At the moment, we’re all captivated by the Olympics. But, within a few weeks, many of us will be engrossed in a completely different kind of competitive sport: exhibiting at trade shows. If you want to be the one who takes home the gold signed contract, now is the time to start planning how you’ll innovate –and integrate –the experience. For example, you should be working on ways to:

Customize your message. Your customers are different from your prospects, so design different conversations for each. Marketers have been creating buyer personas for years, but thanks to big data analytics, it’s now possible to create profiles with greater specificity than ever before. Use these insights to individualize your messages and bolster your appeal. Remember: Customization is essential to effective follow-up, as well.

Listen. I can’t stress this enough: When you’re at a trade show, don’t just sell. Don’t just push. One of the most important things you can do at any event is listen. When Aprimo goes to trade shows, we shy away from using the standard corporate booth. Instead, we want to engage with our audiences and get their input. We even use “Revolution Walls” to get people to weigh-in. And, these walls are not high-tech –we’re talking brown paper and Sharpies –but, you know what? They work. These walls drive conversations and help us gather critical market feedback.

Connect before, during and after. The B2B buyer’s journey has changed. It’s no longer linear; it’s circular . . . and digital technology allows you to maintain contact as buyers move around this new path. Use social media networks, email and apps to help you discreetly fit in, providing information that’s relevant before, during and after the trade show and before, during and after the sale, as well.

Make an impression. Please, no more thotchkes! (A few years ago, I actually started a trade show thotchke Wall of Shame.) Think bigger. Think different. At PARTNERS 2011, the Teradata User Group Conference & Expo, we invited attendees to opt-in to a Socialization of Data Experience, so they could receive targeted offers based on their social preferences. This experience helped us tap into the buzz surrounding the socialization of data and intelligent 1:1 marketing with our audience had the opportunity to test-drive some new technology in real-time. See the results here.

Measure value. The C-suite demands marketing accountability, and that means you’ll need to carefully assess your program’s strengths and weaknesses. Consider all exhibiting expenses as you calculate cost-per-contact, cost-per-lead and ultimately, overall ROI. With the longer B2B selling cycle, it may take months, if not years, for you to reach that final number, but even so, you’re still responsible for thorough records, data and analysis.

B2B marketers must adopt a customer-centric approach that’s compelling, customized and consistent –whether they’re at a trade show or back at the office, designing campaigns. Success at trade shows today depends on a well-oiled strategy, and you’ll need systems in place for data collection, automated analysis and targeted distribution –each of which increasingly involves IT expertise, particularly as messaging becomes more and more centered on customer insight and real-time analytics. So, start planning now . . . Think of it as an Olympic athlete would, as training leading up to your industry’s Big Games.

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