trade show

Events tend to make up a large portion of marketing spend – after all, they’re a quick and efficient way to get face time with a large audience in a short period of time. What’s more, in the eyes of traditional demand gen, it was easy to measure. Booth scans and business cards generally indicated success or failure.

However, in an Account Based Marketing world, quality matters more than quantity, and booth scans are no longer enough. To get the most ROI out of your events, drive more qualified prospects, and support account based approach you must change your strategy.

In this post, we’ll cover how your ABM team can be most effective before, during, and after events. We’ll share event strategies that ensure greater pipeline, shorter sales cycles and ultimately, more for your bottom line.

Pre-Event Strategy: Planning for Success

The success of your event is largely determined by the work that you do leading up to the it. This is where it all begins.

Set the right metrics

The first step in a killer pre-show plan is to set accountability metrics. Your objective isn’t to have the best-looking booth or prize at the trade show, it’s to do business. That booth had better look good, and your giveaways better be eye-catching, but these are means to an end. Set accountability for business results first and foremost, before any other event-planning decisions.

“That’s the difference between brand marketers who are myopically focused on protecting the brand and those who are managing the brand towards and with a business outcome in mind.”

  • Matt Heinz, Heinz Marketing

When Engagio prepares for events as a team, we set a meeting goal for both net new and existing opportunities, as well as opportunities generated from the event. These two goals drive and inform our decisions around everything else we do. To make sure we’re doing the right things, this is the lens through which we base future decisions on.

  • Should we sponsor a party at Dreamforce? Only if there’s a direct line of sight to generating more meetings and opportunities.
  • Should we have T-shirts as our swag giveaway? Only if there’s a direct line of sight to generating more meetings and opportunities.
  • Should we do a raffle off an iWatch? Only if there’s a direct line of sight to generating more meetings and opportunities.

You get the idea.

Assign roles

Once you’re in agreement of your goals, align your sales and marketing organizations around what roles they’ll play leading up to the event: Here’s an example:

Marketing begins with compiling a list of attendees and crafting messaging specifically to that audience. Sales Development takes that list and cross-references it with their target accounts to orchestrate Account Based Plays against. Sales starts looking at their open opportunities and running plays of their own. Customer Success looks at their current user based to find opportunities for advocacy and customer marketing (testimonials, case studies, etc).

ABM is about quality, not quantity, which means being more strategic in how you approach events. The question changes from “how do we get in front of as many people as possible?” to “how do we get in front of the right people?”

Intra-Event Strategy: Spend Time Wisely

If you’ve been in marketing or sales for any amount of time, chances are you’ve been on both sides of the booth at an event, as both an attendee and a sponsor. How we spend our time, and how we approach conversations at these shows is critical.

As an attendee, there’s no doubt that you’ve talked to a rep for 5+ minutes and still walked away asking yourself, “what the heck do they do? As a sponsor, your job is to make sure attendees you speak with don’t walk away with that same question.

As a sponsor at a booth, there’s no doubt that you’ve talked to a person for 5+ minutes only to have them reveal that they’re not a prospect, and just wanted to talk. While sponsoring, your job is to make sure you don’t waste your time with these tire-kickers.

Ideally, your team has set up meetings ahead of each show with target accounts who you know are attending. These meetings are worth their weight in gold as they afford you critical face-time, and save you from wasting time with non-relevant prospects who may stop by the booth. To avoid wasting time with tire-kickers, having a process in place will be helpful.

Here is a five-part strategy to give your team regarding net-new conversations:

  1. Give a high-level value proposition – This should only be two or three sentences (or 10 seconds). The goal is to set the frame of the conversation and deliver a hook. An example would be, “Engagio is an Account Based Marketing and Sales platform that delivers engagement insights into your target accounts. We then let you orchestrate multi-channel, multi-player human outreach at scale.”
  2. Qualify – Just like a phone conversation, you have to qualify every prospect. After you deliver the value proposition, ask your first qualifying question. It’s often something like “Are you currently doing ABM?” You won’t be able to do a full discovery and qualification here, but you’ll want your baseline at the very least. Aim for 3-4 questions.
  3. Give a quick demo – Again, you probably don’t have the time for an in-depth demo (nor is it the appropriate time/place for that,) but make sure you have a talk track and click track prepared to show off the sexiest parts of your product. Don’t go longer than 3-5 minutes. If the booth traffic is heavy or you’re short on time, skip the demo and move to the next step.
  4. Get a commitment – Ideally, the goal is to schedule your next time to speak right there on the spot. Get their commitment so you can do a full discovery and demo. However, if all you get is their business card, getting a smaller commitment is key. For example, “I’ll follow up with you so we can schedule a time. Generally, what day of the week is best for you?”
  5. Take notes – Whether it’s in the scanning device or on the back of a business card, jot down the important pieces of info you need to know to follow up properly. It’s a common mistake to think that you’ll remember when following up, but after you have hundreds of conversations, they all start to blur.

Go outbound.

The way I think of events is the same way I think of demand in general: there’s inbound and outbound. These types of conversations is akin to your inbound strategy – people who find you. However, there’s a huge opportunity to go outbound. These are all of the activities that you do away from your booth. Whether it’s lunchtime or after exhibit hall hours, encourage your team to treat each day at the event as they do outbound prospecting.

Here are some tips to give your team regarding going outbound at events:

  • During slow traffic time, don’t just sit and chat with the other exhibitors – get out the exhibit hall and start conversations with attendees.
  • During lunch, don’t sit with you colleagues – sit at tables with people you don’t know.
  • Find all of the after-hour parties. Don’t just pitch your product. Ask them about their experience at the event, what their company does and what their role is. Inevitably, they’ll ask you in return.

Post-Event Strategy: Don’t Fail the Follow Up

Now that you have your list of high-quality prospects, it’s time to continue the conversations. That’s why it’s imperative to take notes after each discussion.

Just like inbound response time, the quicker you follow up with a prospect after an event, the better. Ideally, your team follow up that same day. Go back to your hotel room, pull out the business cards you selected and start emailing them!

Your message is simple. Here’s what you should include:

  • A personalized intro: “It’s always great to talk with other CU alum – Go buffs!”
  • Next Steps: “Looking forward to diving deeper next Tuesday at 2pm” or “Per your request, I’ll follow up again with you in a few days to schedule a time to see if we can help you [solve their stated challenge].”

That’s it!

Here are the biggest mistakes teams make with their post-event strategy:

  • Not taking good notes of the conversations you have – If your communication after the event isn’t personalized and relevant, it’s just as good (or bad) as cold outreach. Remember, your leads have had dozens of conversations too, so you’ll have to refresh them on what you talked about – and why they should care.
  • Sending generic one-size-fits-all follow up – If your message is generic, it will get lost in the cacophony of vendor follow up, as every sponsor will be emailing attendee lists and giving their leads to SDRs for appointment-setting. You have to stand out, and the best way to do that is by sending a human email.
  • Waiting too long to follow up – As soon as your prospect get back from the conference, they’re in work mode again. Furthermore, they have to get caught up with everything from when they were out. Even if they seemed excited about your product or service during the event, you’ll have to re-ignite that excitement in your follow up. The sooner you can do that, the better your chances are. Every extra minute that passes, they get cooler and cooler.
  • Not following up at all – Obviously, this is the most egregious error. You might as well be flushing money down the drain. Your company paid good money to be there, and you spent valuable time out of office, so don’t waste the opportunity by going back to the office and back to business as usual. Encourage your team to block off time on your calendar for follow up BEFORE the event.

Used wisely, events can be a huge driver of new business. If you don’t prioritize and use them properly, you’re better off spending that budget on other marketing programs.