Create a booth/meeting room/additional meeting space schedule

For those attending, create a staffing schedule with shifts for the booth, meeting room, and any additional meeting space you are securing (more on this later). The sooner you do this, the better because your SDRs will want to book meetings for your AEs during their shifts to get some face time with their prospects. This will help you be more organized and will allow you to make sure everyone knows where they need to be at any given moment. Make sure you create the schedule in an easy-to-read format (think a simple Google Sheet) and share it with everyone attending, along with their respective leaders. Your sales team will thank you for thinking ahead.

Create room(s) through your calendar system to keep track of booked meetings

Creating rooms in Google or Outlook Calendar allows your team to book meeting spaces to ensure that no space is ever double booked. SDRs will be able to see when the meeting space is available to book their meetings accordingly. We like to name these rooms something like, “Rainmaker 2019 MR,” or “SiriusDecisions 2018 Cabana.”

PRO TIP: Our SDRs typically have the most success booking meetings within 10 days of the show. As you get closer to the show, attendees will be more likely to know their availability and are more likely to agree to a specific date and time

Create a Slack channel for each event that includes everyone involved in the planning and execution

This goes hand-in-hand with creating a unified theme. You’ll want to have a communication space for everyone attending and everyone helping in some way. This will ensure that all of the information related to the event is accessible in one spot. Anything from overall goals, content, scheduling, and any other resources relating to the event should be shared here. Quick wins, meaningful conversations, or shoutouts can also be shared here.

Share the attendee list with your email marketing manager and SDR manager

Companies typically send an attendee list one or two weeks prior to the show, but often times, they only send you the attendee’s title and company. Once the event facilitators send you the attendee list, share it with your email marketing manager and your SDR manager.

In your marketing emails, make your CTA a demo request of your product. Your SDR manager can prioritize your accounts for SDR outreach and follow-up, as well as make sure that there’s an SDR following up on each demo request that comes through your primary marketing efforts.

Book dinner reservations for AEs and have SDRs fill it

Find 3-5 restaurants nearby and book dinner reservations for 6-8 people. Create a Google Sheet for your AEs and SDRs and treat it as a first come, first serve sign up sheet.

I usually book 3-4 dinners for each night of the event except the last day since most attendees may either leave the show early or right after it ends. You can easily cancel any reservations that don’t have attendees listed, or re-appropriate dinner locations for meetings with customers, advisors, or for Executives on your team looking for a place to have dinner.

(Optional) Identify and locate additional meeting space(s)

Scout out extra meeting space at a coffee shop or hotel lobby nearby and have a few of your SDRs reserving the space. Whenever the space isn’t being utilized for meetings, SDRs can take the opportunity to catch up on work. (They’ll also need to have an open tab there.)

Create a Master Plan to put this all together

This is a document (I use a Google Spreadsheet with multiple tabs) that keeps all of your planning in one place. It should be shared with your team via Google and/or Slack.

Your Master Plan should include things like booth/meeting space schedule, attendee list(s) for the event and any ancillary events, dinner reservations, staff contact information, swag list, promotion plan, etc. I usually have some tabs that have links to other documents if the information is being tracked in another place.

Create a 5-10 minute presentation outlining team goals and logistics

Create a quick slide deck outlining every aspect of the event and set expectations, referencing your Master Plan, then schedule a time to present this to everyone attending the event.

Some things to include:

  • Event name, location, dates, event campus map, expo hall map with booth/meeting room highlights
  • Expo hall hours (including setup and cleanup)
  • Where to pick up badges (with registration hours)
  • Booth mockup and theme (if applicable)
  • Staffing Logistics and Schedule (Broken down by time, day, and location)
  • Additional meeting space(s)
  • After parties or ancillary events
  • Sales Dinner Reservations
  • Booth Etiquette

After the presentation, share the slide deck with everyone and include it in your Slack channel to ensure that your team has access to all of the information. You can also direct any FAQs here.

Outline every single detail in your event/trade show itinerary, even the smallest details

This is one I quickly learned the hard way. I am usually extremely organized in completing a task, especially if each task completion affects at least one other task.

Emailing SDRs and AEs every night to explain next-day logistics and have a fleshed out, detailed schedule of everything from booth and meeting room schedule, extra space, after-show events or dinners, etc.

Sending a Slack in the event channel every morning to remind everyone when to meet and their respective duties there also helps your team stay on schedule.

Your presentation should highlight and summarize everything related to the event. It should be presented to everyone attending the event.

At The Event

Have at least one SDR and one AE at the booth at all times

This ensures that you have one person that can manage incoming booth traffic and quick demos while the other handles deeper-dives and demos. Aside from this, make sure you also have team members in your meeting spaces and identify a “runner” to grab anything in storage if needed.

Schedule meetings at the booth and in your meeting room

Utilize the extra meeting space if necessary if your team schedules multiple meetings at the same time as well.

Keep a Meeting Journal at Your Booth

With the use of booth scanner devices and applications, we tend to rely heavily on them to keep track of every conversation we have with a potential customer.

But what happens on the off-chance that the scanner doesn’t work for you, or the person you talk to either isn’t wearing their badge or doesn’t agree to a booth scan?

Or, if your team is like ours, they’ll want to minimize their time scanning and skip the qualifying questions in favor of manual input. A journal lets them jot down a few notes from their conversation to help them remember key points to touch on in their follow up.

This journal will serve as a hard copy of all of the meetings you scheduled at your booth. Share the names in the book with your email manager so he/she can omit them from post-show day email sends.

Keep all lines of communication open

In person, calls, texts, Slacks, emails, etc. Everyone on the team should be easily accessible at all times, unless they’re in a session or meeting.

Make sure everyone on the team knows where to be and when

I started to email my team the night before their scheduled time. I also send a Slack to the event Slack channel with a summary of the plan for the day every morning, where I @tag everyone to remind them of their shift time and location.

Post-Event

After the event, make sure you can track all of your metrics and measure your ROI. You also want to make sure to share the post-event attendee list and your booth scans with your email marketing manager and SDR manager to ensure that your team sticks to your pre-planned follow up strategy. If your email marketer is planning on sending out an email after every day of the event, make sure to send the booth scan list after every day of the show.

If all goes well, you should be seeing an increase in the influence that events have on your company’s sales.

If you found this blog post helpful, you can download the Trade Show Checklist that I like to use.  

Do you have another way to ensure you’re getting the most out of your trade show presence? We’d love to hear it!

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