I was talking recently with the Vice President of Marketing at one of these B2B technology Silicon-Valley-wanna-be companies. If you have spent time in any tech industries, I think you might know the type – lots of curious employee perks and silly team-building games, reinventing core business functions in some unique way that doesn’t conform to how the rest of the world does it, and of course a workspace that any teenager would aspire to work in.
The VP and I were talking about marketing channels for B2B enterprise software markets. But when I brought up the time-tested international marketing channel of trade shows, he balked at my old-fashioned notion. Instead, the VP wanted to double his investment in paid media. Here’s my perspective:
B2B marketing and sales all basically boil down to having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. These conversations can be with one of your commission-based channel partners, with a current client, with one of your marketing staff on a social media platform, or in a sales call. The higher the price and commitment of your product or service, then the higher the level of trust needs to be to complete the sale. That is even more true for international markets, where NOTHING happens without an existing trusted business relationship.
Industry trade shows are a great venue to meet in person many potential clients within a short time. Face-to-face conversations GREATLY speed up the trust-building process and deepen the chances of a long, fruitful business relationship. In international markets, marketing messaging and other communications can easily be misinterpreted. In person conversations allow you to gauge the reaction of the listener. You can clear up any misunderstandings immediately and in many cases just continue on towards success.
Those of us who have made a career in marketing know that trade shows are not necessarily the most budget-friendly channel. So here are my tips on how to not only pick the right trade shows, but to ensure that they fit your budget:
- Find trade shows in markets where you want to target. This may sound obvious, but many companies get caught up in the expectations of going to certain tradeshows. If you have no prospects in your home state or country, you don’t have to show your local ties. If you see great potential in the Indian market, search for Indian events. It may sound obvious, but on a limited marketing budget every show has to generate results – leads, partners, etc.
- Choose events where the primary audience are your key decision makers. Nothing is more frustrating than doing a great job of cultivating a relationship with a potential client only to find out that their role has nothing to do with your product or service purchase. Everyone loves a product champion in an account, but a decision-making champion signs the contract and authorizes payments.
- Do your homework on the conferences. Conferences and conventions are BIG BUSINESS. As such, they market heavily to both potential attendees and exhibitors. Definitely talk with others in your industry to find out how well the event is run and any hidden charges. Anecdotal evidence should support the statistics provided by the event organizers.
- Size your event investment on the show’s potential (and your budget). I once worked with a software company that literally could trace 30% of their revenue to the HIMSS conference. With this knowledge, they would rent a large exhibiting booth space, sponsor a dinner for clients and prospects, a meeting suite, and other investments to capitalize on this large healthcare informatics event. At least in the beginning, the investments are likely smaller – a smaller booth, or even a few attendee tickets for key company staff to meet potential clients.
- Use local language/cultural resources. If your company already has a local presence in the form of local reps or staff, you should try to include them in the trade show staff. This helps with the language issue as well as any local cultural nuances as most attendees come from the region around the event location. If this country is new to you, consider hiring a pair of professional interpreters. This will allow your staff to build rapport faster crossing language boundaries.
- Don’t forget to meet the press! Most of event preparations focus on leads, clients and partners. But trade shows normally have a contingency of journalists writing for industry media. Even smaller exhibitors can often take advantage of this with the right media messages and interviews. Plan accordingly.
- Prepare a game plan, schedule meetings and for gosh sakes – send the right people. Trade show time is expensive and fleeting, so have a plan on what your staff is going to do there. Are they able to attend conference sessions and meet people in other rooms? Can meetings be scheduled with key prospects? Ideally you are sending your best networkers – the staff who can talk with anyone and build instant rapport. The worst are the booths manned by a junior staffer consumed by his mobile phone while potential clients walk by ignored. Setting expectations is a key part of preparations.
As far as the trade-show-avoiding VP of Marketing goes, I hope that he and others trying to automate away face-to-face interaction always work for the competition. For the rest of us, a well-planned international trade show marketing program has the potential to accelerate our entry and potential in new B2B international markets!
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