Calculating ROI

Measuring return-on-investment (ROI) at a trade show boils down to cost per lead (CPL). The calculation is simple:

Total Cost of the Show ÷ Total Leads = Cost Per Lead

This is the best way to get a feel for how well you did at the show.

If the show costs were $150,000 and you come back with one lead then your CPL was $150,000. If you come back with two leads the CPL was $75,000. If you have 150 leads they were $1,000 each. You can begin to see why capturing leads is important.

CPL will allow you to compare the costs to other tactics like direct mail or advertising.

Many people recommend taking it a step further and comparing the costs of the show to sales generated from the show. While this is great, in theory, it is most difficult to actually measure and, therefore, it rarely is.

The calculation is easy:

(Total Sales – Total Cost of the Show) ÷ Total Cost of the Show= Return on Investment

The problem is that it is virtually impossible to attribute specific sales to the show and, even if you could, the results from year-to-year could be so erratic as to render the measurement useless.

I’m not saying that traditional ROI isn’t important, it is. I’m just saying as a standard measurement it is far less reliable than CPL.

Less Stuff = More Leads

Today I visited a small wine conference in northern California. I collected a lot of marketing collateral that I will probably not read. I might, but I might not. Of the 30 or so booths I visited, six of them knew who I was when I left, leaving about 24 who didn’t. Only one person took my email address.

So, I got a huge stack of expensive brochures, they got nuthin. One person even sneaked (snuck?) up behind me to slip a brochure into my bag without even speaking to me. Weird.

As an exhibitor passing out brochures seems like a logical part of the process. After all, people take them and seem to actually want them.

Trade Show Samurais, however, know better. They know that passing out brochures willy-nilly is a total waste of time and money. Here are my reasons:

  1. Brochures are expensive
  2. People take them thinking they will read them, then they throw them away

So, you will be handing out brochures that will wind up in the trash at great expense.

The Trade Show Samurai knows that when you had somebody something- anything- it usually marks the end of the conversation. For this reason it is good to hand out something cheap, like a business card instead of an expensive brochure. Ending the conversation is good. It means you can move onto the next prospect instead of wasting time with the current prospect.

Capture the data and then

Too Busy to Be Productive at a Trade Show

I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say, “we were way too busy to collect any names at the trade show!” Because their trade show booth was so full and they were so busy passing out tchotchkes, bragging about their product and handing out brochures they forgot that the point of the show was to generate leads.

Many of these people lie to themselves by thinking that the show was great because they were able to connect with so many people and pass out so much stuff. This is not true.

Not long ago I surveyed visitors to a booth for a wine company. The main feature of the booth was a wine tasting and I asked people as they came out of the booth which wines they tried and how well they liked them. Very few could remember what they had tried. In fact, I’d say around 5% of the people could tell me the names of the wines. Most of them scratched their heads and pointed in the direction of the table where they had stopped. “We had a white one, I think it was at that table. Oh and a red wine too, or maybe we tried two red wines…”

Keep in mind that we were talking to people within minutes or seconds after coming out of the booth. People have a pretty hard time keeping names and faces and companies straight. Think about your own experience. Have you ever just met someone and immediately forgotten their name? A trade shows we meet dozens, if not hundreds of people. There is simply no way we are going to remember everyone. Even if we loved the product and want to buy it there is a good chance we will forget the name. It’s up to the company to follow up and remind them.

Exhibiting at a trade show is about generating leads for your company. Always take the time to collect a lead card for attendees. A packed booth is no excuse for not collecting names. In fact, a packed booth is the best excuse for collecting names. If you are a properly trained Trade Show Samurai you should have no problem moving through the crowd quickly and capture the right information.

Not capturing is a horrible waste of an opportunity. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that a happy attendee will come back to buy. You must pass good leads to your sales team if you want any real sales.

Resist the Temptation To Be Helpful at Trade Shows

As a trade show attendee I like to have my questions answered. I like to know how much things cost, what they do, what colors they are available in and all that kind of thing. Lucky for me, most trade show exhibitors are more than happy to hunker down and give me the 411 on their products. Good for me, bad for them.

When you, as the exhibitor, give in to this highly logical temptation to help your booth’s visitors learn about your products you are pissing away money.  Rather than chit-chatting about your product you should be going through a highly rehearsed script and data collection process (be a Trade Show Samurai). By doing this you will be able to quickly determine if the attendee is a good fit with what you are offering or if they are a time waster. Either way, you will capture the right information and pass it onto your sales team for follow-up.

Remember, what you learn about the attendee is far more important than what they learn about you. If you learn the right things you can convert them to a customer. If they learn the wrong thing they may not come back.

Case in point: I was at the Strictly Sailing show in Chicago over the weekend. I was waiting to speak to a guy at a yacht club booth. I waited there why the man loaded up another attendee with a free tote bag, some stickers and a nice insulated cup. Five minutes into the conversation he learned that not only was the attendee from out of town, he didn’t even have a boat. He just wanted some free stuff. I, on the other had, do have a boat and I keep my boat in the harbor where the yacht club is located. When the guy finally got around to me he made the same mistake– loading me up with tchotckies before learning anything about me. My kids were so bored waiting that I had to move on before learning much. Too bad the club didn’t get my name and number so they could invite me to an open house or something. I’m about as good a prospect as they are going to get– but they will never know it.

Case in point number two: I took my kids with me to the show. They came home loaded with cups, a toys, and stickers, and candy, and expensive catalogs. My kids are three and six. Neither of them own a boat and they are both broke. Not good prospects. The booth people were nice, helpful and wasted a lot of money on my kids.

When we exhibit at trade shows we fool ourselves into thinking we are there to teach people about our products. This makes sense and sounds completely logical. The Trade Show Samurai knows, however, that we are there to learn, not to teach. Make learning about the attendees your priority and your show will be great.


Trade Show Rule: Don’t Let Prospects Touch the Lead Card

Our instincts tell us to hand a survey or a reply card or an entry form or a lead card to someone and ask them to fill it out. This is entirely logical. “Here,” we say, “fill this out to be on our mailing list (or win a prize or whatever).” This tendency is so pervasive that we overlook the plain simple fact that it sucks.

The Trade Show Samurai knows better– they never let a prospect fill out their own lead card. A lead card, at its core, is a way for the Trade Show Samurai to take notes about their conversation so that they can pass the information onto the right salesperson. It is not a data-collection task. It is about the conversation. If you do your job right you will have rehearsed and practiced your pitch and you have prepared a lead card that allows you to capture the right pieces of information. The lead card is designed for you, not for them.

Shoving a survey in front of a prospect is intrusive, rude and disrespectful. However, taking careful notes while talking to a prospect is thoughtful and professional. “Do you mind if I take a few notes while we talk?” You say. Nobody will say no.

As a prospect, you should expect people to take notes. You are there telling them about your needs and they appear to be listening. Do they have such a super brain that they will remember your needs in addition to the 200 other people they will talk to during the show? Highly unlikely.

The moral of the story? Use your lead card to keep notes about your conversation. It is not a survey or a contest entry form. It is them most important tool you have at the show and you need to fill it out yourself.


A Great Elevator Pitch

I love it when my clients make the most out of the Trade Show Samurai Arts. Most people hem and haw about how they’ve always done it and like to go back to their happy place which is free of leads.

The people who see the light will prevail. One of my clients has a booth in Paris in a few weeks where they will be presenting housewares. They weren’t happy with their success at previous shows, but they knew that there was potential. I went over some of the concepts with them, they read the book and they are really putting together a great show.

Click here to download a Great Pitch Card. Notice that is has slightly different messages for the different people at the show. However, the overall message is consistent. This is great work. Read it, learn it, live it.

A Picture of Your Booth is Worth a Thousand Leads

People like to see a familiar face. When we see someone or something we recognize our heart jumps a little with the comforting satisfaction that we are not alone is a sea of strangers. Nowhere is this more true than on the trade show floor. As marketers and Samurai we can play to this fact with pre-show marketing tactics.

The simplest and most effective pre-show marketing piece is a postcard with a picture of your booth. Sounds silly right? It’s not. Most mail winds up in the trash. Your postcard will too, but in that split second when someone looks at it before they toss it, it will leave an impressions. That impression will stay with them when they are walking the show floor. They will see your booth as a recognized and perhaps trusted spot on the show floor. This will make it easier to engage and more likely you will capture a good lead.

This simple trick really works. Skip all the hoopla about your products and the nonsense about your services. Just send a picture postcard. It’s cheap, simple and effective.

Trade Show Bags

I believe that most of the tchotchkes and brochures we pass out a trade shows wind up in the trash. I have never actually done a statistically valid research study on the subject, but I base my belief on the following observations:

  1. People collect a lot of this stuff at trade shows, yet I rarely, if ever, see much of the stuff in their office or home
  2. When I look into the trash cans outside of conference centers and conference hotels I see that it is filled with the stuff. And yes, I do peek into the trash cans, but only because I’m testing my hypothesis.

Lately, however, I’ve seen an interesting phenomenon.  Now that everyone has the environmental bug up their, um, ear, they are using reusable bags for shopping. Many of these bags are trade show bags. At one time the trade show bag doubled as a garbage bag that people filled with brochures and tchotchkes. Now people keep them in their cars and use them for groceries.

Style, however, plays an important role. The cooler looking the bag, the more likely it will find its way into the supermarket. Don’t be afraid to invest in a little art & design for your bags. Unless you are Patagonia, your logo alone probably won’t do the trick. The bags also have to be of high enough quality that they can handle a few cans of chicken soup and a gallon of milk from time to time.

So, for the time being, trade show bags seem to have defied my assertion that trade show tchotchkes wind up in the trash. Remember, however, that brochures and tchotchkes are an important part of the Art of Disengagement and once they fulfill this purpose they have done 100% of their job. Used properly it doesn’t matter where they wind up.

Trade Show Nutrition 101

I hate them, yet I’m irresistibly drawn to them: Trade Show Churros I did a little research. They are Spanish and they are called Churros because they look like a sheep’s horn. I guess Churro is Spanish for a sheep’s horn. Yum!

Unfortunately, when it comes to trade show fare, a Churro is among the pinnacle of excellence. I think there is a law that says in order for a food to be allowed on a trade show floor it must have at least two or more of the following criteria:

1. Fried
2. Cold
3. Soggy
4. Coated in sugar

If you are the type of hopeful who thinks “I’ll just get a salad at the show,” think again. Given the two-criteria rule above your salad will probably be cold, which is good, but it will also be soggy, which is bad. Using the above criteria Pizza (a popular choice) will also be cold and soggy as will hamburgers. French fries will be fried, but also soggy. Chicken will also be fried, but it will also be cold. Not the good kind of cold fried chicken, the bad kind.

This is why you see so many tasty things that are fried and coated with sugar. Hence, Churros.

The Trade Show Samurai packs a lunch.

Top Tchotch

At a typical trade show, you’ll find more tchotchkes than there are flies at a barbeque. The choice of the perfect item that provides the right mix of clever, cheap, relevant and memorable is an area of much discussion and much pride. Marketing and sales people love to pass out tchotchkes and they love to talk about how popular they are with the crowd.

When Trade Show Samurai learn the Tao of Tchotchkes they understand that the purpose of the tchotchke is to politely bring an end to your conversation with the attendee so you can quickly move onto the next one. This is philosophically different than the conventional wisdom which thinks that their purpose is to attract people to your booth. I recently heard about a company who hired three lesser-known NFL players to sign autographs in the booth using a logo-adorned photographs. There was a long line and the company was beside themselves with glee at the crowd that had formed even though they had failed to capture lead information from anyone. They figured that the logo on the photograph would be enough. While I’m sure that having your logo on a signed photograph is better than not having your logo on a signed photograph, it isn’t as good as a stack of qualifiable leads. Just because someone comes to your booth doesn’t mean they are going to buy your product.

The Right TchotchThe right tchotchkes will serve the Trade Show Samurai as a conversation-ender. The Trade Show Samurai picks items that provide the proper “thank you” for the conversation. Evanston, Illinois-based Inclusion Solutions is a company that helps small businesses increase access to people with disabilities. They use trade shows to target convenient stores, gas stations, and drive-through restaurants. They pass out a small, branded box of mints to attendees. The mints are an excellent choice because they are clever, cheap, relevant and memorable. Perfect. Patrick Hughes, President of Inclusion Solutions, gives the mints to clients and prospects year round.

The Trade Show Samurai doesn’t mind that nearly all tchotchkes wind up in the trash. He or she knows that once the conversation has ended successfully the tchotcke has fulfilled 100% of its intended purpose. It is intended to capture a moment in time; the moment after you capture a lead.

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