B2B marketers are allocating more of their marketing budgets to tradeshows, according to a 2011 survey by the Center for Exhibition Research. Approximately 300 marketing executives from companies with a minimum of $10 million in annual revenue participated in the biennial research. The average allocation for trade shows reached 39.2% last year, up from 33.9% in 2009. This maps to what we see with our own clients. Nothing replaces a handshake. But, we see several trends that allow marketers greater opportunities to maximize their in-person event investments.
First, small is good. Marketers need to define specific goals for each show and connect with targeted prospects. Quality over quantity. Events that pull together a focused community of interest, working on one issue, is more cost-effective and helps marketers draw a clear line from goals to investments to outcomes. In addition, local is essential. Budget and time to attend events is down across all industries. Events must be educational in nature. Focus on events close to your prospects that don’t require travel.
Second, we have new opportunities to re-connect, stay connected, and analyze prospect engagement. Following an event, the sales team will follow up on the hot leads. But, we can connect with and nurture the warm-to-cold group by inviting them to follow our social media channels, and offering value-added content. We can use email marketing to invite them to online events, and (very important) our future in-person events. Every new event is an opportunity to nurture leads from past events. We can provide online newsletters and deliver our news – case studies, company progress, and new ideas directly to our prospects. We can share positive press and industry analyst coverage.
Third, we can analyze. Email marketing is not dead and provides important analytical capabilities. Who clicked? On what? How many times have they engaged? This capability allows us to nurture, analyze, and prioritize our lead database.
All of these factors point to the fact that events, and the connections they establish, are more valuable than ever in the marketing mix.
This said, many struggle with measuring event impact and ROI. We recommend considering several aspects. First, did the event draw the desired attendees? This can be measured by simply reviewing lead titles/organizations. Second, did event attendees find the event valuable? To measure, ask. Survey a subset of your show leads. What did they think of the event? Why did they like it/not like it? What do they remember about your organization? Do they plan to attend next year? This will provide important feedback. Third, did your participation generate leads that can be acted upon today or nurtured for the future? Did the show effectively help your sales team re-connect with pre-existing leads or even current customers for upsell/cross-sell opportunities? Send a brief survey to the sales team that attended immediately following the show (have the survey hit their inbox as the show is closing, so they can fill out in route home.) Create a high-level, standardized, post-event dashboard that summarizes all of these inputs.
Many try to draw a line from each event to sales dollars. For organizations with simple products and short sales cycles, this is possible and appropriate. For organizations with longer sales cycles where multiple factors influence each sale, this may not make sense. Two large deals that result from contacts at Show X this year, may not yield the same results next year. But, if you review the factors mentioned above and prioritize attendance based on these factors – you will have the best opportunity to make informed decisions as you allocate event dollars next year. And, with a great lead nurturing plan in place, you will ensure you make the most of every dollar spent.