How to Not Suck at Exhibitions – Part 1: Planning

“…and if you give me your email address, this empty bottle can be yours today!”

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by | Feb 20, 2020

Wearing ‘marketing-tinted’ glasses

I was recently at a local business show, walking the halls to find potential new suppliers (and maybe even a prospect or two).

…and I realised that being a marketer, that you look at things from a different point of view.

It’s as if I’m wearing marketing tinted glasses and all I see is whether people are marketing ‘the right way’ or whether they’re just leaving it all to chance.

Whether it’s the way the stand is set up, where they are sitting/standing in relation to the stand, or how they “interact” with people who enquire, I’m hyper-sensitive to what they could be doing better.

…plus, live events are something of a ‘soap box’ for me – I get very ‘opinionated’ about them!

Live Events Rock… if you know how to do them

The thing is, a live event, if you’ve picked the right one, can be a one of the best ways of building awareness, understanding and capturing the details of people who are in your target market (or if you follow “the path”, moving potential customers from Naive to Aware to Suspect to Prospect).

Where else can you get all these people in one room and have the opportunity to talk to them? Whether you’re a local business, or someone who operates in a very specific market, you’ve got the opportunity to make significant inroads and capture lots of enquiries.

…but you need to plan and develop a clear strategy if you’re going to maximise your opportunity – because many live events, expos and exhibitions aren’t cheap to exhibit at.

…and because if you don’t, then someone else will and you’ll miss your opportunity.

The Quick Quide to Expo Success

As I mentioned earlier, live events are something I get very engaged about, because they are so good at capturing leads… but because people are so bad at actually doing them!

So with that in mind, here are a few key things that you need to think about when you’re doing any live event.

  • Objective – What’s Your Why?
    The first thing you need to do is understand what are your objectives for the event?… Number of leads, conversations, business generated? It’s easy to go into an event without a clear understanding of goals, and if you don’t, then you’re not ‘aligning’ your efforts to achieve those goals.
  • Planning – Aligning with the Objective
    Once you know what your goal is, the next thing is to make sure that everything is aligned with that objective. So, if you’re goal is to capture new enquries, then you need to make sure that the staff manning the stand know this is the goal (and are potentially incentivised to achieve it). You need a mechanism for doing it, that makes it easy for the enquiry to be made. The design of your ‘booth’ needs to be optimised to achieve your goal as well – so a stand that doesn’t ‘invite’ people to have a chat isn’t going to work very effectively.
  • Bigger Picture – Walking the Path
    You also need to remember that the event itself is only part of your customer journey, and so you should be considering what happens before and after the event itself. How can you get people who might be interested to attend the event (over and above those who the organisers will invite)? …and how do you maintain communication after the event is over (and not let those contacts collect dust in the corner of the room)?

I see too many businesses who invest in a stand at a trade show who then don’t actually give thought to how they should maximise their investment, because they don’t think about strategically.

Their focus is on the banners they need, or the graphics, or the type of sweets they have on the stand(!), or the literature they have.  All are important, but without the context of what you’re trying to do AND an understanding that a show is still just part of your overall customer journey, they can become extremely ineffective.

Lets Talk About Capturing Prospects (in Mailchimp)

There’s no way I can write an article on live events without diving into capturing data from interested individuals and the communication process before and after (using Mailchimp).

Get this right and not only will it save you time after the event, but it’ll allow you to concentrate on building relationships with ‘hot’ leads, whilst still maintaining communication with everyone else.

Obviously, as a Mailchimp expert, I’ll be focusing on that and how you can use it… but the tips are just as relevant for any other email marketing tool you use.

Here’s the 3 things that you need to be ‘better’ at when it comes to live event lead capture.

  1. Before
    Although not strictly about lead capture, you’ll still have a database (hopefully) and you should be letting people know that you’re going to be at that event, and maybe incentivise them to visit the stand. The fact you’ve got their details suggests that they are ‘into’ you (if they aren’t why are they on your database?), so having another conversation with them is never a bad thing, and could potentially turn a lead or prospect into a customer.
  2. During
    Having a slick data capture experience at the event is in my mind essential… and a slick data capture method is NOT a clipboard!
    Clipboards can be lost, handwriting can be messy, coffee can be spilt on them (I know this from experience!) and they can sit on a desk for a week after the event before someone remembers to follow up! The same can be said for business card exchanges – I’ve seen too many businesses collect cards at an event and do nothing with them!!! (plus with GDPR, it’s actually murky about following up).
    The ideal solution in my mind is to use a tablet with form software which allows people to type their details right in – this means no data entry error, the data can be in your database instantaneously, it looks professional, and you can set up automated communications to respond straight away – slick!.
  3. After
    How many have you heard the phrase, “the money’s in the follow up”… and it’s true. If you aren’t following up with the people you spoke to at the event, what was the point in the first place?
    The great thing about using ‘live’ forms at the event is that you can have them link directly to Mailchimp and send Welcome/Thank you emails before they’ve even left the event – how’s that for professionalism? The perfect solution would be to capture everyone on the form and let the email system do it’s work… and then highlight the “hot” leads and give them an actual call… knowing the system is handing everything else.

Like most things in marketing, when you spend time thinking about it, it’s all common sense and pretty obvious… it’s just we never spend that time!

…more in part two on the tools you should use.

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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