Business marketers spend more than $20 billion annually on trade show marketing, and another $15 billion on proprietary corporate events, like client conferences and road shows. But most business marketers are unclear about what value they are getting from that investment.
The best value results from a combination of careful planning, dedication to measurement, and-above all-a strategic focus. First and foremost, you must consider the fundamental principles that drive successful business event marketing, which boil down to 10 essentials.
Business events are a hybrid sales and marketing activity. They combine elements of selling, of lead generation, of public relations, of research, of brand awareness building, of account penetration, to name a few. In fact, among marketing activities, business events are about as close to sales as you can get. You might say they are akin to a sales call combined with an ad and a PR campaign. If you think of them as simply “sales” or simply “marketing,” you’ll lose some of the leverage available to you.

secrets for successful business marketing
Business events must be an integral part of the marketing mix. Considered them within the larger context of the entire go-to-market strategy. When seen as mere tactics, something “we do every year because we always have,” they will quickly devolve from an investment into an expense. Marketers must consider the entire marketing mix-the annual program-and fit in the business event opportunity where it will drive the best result. In many cases, a business event is not the right lever to meet the business objective.
Targeting is everything. A great business event is only as great as the visitors it attracts, and their value to you as customers and prospects. At a trade show, a fabulous booth is useless in front of the wrong people. So, trade show selection deserves your attention and your discipline. When you plan your participation at a business event, design your activities to attract the real potential buyers and minimize the non-prospects. Be very clear about whom you want to meet, and what conversations you want to have.
Set clear, specific objectives. Plan-and fund-the metrics by which you will measure your results. This should go without saying, but business events have been managed with less than due diligence in this area. As a result, business events as a whole have developed an undeserved reputation for being “difficult to measure.” They are no more difficult than any other marketing activity. Events can, and must be, measured,
Don’t ask a business event to deliver on its weaknesses. Trade shows, for example, tend to be inefficient venues for generating awareness. They are an expensive way to build a mailing list. If those are your objectives, you will find other more compelling options in the business marketing toolkit. Neither are business events effective opportunities to keep up with Joneses. If your competitors at a show have fancier booths, a bigger footprint, or splashier sponsorships, you can congratulate yourself. You are probably driving better business results than they, with your focused, targeted, and measurable business event marketing activities.
The business event itself is only a few days in the midst of a larger, multi-month program. It’s the tip of the iceberg: it’s what you see, but it’s only a minor part of business event marketing. Some companies think that if they pull together a booth and show up at the trade show, they are all set. Keep in mind that you are conducting an end-to-end marketing campaign, with the business event itself as a part of the overall campaign.
Promote your business event. At a trade show, you cannot simply rely on show management to get you all the possible business opportunities at the show. Pre-show promotions are perhaps the greatest under-leveraged opportunity in trade show marketing today. This is where the right targets are identified, and attracted to meet with you face to face. For corporate events, promotions are required to drive attendance in the first place.
Capture and follow up on your business event contacts. Post-event is where the real revenue-driving business is done. At a trade show, go for the quality, versus the quantity of contacts. Lead capture and management is a process; it simply requires attention and diligence. If you don’t have a lead management process in place at your company, stop now. Go build one before you invest another dollar in business event marketing.
It’s all about people. If business events are an efficient face-to-face medium, then the leverage to be gained is in the people involved on both sides of the interaction. Success is about targeting the right audience and persuading them-and only them-to interact with you at the business event. It’s equally about selecting, training, and motivating a strong staff to interact with them.
The business event serves business goals. Don’t neglect the forest for the trees. Managing events is an extremely complicated activity, what with the glamorous exhibit and the fun hospitality on the one hand, and the rigors of the logistics and the myriad details on the other. But these activities are simply the trees-they are a means to an end. The forest lies in the business result and the planning that drives it. If you are paying attention to the trees alone, you miss the true power event marketing.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention marketing and teaches marketing to grad students at Columbia Business School. She is author of Trade Show and Event Marketing and The DMA Lead Generation Handbook Reach her at
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