Regardless of whether you work on a large, well-funded event planning team for a cloud computing vendor or you’re part of a tiny cloud marketing team for a startup, trade show exhibits are big investments. So it’s crucial that you have a solid game plan.
If you’ve been showing up at local trade shows with nothing more than a stack of business cards, brochures, a white tablecloth, and a banner, you may be selling your firm short.
Approached from the angle of local events, you can take advantage of some high-impact, low-cost ways to maximize your exposure, position your firm as the star of the show, attract great small business prospects, and display your cloud computing expertise.
In this article, we’ll focus on seven ways to win small business clients at local trade shows – especially if you’re working with a very modest cloud marketing budget.
1. Build Your Trade Show Presence Around the Needs of the Sponsoring Organization
Local chambers of commerce and similar organizations that sponsor these kinds of events face two major challenges:
how to sell exhibit hall booths (stands)
how to boost attendance
These organizations typically look for major drawing cards, such as local radio station broadcasts from the show, a major sports celebrity signing autographs, a classic-car exhibit, or some major technology attractions. This is where you come into play. I recently attended a full-day local small business conference, with nearly 500 registrants, where the big draw was a small business evangelist from Google. After giving an edge-of-your-seat morning keynote, the sign-up demand for 10-minute group Q&A roundtables with the person was so strong that you’d think Google co-founder Larry Page himself was in the building.
So if possible, participate in the sponsoring organization, preferably on the committee planning the trade show. This will put you in a great position to learn about the business needs and technology hot buttons of typical show attendees. Then, propose some cloud computing mini-seminars to be held at your booth. Also consider how the committee can encourage a handful of exhibitors to have similar educational mini-events at their booths to make the event more “sticky.”
Joining the planning committee gives you the opportunity to meet other small business owners – potential clients, trusted influencers, and potential partners. Once you’ve cleared this hurdle and built relationships, you’ll usually find these fellow committee members and exhibitors are loyal to one another. These are also people who now know about your company’s cloud computing expertise.
2. Become a Featured Attraction as the Local Cloud Computing Expert
By attending the planning meetings for the trade show and volunteering to do related tasks, such as recruiting sponsors or pitching local bloggers, you’ll get the inside scoop on the main events at the trade show.
Your next task is to develop mini-seminar topics, appropriate for an audience of local small business owners. The goal of each mini-seminar is to position your company as the local cloud computing experts.
Talk with fellow committee members to find out what interests them most about the promise of cloud computing. Discover their most pressing business challenges and gear your talks accordingly.
Make sure you present information at the proper technical level for most business managers. Don’t overwhelm the attendees with acronyms and jargon. As you plan your cloud marketing strategy, incorporate valuable content rather than a tacky sales pitch.
Keep the presentation focused on business benefits and immediate return on investment (ROI). The subject matter also should be within the scope of your firm’s primary business. The possibilities for hot topics are endless. Some examples are:
X Ways to Lower Your IT Costs with Cloud Computing
How Cloud Computing Can Dramatically Improve System Reliability and Data Security
X Small Businesses Using Cloud Computing to Drive XXX% Annual Revenue Growth
What Every Small Business Manager Needs to Know About Cloud Computing
How to Scale Your Business Faster with Cloud Computing
During your presentation, take time to explain the benefits of working with a cloud specialist — and your company in particular. If you’ve worked on high-profile projects, mention them.
Also pick a format with which your show organizers are comfortable.
For example, each mini-seminar could be 10 to 15 minutes and begin at the top of each hour. The goal of the presentation isn’t to teach the audience everything about the cloud. Your time in front of attendees is limited because they are busy checking out other exhibitor booths. The objective is to generate a well-qualified prospect that’s impressed by your presentation and command of how cloud computing can help solve their companies’ immediate problems.
3. Promote Your Mini-Seminars
After you’ve made it onto the agenda as a featured attraction, talk to the show organizers about including your mini-seminars, and other related mini-seminars, in the public relations efforts --- that you’ve volunteered to assist with.
For example, because your cloud marketing is helping conference organizers attract attendees, press releases to local media should mention special attractions at the trade show, including your company’s free mini-seminars.
Ask whether you can participate in other efforts to promote the show, such as cable TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine ads, or direct mail – postal or e-mail.
In addition, ask if you can produce a few poster-sized copies of your mini-seminar schedule and post them prominently throughout the exposition hall. That’s where your connections from serving on the planning committee come into play.
If a DJ or radio station is emceeing the event, make sure you connect with that person –preferably ahead of time -- and get some plugs for the mini-seminars.
4. Publicize Your Trade Show Involvement with Existing Clients
In addition to the show’s marketing efforts, take time to send invitations to existing clients. Clients appreciate seeing that their cloud provider is in the spotlight.
Secondly, it won’t hurt to have satisfied clients hanging out at your booth, boasting of your company’s skills to the prospective clients attending the mini-seminars.
5. Cross-Promote Your Booth
Now that you’ve networked with the small business owners who were on the planning committee, you’ll find that most of these people are exhibitors.
In the weeks prior to the show, discuss having your newfound friends plug your booth from their booth – and vice versa.
For example, if one of your mini-seminars is on using cloud computing to better prepare for business continuity following a natural disaster, it makes sense to cross-promote this with a local generator installation company who’s also exhibiting. If one of your seminars is on lowering IT costs, cross-promote this with a local accounting firm that’s also exhibiting.
6. Issue a Call to Action for Attendees
Savvy cloud marketers understand that it’s sinful to plan a campaign of any sort without a well-defined call to action (CTA).
So in the weeks leading up to the trade show, brainstorm creative ways to motivate mini-seminar attendees to contact you sooner rather than later.
The conventional wisdom is to give out pens, T-shirts, Frisbees, or mouse pads. Although these items are great for businesses that sell advertising specialty items, having a cool T-shirt may not get your foot in the door.
Give gift certificates or draw names from a fishbowl for a complimentary consultation.
If it makes sense as part of your cloud marketing strategy and sales funnel, offering 7-day or 30-day free trials, or discount codes that expire a few days after the show, can make a big impact.
7. Speak to the Audience
Although many cloud providers offer webinars and in-house seminars to help build awareness, it’s difficult to fill up the webinar or conference room with qualified prospects.
But at local trade shows, the audience is already there.
Although you only have attendees’ attention during a mini-seminar for a short time, your goal and the result often is the same. You get your foot in the door by showing how your company’s cloud expertise can solve their most pressing business problems.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, local trade shows — with proper preparation, execution, and follow-up — can net highly qualified small business prospects that are sold on your company’s stature as the cloud computing experts in the local community.
So if you’ve been looking for a cost-effective way to attract highly-qualified leads to your firm’s cloud-based services, be sure to keep local trade shows on your radar screen.
What’s been your most effective low-budget, grassroots cloud marketing campaign? Have you experimented with local trade shows? Please share your thoughts in the Comments area below.
And to follow-through on the tips introduced in this short article, be sure to download your free copy of the special report on the Top 10 IT Marketing Strategies For Consistently Attracting New Business Clients to Your Small IT Business.
Creative Commons Image Source: flickr Enterprise 2.0 Conference