BtoB Magazine published a study this week indicating that marketers investing in events like trade shows and conferences are experiencing some difficulty in pinning down the ROI of those investments. According to the study, which surveyed 247 people, 60% reported low to medium success in tying the costly tact of event marketing to noticeable increases in sales. Interestingly, the study also reports that many marketers place the blame for these measurement and sales gaps squarely at the feet of the sales force. The article reports that “survey respondents cited in particular a lack of sales support and an inadequate supply of data from sales. This situation is made worse by poor sales follow-up.”

BtoB notes that the health of trade shows actually seems to be improving despite the often-voiced sentiment that trade shows aren’t what they used to be. The article cites a study from the CEIR (Center for Exhibition Industry Research) Index noting that the trade show industry has experienced its seventh consecutive three-month period of growth. Clearly people are still attending and exhibiting at trade shows. So why is there so much difficulty in tying revenue to the investment in the show?

We have some recommendations that should narrow the event marketing ROI gap.

Have a Plan

While the marketers surveyed pointed their fingers at the sales force, the onus is on the marketing team to create a plan that expands from before the show to a few months after the show. There needs to be a concerted effort to drive qualified leads to the booth, there needs to be an efficient AND effective way to capture those leads, and there needs to be a solid plan in place to follow up with those leads later. We offered a planning guide a couple of years ago that still is relevant today – we called it the A.P.P.L.E a day plan. It’s important to incorporate sales into this planning process. At what point will lead nurturing become a sales initiative? How will the sales department know who the best leads are? All of that should be crystallized well in advance of setting up the booth.

Understand that the Show is Just the Beginning

A lot of time and effort goes into preparing for a trade show, especially if it’s one like IMTS, one of the largest manufacturing trade shows in the world, which is coming up in just a couple of months. It’s easy to feel like all mountains have been scaled once the show goes off without a hitch. However, Ruth P. Stevens, formerly of CEIR and now president of consultancy at eMarketing Strategy, notes in the BtoB article that “post-show is where the revenue happens.” The show is where you can attract leads and get attention, but the show is also where you are competing with all other exhibitors. After the show, after everyone has returned to their respective offices, you have a chance to nurture those leads through your sales funnel. Preparing for that process is an often underestimated and overlooked facet of event marketing.

Make the Show About Your Customers

Because of the investment event marketing entails, many companies set up their presence at a trade show with the intent to focus only on themselves and their products. In no marketing channel is this the most effective way to attract customers, however. To entice qualified leads, the event should be about your existing and potential customers. From the pre-show promotion all the way through the post-show nurturing process, the focus should be on how your products and services will help your customers and prospects. A seamless transition from pre-show marketing, on-site marketing, post-show marketing, and lead nurturing will strengthen all efforts.

Use Multiple Platforms To Attract Leads

Events give you an opportunity to meet customers and prospects that you’ve gathered across all of your marketing efforts. It makes sense, then, to promote your show presence across all of those marketing channels and make sure that your messaging is consistent across the board. A person who knows you through print ads should be as aware of your booth and your products as someone you’ve encountered via Facebook. Maintaining post-show “buzz” can also be accomplished across all platforms. Make everyone in your audience feel welcome before, during, and after the event.

Know What You Are Measuring

Before the trade show, benchmark your sales. Make sures you have a clearly defined way to track leads from the show to eventual sales. Make sure that marketing AND sales are aware of what the ultimate goal for the show is. If the goal is to add three new customers or if the goal is to increase sales by 3%, that knowledge should be front-of-mind for everyone in your company. The BtoB article again quotes Ruth Stevens, who says, “Don’t spend one penny on a trade show unless you have a lead-management process in place.” While that may sound like it is overly cautious, if successfully measuring the ROI of event marketing determines whether you’ll continue to exhibit at a show, tracking leads must be an integral part of your overall plan.

What are your experiences in tracing sales to your event marketing? Are you experiencing the same kinds of problems those 247 survey recipients are? Instead of pointing fingers, work across your company to put together a cohesive plan bridging pre-show promotion to post-show sales nurturing. And if you need help, just let us know.

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