Five Ways to Slash Show Costs When Times Get Tough (without losing impact)

tip 5_08“Times are tough.”

How many times have you heard that phrase over the past year? There’s no question, the world is in an economic quandary, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. The effect is spreading across every part of the economy, including trade shows and conferences. How to cope? Take a knife to the trade show budget? Of course!

Not so fast. While it’s tempting to withdraw from competition until times get better, what will be the likely effect? Business is still being done. Products and services are being bought. Doesn’t it make sense that there will be less suffering if you capture all the business you can when money’s tight?

What about the buyer’s top-of-mind awareness? You’ll have to re-establish that when the recession ends. And statistically, it’s proven that companies that maintain visibility during downturns tend to recover more quickly, and to gain new market share, when times improve.

Among the benefits of maintaining your trade show schedule, as your tip 5_08competitors drop out, there’s less “noise” vying for buyers’ attention. With fewer exhibitors there, it will be easier to differentiate your own brands. Although attendance is down due to companies sending fewer people to many shows, the people they do send tend to be serious decision makers with real influence. Plus, it demonstrates to the industry that your company is strong, confident and stable.

Think about the cost if you DON’T attend. You lose the momentum of your brand in the marketplace. It gives your competitors an unanswered chance to talk with your customers. And it may encourage questions about the health of your company.

The secret to adapting your budget to changing conditions is not to eliminate it, but to streamline it, analyze it, and overhaul it so not an unnecessary penny is wasted. Here are some ideas:

1. The Planning Stage

Take a sharp pencil to your show schedule. Review results from past shows. Schedule only those shows that attract your target audience. Save the “nice-to-do” shows for better times.

Reserve your booth space well in advance to take advantage of early registration discounts. Avoid late fees and rush charges. tip 5_08

One major cost of show participation is floor space. Take a hard look at past booth sizes. If necessary, rent a smaller booth. Being there, even with a smaller space, is far better than not being there at all. Can you focus on one new product, or a new use of a popular product, and take less actual hardware to the show?

2. Focus on Economical Methods of Pre-Show Promotion

Pre-show contact with customers and prospects is a valuable way to build anticipation about visiting your booth, and ensures higher traffic. It doesn’t have to be extensive packets of product literature and corporate brochures. Some economical ways of inviting guests to your booth include emails, with lively descriptions of products and promotions; stuffers, or inexpensive printed leaflets that can go into statements and other mailings. Mention your booth on your web site, your blogs, print ads, newsletters and news releases. Make sure your sales force is talking the show up during their calls.

3. Re-think Your Exhibit

Is a new trade show display necessary? If so, what type would make it lighter, to save shipping and drayage costs? Is it modular, so it can be used in multiple configurations and different booth sizes? Have you considered renting a display rather than buying? Renting is often less costly, particularly if you only do one or two shows a year. You don’t have to store a rental, and if you ask for it, many companies offer I&D (Installation and Dismantle) services. If possible, focus like a laser on a single product message. Design graphics you can use over and over. Your smaller booth means you’ll save money on graphics as well.

4. Evaluate Staffing Needs

Just because you have a large number of sales representatives does not mean they must all be at every show. You’re all in this together: evaluate the minimum number of staffers necessary to service the anticipated number of visitors, and schedule them for significant time in the booth. Set goals for lead development, orders, or some other metric. Offer incentives for success, but beware of those incentives that might encourage exaggeration of the values of leads.

5. Post-Show – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Research shows that up to 80% of qualified trade show attendees have not been contacted within three months after a trade show, and more than 50% never receive a follow-up. Talk about wasted investment. A comprehensive plan for lead evaluation and follow-up should be prepared before any show. Staffers should meet on the first workday after return from the show to review what was done, and what could have been done better. Reports from those responsible for follow-ups should be required, and accountability should not be optional.

The trade show is a rare opportunity, in which large numbers of qualified buyers actively gather in one place with the single-minded resolve to see what’s new and exciting in their industries, with the idea of buying. Done well and enthusiastically, it can be a powerful tool for generating genuine prospect leads, and keeping your ship afloat even when the well seems dry. But only if you’re in the game.

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