Want to Maximize Trade Show ROI? Nail Your Pre-Show Strategy

Posted by Mandy Bly on Fri, Mar 03, 2017


Occasionally we hear companies say that attending or exhibiting at trade shows brought them little ROI. The first question we ask is, “How many appointments with prospects did you have set up beforehand?” Frequently the answer is none. Hoping that prospects with a need will drop by your booth during the show, whether or not they are familiar with your company beforehand, is simply not enough.

When we ask these same  companies what sales goals they have set for themselves during the show, the response is a mixture of “What are we supposed to be measuring?” and “We were more focused on our booth design and collateral.”

Before Photonics West, a major optics and photonics conference, Launch Team used our Trade Show Planner to set goals like number of leads, appointments, and closed deals, as well as plan out marketing activities for the show. My role was to lead the pre-show sales operations, which included research, a thorough outreach process, and appointment setting for my colleagues attending the show. Below is an outline of my pre-trade show strategy, which resulted in completely booked calendars of sales appointments (22 appointments over a day and a half) and highly qualified leads for both our attending team members.


1. Make a wish list (8 weeks before show)

Go through the conference exhibitor list and highlight the companies that you would like to connect with at the show, regardless of whether you know someone there or not. Select companies that you think are a good fit to work with, that match your target audience, or that you simply want to understand better.


2. Research (7 weeks out)

For each wish list company, identify a contact from that company to reach out to for an appointment. First look within your CRM to see if you have any existing contacts from that company. If not, LinkedIn is a great prospecting tool. Find leads that match your target persona by searching the company name and looking for employees with relevant job titles. You’re probably thinking, great, but how do I get their email and phone number?

First, see if you have any mutual connections with the lead whom you can ask to make an introduction. If there are no mutual connections, you can always find general phone numbers listed on the company website.  For email, you can look in a few places – the company’s contact page, career page, or news page/press releases – to uncover if not the contact’s exact email address, then the common email format used by the company. (For example, if marketing director Joe Smith’s email is listed as joe.smith@companyinc.com, then you can pretty safely assume that product manager Anna Wen’s email will be anna.wen@companyinc.com.)

Research requires you to invest a bit of time in finding contact information, but it will pay off greatly. In fact, 78% of salespeople using social media outsell their peers. LinkedIn, specifically, is responsible for more than 80% of a business’ social media leads.


3. Email outreach (beginning 6 weeks out)

Today 80% of leads take 8-10 “touches” to close. You may not reach your lead with every email, so repetition and careful timing are important. Here are a few tips for emailing leads pre-show:

  • Timing: The best times to email are weekdays from 8-9 a.m., Thursdays from 3-4 p.m. and Fridays from 4-5 p.m.
  • Balance your You’s and I’s: No one likes the person who only talks about themselves at the cocktail party. As much as you talk about your product or service, you should have just as much to say, if not more, about their business. This may require research beforehand about their strengths and areas of opportunity. And of course, listening is also key.
  • Follow the data: Prioritize your follow-up emails using data from the previous email. With the HubSpot platform, you can view open rates, click-through rates, and site revisits. This has made our sales process much more data-driven and strategic.
  • Track your touches: Keep a record on your wish list of how many times you reach out to a lead. Some leads may have more touches because of their responsiveness, so it’s important to manage multiple sales cycles as organized a manner as possible.

4. Cold calling (beginning 5 weeks out)

Cold calling can be intimidating for salespeople, but practice makes perfect. In 2007, it took 3.7 cold call attempts to reach a prospect. Today it takes 8. Now there’s much more opportunity to practice this skill! Here are a few tips for cold calling leads pre-show:

  • Refer to your emails: Beginning your sales outreach with email is a great tactic because you can use the email as a talking point in your call. The lead will have at least some awareness of your company or product ahead of time, which can help move the discussion forward.
  • Say what you need to say: Be direct in telling the lead why you are calling. It’s important for them to know what you’d like to meet about.
  • Have a plan B: You can’t win every lead, but you don’t have to just let them go. If they are not interested in having an appointment at the show, let them know you will stop by their booth to say hello. If they are not attending the show at all, ask if there’s someone else from their company attending to meet with.

5. Setting appointments (ongoing as you reach leads)

Depending on how long you will be at the show and how many people from the sales team are attending, you can determine how many appointments per day you should schedule. Here are a few tips for pre-show appointment setting:

  • Make scheduling easy: If you think a lead is interested in your company, whether they have responded to you or not, list three time slots to meet with them and suggest a location. This skips a few steps in the back-and-forth of scheduling.
  • Consider time zones: Make sure to note the correct time zone (the one the show is in) on your calendar invitation to avoid double booking by mistake.

Ready to nail your next trade show? Download our Trade Show Planner to get started:

Download Trade Show Planner


Questions? Request a consultation to discuss sales prep and strategy for your next trade show.

Topics: Trade Show Strategy, Sales