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Wishing for Heavy Booth Traffic?

By Ryan Sullivan

Tradeshows are an established way to connect vendors to buyers under one big roof, and they still do that job pretty well. But they’re expensive and time consuming for the exhibiting company, requiring extensive planning, materials, staffing, and transportation. And sometimes, it seems like nothing more than luck and sheer physical endurance are the reasons the right prospective buyer finally reaches your booth, blistered feet and all.

When every dollar counts in an uncertain economy, many companies wonder if they can afford the annual expense of another tradeshow—or the opportunities they’d forgo if they skip the event. Exhibit Surveys, Inc. has studied tradeshows and questioned attendees to learn that:

Increase your tradeshow ROI

The numbers are compelling: Tradeshows matter and your business has the potential to reap big rewards if it attends. But the decision to go still boils down to a good return on investment (ROI).

You can do many things to lower costs and consequently increase your ROI, and any business should consider a full gamut of cost-cutting measures. But it’s critical to understand that lower spending alone doesn’t always make the difference.

You’ll have to think smarter and make targeted investments to drive the right kind of traffic—profitable traffic—to your tradeshow booth. You want the decisionmakers and those most likely to buy, and you want them to know ahead of time what they’ll find and how you will help them when they pay you a visit.

Bay City, Mich.-based The F.P. Horak Company works with clients to make their tradeshow investments a 21st century experience for all. Integrated marketing solutions employ advanced database technology and analytics, highly customized direct mail, personalized online surveys, promotional giveaways, and smartphone technology to help clients lay the groundwork for personally tailored and memorable visitor experiences. The approach leads to a focused sales force with good leads in hand, and visitors who arrive to your booth, using easy directions to get there, with clear expectations. The result: increased sales at the booth and beyond.

Be early and systematic in driving booth traffic

Tradeshows provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate a company’s products and services to a large number of potential buyers at once, often in the midst of their direct competitors. All differences in products aside, a potential buyer’s experience at your booth is a key opportunity to set your company apart from its peers throughc superior salesmanship and customer care. A well-designed marketing program starts that process long before the exhibits ship and the fun begins.

Patient Care Technology Systems (PCTS) looked to Horak to help maximize its investment in an annual national trade show for the healthcare market. PCTS, headquartered in Mission Viejo, Calif., produces software-based patient workflow automation solutions for hospitals, helping track the progress of a patient from admission to discharge. The system shaves valuable time off healthcare workers’ reporting burdens, allowing them to focus on patient care delivery.

Karen Beran, the company’s marketing operations manager, worked with Horak to make the PCTS tradeshow experience as efficient as the products it sells. “Every company I have worked for has a large chunk of their marketing budget allocated to tradeshows. It is typically the largest combined annual expense in the marketing mix. You don’t want to leave it to chance that your prospects and customers will come to your tradeshow booth just because you are there,” Beran emphasizes.

“Before we worked with Horak, we did a typical pre-show mailer via direct mail or email, and a post-show follow up. We didn’t have a sure way to quantify if the lead received the email or even read it. The only way we could truly know is if we scanned their show badge if they came to our booth, and then cross-referenced those data with our pre-show list,” she says.

“We partnered with F.P. Horak for one of the biggest tradeshows we attended during the year. There are typically more than 20,000 attendees and several hundred exhibitors with a large exhibit platform,” she recalls. “We wanted a unique and effective way to reach our target prospects, a way to technically gather data to know who received our campaign and what their top concerns were going into the show.”

At a tradeshow, Beran notes that you are competing with dozens to hundreds of other exhibitors to get some quality time with tradeshow attendees, many of whom spend limited time on the exhibitor floor.

“You want to make sure—before you get there—that you do everything you can to let them know you’re attending and where to find you. You want to provide value for them if they stop by your booth, like a five-minute demo showing how they can improve their processes with your product. And you want to encourage attendance at any symposia or workshops you may be sponsoring, and discuss ways you are going to collect and qualify those leads ahead of time,” Beran explains.

Motivate attendees with pre-show tactics

The F.P. Horak Company designed multiple solutions to ensure that the most likely future clients had helpful contact with sales representatives before they met at the tradeshow booth. After the PCTS team used event registration data to identify which prospects they wanted to reach first, Horak’s marketing professionals designed custom mailing pieces in eye-catching clear plastic tubes (dimensional mailers) that contained noisemaking inserts that stood out from the daily mail.

“You want to make sure—before you get there—that you do everything you can to let them know you’re attending and where to find you.”

Each tube included personalized website addresses, known as PURLs (Personalized Uniform Resource Locators), and incorporated QR codes (an image encoded with a link to the PURL) that a user could scan with a web-enabled smartphone. Once trade show registrants accessed their personalized web page through the method of their choice, they were encouraged to fill out a pre-conference survey with a chance to win valuable and exciting giveaways like netbooks and iTunes giftcards.

“F.P. Horak’s campaign was unique and delivered intelligent, easy-to-use analytics in real-time to let us know which future attendees were responding and which were not,” Beran recalls.

Survey results were analyzed to gauge the future attendees’ level of interest in PCTS solutions and their anticipated timeline to purchase a product. The information was ranked and distributed to the sales team.

Armed with data to separate the most promising prospects from the crowd, reps began to soften the ground with pre-event calls that allowed them to reach out to potential customers, build relationships, field questions, and schedule appointments at the company’s exhibit booth during the show.

Days before the event, a follow-up postcard mailing served as a last-minute reminder. Tradeshow attendees arrived with a time and destination in mind, and sales staff at the booth was ready to make the most of the encounter.

The pre-conference results were impressive, with a nearly 8 percent response rate to the PURL in the direct mail piece, far exceeding the 1.5 percent to 2 percent most marketers reach from prospect lists. The robust integrated marketing strategy pushed the company’s ROI for the tradeshow in the right direction, leading the client to repeat the strategy the following year.

Looking back, Beran remembers, “F.P. Horak’s staff was quick, efficient, technically savvy, and very easy to work with. They handled all the technical aspects: not only the analytics, but the compilation of the dimensional mailing, follow-up post cards, and posting. That allowed me, as the marketing operations manager, to focus on the major logistics of the show. F.P. Horak made it easy and impactful!”

With integrated marketing solutions, tradeshow traffic and sales don’t rely on a chance encounter at your booth with a worn-out attendee. Sales staff don’t waste time on dead-ends. Your future customers won’t wander aimlessly through halls of exhibitors before they stumble on you.

You can target the best prospects in advance, set appointments that convey a personal touch, and make the tradeshow experience an exercise in efficiency for vendor and buyer alike. Integrated marketing solutions help companies identify and reach out to those most likely to buy, making the time-honored tradeshow relevant and cost effective today.

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