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When it comes to generating leads, it’s tough to beat the exposure and traffic of a trade show, isn’t it?

Within a few days, you can talk to hundreds, even thousands, of people and generate just as many leads.

Unfortunately, many smaller IT/MSP solution providers also find the price tag on an exhibitor booth to be out of their budget.

And if you’re in that category, don’t despair.

In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to generate leads as a trade show attendee—no booth required.

Before You Go

To get the most out of your trade show attendance, you’ll need to do some legwork beforehand.


Set a goal

As with any other marketing initiative, you need a plan for what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it.

Have a strong idea of why you are going (i.e. to build brand awareness, to engage clients and gain referrals, etc.) and whom you are targeting.

Without these objectives, you’ll be flying blind when it’s time to attend the show.

Also, make sure your chosen trade shows align with your marketing goals. Consider each show you could potentially attend.

Does the show attract your target audience? Will the show afford you the networking opportunities you want? If not, skip it.

Advertise your attendance to current clients

Once you’ve settled on a show, start spreading the word.

Your current clients may be attending, and they can be a valuable source of referrals.

According to the 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report, 62 percent of B2B buyers reported relying more on peer recommendations than the year before, and 49 percent indicated that the input of colleagues and peers is one of their top three resources while considering a new purchase.

If you create a positive experience for each of your current customers, they will be much more likely to pass on a positive review to their peers (and potentially bring in new business).

In other words:

Take care of your customers, and they’ll take care of you—especially when it comes to generating leads.

Schedule face-to-face meetings

Since you won’t have a large, flashy booth at the show, you will need to seek out leads who match your ideal customer profile.

Many trade shows offer a mobile app with an internal messaging system to help attendees connect with each other; use this to reach out to potential leads and ask for a face-to-face meeting.

You can use the show’s networking area, if there is one, as a scheduled meeting place.

While You’re There

Now that you’ve set an objective and scheduled some meetings, it’s time for action.

Build an itinerary

With the number of speaker sessions and exhibitor booths at a large trade show, it’s all too easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle.

So, have a clear itinerary for each day so you stay focused and use your time most effectively. Target sessions that might attract attendees in your target audience.

Also, make a point of visiting exhibitors who could be valuable connections down the road.

And, of course, don’t forget to be on time for those one-on-one meetings you scheduled beforehand.

Create relationships, not contacts

Maya Angelou once wrote,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While you spend a lot of time working on the perfect elevator pitch, the emotional aspect of your first impression is just as (maybe even more) important.

To nail the first impression with each new lead, be sure to plan talking points, find common ground, and most importantly, listen.

In fact, you may want to make a note on the back of each person’s business card so you can remember the highlights of the conversation. People love to talk about themselves, and it puts them at ease.

Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, explained,

“The better you make the other person feel, the more they’ll be inclined to have a positive impression of you.”

And as a result, the more likely they will be to build a relationship with your company after the show is over.

Participate on social media

Most trade shows encourage participation on their social media channels as another way for attendees to connect with each other.

Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever social channel your idea customers may use, and let them know you’re at the show.

You can often reach more people online than you’d ever be able to meet personally, so it’s a great way to maximize your limited time.

Plus, if you can demonstrate your helpfulness or thought leadership, it will also set your brand apart as an excellent IT/MSP solution provider.

After the Show

Make your efforts count by following up with the leads you’ve generated at the show.

Revisit your goal

You set a goal for the trade show as one of your first steps. Now it’s time to measure the results. How many leads did you generate?

How many meetings did you schedule and then have?

Most importantly, did you achieve your goal? You need to determine if the trade show was a worthwhile investment for your company or if you could make some improvements to your strategy next time.

Qualify leads

Next, sort your leads into categories so you know whom to prioritize and how to speak to each of them.

You should consider factors such as the urgency of their needs and their timeline. Are they looking for an immediate IT/MSP solution?

Or are they looking out a year or two? Determine also who the decision maker is at that organization.

It may not be the individual you met at the show. How can you get in touch with the true stakeholder?

Qualifying your leads this way will allow you to be more strategic in your follow-ups.


Follow up

Contacting leads after the show is the key to transforming them into real customers. But as I mentioned earlier, your approach must be strategic.

When emailing your leads, personalize the experience. Experian Marketing Services studied how using an individual’s name in the subject line of an email might impact open rate for various industries.

Almost across the board, personalization boosted open rates—as much as 42 percent in one example.

Now, imagine how much more you might engage that individual if you used details from your conversation at the trade show.

You can also use this initial follow-up as a chance to make yourself useful. Share some valuable content with no strings attached. Create a special offer just for those who were at the show. Demonstrate to leads that you’re an IT/MSP solution provider that can and wants to solve their problems.

Making True Connections

No matter the size of your marketing budget, fostering relationships and building real connections with people as people is always worth it.

Making a good impression, listening to people, and offering solutions to their problems isn’t a new strategy, but it’s just as effective as ever.

Use your next trade show as an opportunity for generating leads by creating relationships on an individual level. After all—they’ll never forget how you made them feel.