Trade shows and industry events can be great opportunities for generating new leads and getting feedback on your product. They can also be a quick way to spend a lot of money really fast if you aren’t fully committed. We see a lot of companies go through the motions when it comes to industry events. Many show up and have a presence, but don’t know how to get the most from their investment.
In the beginning, your company should prioritize one or two events per year. Give each one a significant spot on your content calendar and build a thoughtfully integrated campaign around each.
Below is the approach we take to industry events. This sequence has worked well for our customers in the past. Some things will change depending on the industry you’re in. Make some tweaks, so it fits your product, industry, and your ICP. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to events. The specific steps you take to activate your marketing efforts will depend on what works best for your company. Depending on your company’s growth stage and your past event experience, you may decide to enter this sequence partway through or add your own steps.
Collect all of your options in one place with an events calendar. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should be comprehensive. This can be a simple spreadsheet. Get feedback from industry experts on your team and do some of your own research. Speak with your customers about the events they’re going to. If they’re a good customer for you, it’s likely you’ll find more companies like them at some of the events they’re attending.
You need to decide which opportunity is going to give you the biggest potential return. The first time you invest in events, you might not have the perfect playbook. You may need to shoot from the hip as you decide which factors to weigh into your decision. If you’ve been to some industry events in the past (Or know your industry well), you’ll have a better feel for the right signals to prioritize.
If not, you can create a simple ranking system to help you decide which events to put real effort into – it’s ok to start small as you get going. I like to pick the top five events and stack-rank them.
How you stack-rank the opportunities will be unique to your company. Your method should change based on your company’s maturity, budget, and goals.
Like every marketing effort, you should measure the impact of your investment. Start with your OKRs – what key results will your event efforts be supporting? What will signal success for your efforts?
Once you choose your KPIs, get the right pieces in place to measure progress, and have a plan for how you’ll process the data you gather. We often see lead lists get entered into the CRM without a clear plan for follow up. That’s how you end up with a long list of “leads” that go forever untouched in your CRM.
Once you choose which events to attend, add them to your content calendar and build other content around them. Give each event its own integrated campaign with efforts before and after each event. You don’t need to be an event sponsor to get results – that’s only one piece of the equation.
Booth space and sponsored lunches can get you visibility and a platform for delivering your message, but tend to fall flat if you don’t extend the effort. Paid activations are a jumping-off point – you need to have an all-encompassing approach to get the most from your event.
Depending on the event, sponsorship or booth space costs can get really expensive really quickly. There are plenty of other ways to get value from trade shows without being a sponsor or exhibitor.
Build a list of people to reach out to before the event. Initiate the first touches via cold email or LinkedIn outreach and try to connect with people in advance. Be careful to maintain credibility during your outreach – if you automate the list building or outreach process too much, the nuance of your messages might get lost.
It's likely your event will put you in a room full of people that belong to your ICP – take advantage of the face time. Ask them about their problems. What are their pains? Show your solution, ask for feedback, and listen to what people have to say. This is some of the most valuable intel you can get in the voice of your ideal customer. Record your conversations (if you can) and transcribe them. Start using their words in your marketing messaging.
Having conversations with your evangelists is great. The problem is that they often only have good things to say. This is your chance to get feedback from the people in the middle.
Set up an event at a bar, hotel restaurant, or casual event space. Invite your customers, prospects, and partners. If you host the event a day or two into the industry event, you can also invite people you meet on the floor. This is a perfect opportunity for your prospects to meet your happy customers. This becomes a free in-person case study for prospects and a relationship-building exercise for your customers and partners.
If you're looking to host a user group – especially your first one – an industry event is a great place to start. If you know your customers will already be there, you can catch them all in one place with high energy while eliminating extra travel. Organizing and executing a user group event from scratch can be a heavy lift – starting at an event, lessens breaks down a lot of barriers and makes it a great place to pilot this kind of program.
Write some cold emails and make a goal of getting 5-10 meetings on your calendar before you book your travel. This will require some research and list-building on the front-end. Here’s an example of something I might send to someone in our ICP:
Subject: Congratulations! Going to Inbound?
Wanted to congratulate you on acquiring XYZ as the CEO. There’s probably a lot you need to get spun up on the marketing side of things.
Will you be going to the Hubspot Inbound Conference next month? Either way, I’ll be in your area. I’m headed there with one of my team members and would love to get some genuine feedback from you on the comprehensive 6-month playbook we built for recently funded B2B SaaS companies that need to build their marketing function fast.
Do you have 30 minutes on your calendar on Tuesday the 21st?
PS - In exchange for your feedback, you're more than welcome to run with the first 2 months of the playbook for free.