At A Better Jones we are big fans of using events as tools for demand generation, especially for those companies at startup status. When you’re still in the early stages of your growth path to market dominance, your biggest challenge is usually awareness. Your ideal buyers have no clue who you are, so why could they possibly buy from you?
The right events, at the right time, with the right strategy, can be effective methods for boosting brand awareness in your ideal customer base and generating qualified pipeline for your sales team. But events - particularly trade shows and conferences - are notorious for having abysmal ROI. In my experience, that’s because far too many companies send off that sponsorship check with a half-baked plan for extracting value, at best.
There is one primary reason for this.
Event sponsorship success is a bit like executing the performance of an orchestra. There is a multitude of moving parts, logistical considerations, and competing interests, all while requiring the organization of some unique, and perhaps strident, personalities. At the bare minimum, this work demands close communication, and mutually agreed upon strategy, between sales and marketing - and a variety of people, roles, and disciplines on each. You cannot have success without having all relevant parties bought in and ready to work together for an extended period of time.
If you’re intimidated, I don’t blame you. Sponsoring and attending trade shows are not for the faint of heart. They tend to be expensive as hell, unwieldy to manage, and rather easy to screw up. Hopefully, the below advice can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge and, if you are, meet it with aplomb (or at least not catastrophic failure).
Sponsorship Plan of Attack
1. Have an owner
Someone needs to own this thing and manage the strategy and execution. These two critical components may get divided between two people, but there should be a distinct and well-communicated owner of who’s doing what here. Again, there are so many moving parts, and success requires the buy in of multiple parties, so it’s critical that someone leads the charge - and preferably someone with a little juice in your organization. Do not leave this to your junior marketer. It just isn’t fair.
2. Create a plan
Don’t just wing it. Actually create a fully fleshed out plan for how you’re going to make the most of your investment.
The plan needs to include a variety of people and activities:
Design. You’ll need a booth designed, as well as swag, promotional materials, and possibly more.
Lead Outreach. Drive traffic to your booth and book meetings with your sales reps by reaching out to potential attendees. This can be done with a combination of marketing and sales.
Social Media. Sharing info about your sponsorship, giveaways, and potential speaking engagements can help drive a lot of brand awareness while you’re there.
Content. You’ll want content that helps explain your product value to potential attendees, booth visitors, and more. And you’ll need to produce more to keep the conversation going, post-event.
Follow Up. Marketing will help you engage with leads following the event. Consider using banner ads that target event attendees and sales reps so you can reach out to individual leads and keep the conversation going.
3. Know your goal
Most of the time you’re only going to have one of a few primary goals - brand awareness, lead generation, market research, or business development (i.e. partner relationship building). And even within that grouping, you’re probably going to focus on either brand awareness and lead generation.
Which is this event about? Is the goal to rapidly fill pipeline or just to get your name out there? It’s probably a little of both, but it’s critical that you decide on your priority because it will impact how you allocate additional time and resources.
If your goal is brand awareness, you will likely want to invest additional money in purchasing memorable, standout swag, designing and building an eye-catching booth, and ensuring that your team are all wearing branded t-shirts or can easily be distinguished from the rest of the crowd.
If, on the other hand, your primary goal is to fill sales pipeline, you’ll need the sales team to take the lead on much of the activity, i.e. reaching out to potential attendees to set up meetings and drive traffic to the booth, and then following up afterward to turn all those leads into qualified sales pipeline.
4. Team work makes the dream work
I’ve already hinted at this, but now I want to make it clear. For trade show sponsorships to work, your sales and marketing teams must work together. One truly cannot do it alone, so if you don’t have a solid working relationship, just scrap the whole thing. Marketing should take the lead on design and strategy, but you need sales reps to reach out to leads, work the booth, and turn all those leads into sales opportunities.
Start having meetings well in advance to talk through everyone’s goals and respective roles in this endeavor. Sales Development Reps (SDRs) are extremely helpful in driving traffic to the booth and setting on-site appointments for Account Executives (AEs). They are also the ones that can do follow-up to turn the massive lead list into gold for your company.
You need to take the time to work out a coordinated approach to your attendance and sponsorship, otherwise this will be a colossal waste of time and money.
5. Find a way to stand out
It’s really easy to do the same thing as everyone else...
Branded t-shirts, stickers, and pens at the booth
A monitor playing a promotional video on loop
Some social posts with booth pics and the event hashtag
A marketing blast or two to the lead list you get
We’ve seen it all a million times. And guess what? So have all your prospects.
If you follow the same playbook, just know that you won’t stand out. You can still get a solid return by having a lot of conversations with the right people, but most likely the leads you follow up with won’t remember your booth.
Instead, try to find a way to be memorable. This could mean going to smaller conferences where you won’t be just one of dozens of booths, or design a booth with a giant splash of color or gimmick that might seem a little silly, but that everyone remembers. Plan a giveaway that is completely different from everyone else’s - a trip somewhere or a super expensive piece of technology. Or maybe make sure your team is all wearing a bold and eye-catching outfit.
Whatever it is, do something different.
6. Follow up is everything . . . pretty much
The last point I want to make is that none of your planning makes a lick of difference if your team doesn’t follow up. Seriously. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars at these events, but if you don’t reach out to every lead, and do everything in your power to turn them into sales opportunities, you won’t get anywhere.
Buyers are busy. You can’t wait for them to find you, simply because they walked past your booth and got a free sticker. It’s up to you and your team to figure out how to take them from an attendee to a lead to a buyer. Don’t underrate the importance of this part of your efforts. It makes all the difference in the world.
A few ideas:
Have a webinar prepared as follow-up to the event, something that goes deeper on a particular topic or feels like an extension of the theme from the event. Send invites to attendees right after the event.
Partner with another event attendee to share lead lists and create some collaborative content so you both can maximize your reach.
Leverage IP targeting to showcase banner ads to everyone that attended the event, keeping your brand top of mind for weeks afterwards.
Work with your sales team - SDRs or AEs - to run follow-up campaigns that keep leads engaged and interested in your product.
Make Sponsoring Events Your New Favorite Thing
Though the above is not an exhaustive guide to killing it with sponsoring events, it addresses the most common pitfalls and concerns we see time and again. Hopefully it gives you enough information to come out ahead and drive some demonstrable value out of your event endeavors.