Stacy Willis

How to Integrate Inbound Marketing into Your Trade Show Strategy

inbound marketing, trade show

I am always asked, "Stacy, should I focus on inbound or outbound marketing? Which works better? Which fits my situation?"

And I always wonder, why do we always force ourselves to pick one or the other?

When someone asks me if I want chocolate ice cream or cookie dough ice cream, I say, "Give me some Ben and Jerry's Half-Baked! Let me have the best of both!" It tastes so much better than either flavor alone, right? That's because, just like with any good recipe, the ingredients work together to create a much tastier dish.

Well, the same is true of inbound and outbound marketing. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. You can have both, and using them together can provide even better results than each of them individually.

So, let's talk about how you can integrate inbound marketing into your trade show strategy, a very common component of outbound.

Don't Squander Your Leads

One of the most common problems with trade shows is the follow up. Most companies will put a ton of energy, effort and money into the preshow planning process. They will make sure their booth is perfect, they will fly their staff out to the show and they will make sure to have plenty of printed collateral ready to go.

Then they come back with a big stack of leads... and do absolutely nothing.

We've heard all the reasons: "Sales doesn't have enough time to enter all the leads into the CRM," or, "They are having a difficult time determining who to follow-up with individually vs. using a mass email." Another personal favorite? "Our sales guys can't find the business cards they collected."

Free Resource: Evaluate Your Performance with Our Trade Show Evaluation Checklist

The point is, you've spent all that money on a trade show, so why are you leaving those leads sitting on the trade show floor?"

Before the Trade Show

Use inbound marketing before a show to drive more traffic to your booth. If you're going to spend all that money making your booth look fantastic, you might as well make sure you have the right leads coming to it. We at Quintain like to use what I call the "triple threat" and combine inbound, trade show and outbound mailers into one fantastic strategy.

Now, I'm going to be completely honest with you, this strategy requires you to do some work. But, nothing worth having ever came easy, right?

Here's how it works:

  1. Outline your messaging strategy for the trade show in advance. (What is the value you are providing to attendees? Why should they come to see you?) Then share it with your marketing and sales teams.

  2. Research who will be attending the trade show and make two lists: One of those lists should be the highest priority leads that you want to come by the booth - typically based off of how well they fit your target personas. The other should be the second tier leads that would still be "nice to have."

  3. Select a higher-dollar promotional product that fits with your messaging strategy to send to the high priority leads along with a message that details why they should come to your booth. In an ideal world, you'd select a product that requires them to come to the booth in order to complete the gift - for example, send them a box that is clearly meant to contain a high-dollar item, but they have to come to the booth to collect the item to fill the box.

  4. Use a combination of email and direct mail to target the "nice to have" list. Depending upon your budget, you can even include a less expensive promotional product with your direct mail send. Again, make sure your messaging fits clearly with your overall messaging strategy and gives your leads a compelling reason to visit your booth.

  5. Be ready to talk shop and make good on any promises at your booth!

At the Trade Show

Ok, so we are at your booth at the show. How are you collecting information for follow-up? Maybe you've got a lead scanner, or you're collecting business cards. But what if you could have your leads actively excited about providing you their contact information? Inbound marketing can help!

If you've ever been to a trade show, I'm sure you're familiar with running contests in the booth. Well, running a contest is a great opportunity to bring inbound marketing into your trade show mix. Instead of going the old fashioned route and having people give you business cards as an entry, make them fill out a form instead!

Have tablets ready to go for all of your booth staff where they can have visitors fill out a form on a landing page that you've made specifically for the show as their entry into a contest. This way you can ask questions that are important but rarely found on business cards and all of your lead's information is captured digitally and added to your CRM for later.

If your contest prize is of a high enough value, you'll have no trouble convincing people to fill out your form. 

After the Trade Show

After the trade show, it's time to cash in on your leads. That means don't forget to follow up with them. (In our experience, this is where most companies drop the ball.) You've done all the work to get the lead, but then you just let them sit there! It's a shame since it is so easy to have a post-show communication plan prepared before you even head to the conference.

Again, for the best results, you're going to have to do some work. You'll want to group the leads you met at the show into two categories: "hot leads" and "not-so-hot leads."

Plan to follow up with the hot leads individually and immediately after the show. It is ok to have these leads entered into automated workflows, but be careful about the amount of information they are receiving if they are also talking directly to sales staff.

Use automation to follow up with the not-so-hot leads for you. Provide them customized and exclusive content targeted toward the appropriate topics and messaging you had in the booth. I always advocate for finding ways to treat even your automated follow-ups with contacts as much like individuals as possible. 

Measure the Value

Combining inbound marketing with your trade show strategy can help you truly understand the value or ROI of your efforts as a whole. Using some of the strategies we mentioned above means that you are getting all of your leads into your CRM or marketing automation software. Now, all you have to do is make sure they are being tagged by source - which can easily be done on any forms you use - and you will be able to see the fruits of your labor over time.

You will be able to report on the number of customers gained from your trade show, the value of those customers and even be able to provide a solid number for return on investment over given time periods. Isn't that easier than staring at a stack of business cards for months after a show? 

The one thing to keep in mind here is planning. To get the results you want to see, you need a fleshed out strategy before the show, rather than just a half-baked one. (Yeah, yeah, terrible joke, I know).

Tradeshow Staffing Template