Why I Send My Company to 200 Trade Shows a Year

If you’re running a business-to-business technology company and you’re not leveraging trade shows to grow your business, you could be ignoring a sales channel with the potential to accelerate growth.

I wasn’t always an evangelist for going to selling at trade shows. In fact, I was a pretty big detractor: They consume a lot of time, they’re costly, and I had the impression that B2B trade events aren’t places where customers show up looking to buy. 

I was way off.

Hireology, the company I co-founded in 2010, generated early traction almost entirely due to attendance at trade events. It’s funny to think about now, but our very first trade event was a $200 booth we rented at a Chamber of Commerce meeting.

I think we landed two customers at that event. Now, we participate in over 200 events a year, including managing our own customer conference in 2017.

Here’s why:

Businesses want to buy from vendors who know their industry.

A horizontal go-to-market strategy–selling the same solution across a wide swath of industries–is extremely difficult in today’s environment. Sure, ten years ago you could throw down an AdWords campaign and harvest warm leads. That game is now dominated by deep-pocketed companies who will bid you back to page six.

Vertical-specific marketing–focusing your solution on one or two specific industries that are large enough to support your growth plan–is the way to go. Most niche industries are heavily influenced by a small number (under 500) individuals, and getting to know them is absolutely critical to your success. One you land one or two as a customer–and provided you deliver as promised–they can and will tell everyone about you. 

When you attend several industry-specific trade events each year, these players see you and your company’s logo over and over again. And if you can manage to land a breakout session as a speaker at one of these conferences, you’re well on your way. Demonstrating that you “know the business” is a must-do to succeed in B2B.

Businesses want to buy from vendors they believe to be financially viable.

Trade shows are expensive. Most small trade show booths run at least $4,000, and that’s just for the raw space. Throw in a low-end pop-up display that costs a minimum of $2,000 along with a few plane tickets and hotel rooms, and you’ve got one heck of a sunk cost.

For an early stage company, that’s a scary amount of cash.

The thing is, your prospects know that it’s expensive, and your attendance at their industry’s events signals that you’re a successful vendor (even if it’s the last ten grand you have–they don’t know that.) You’ve made the investment of time and money to be there, and it really matters to your prospects.

When you combine face time with a pre-show marketing campaign consisting of phone calls and emails, you’ll be surprised at how many people show up to your booth looking to learn more.

I don’t care if you have to throw the trade display into the back of your car and drive the team across the country. Find a way to make it work.

Face time builds trust

There was a time when I was a disciple of Predictable Revenue, the well-known book that advocates a cold-email approach to generating leads. That might have provided an edge five years ago, but today there are just too many vendors trying it.

As a CEO, I get no fewer than 50 emails a day asking me questions like, “I was wondering if you could tell me which person on your team is responsible for software development?” Delete.

Selling is a transfer of trust that occurs between two human beings. We’re wired as humans to trust another person more after we’ve seen them in person. If you’re selling a B2B product with a price tag north of $2,000, then you’re going to dramatically increase your close rates when you send people to trade shows to close warm leads.

Each and every year, my company’s single-largest marketing expense has been trade shows. That’s because they work. 

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Stella Densmore