After the fact – are you increasing exhibition ROI post-event?

November 20, 2017

It’s suggested that up to 70% of exhibitors fail to follow-up after an exhibition.

What does that tell us? If you don’t have a clear post-exhibition strategy, you’re missing an opportunity to amplify ROI.

So it’s time to discover exactly what you’re missing and what kind of post-exhibition strategies you can put into action once your next event is over.

Why should you bother with post-exhibition activity?

Jim Blythe’s Sales and Key Account Management ranks exhibition follow-up as one of the seven stages of total exhibition management. He observes, “a surprising number of exhibitors fail to [arrange follow-up activities], with the result that the sales force is not able to follow up on leads generated, the company is not prepared to send information to those who requested it, and the PR momentum obtained from the exhibition is wasted”.

He warns that delaying follow-ups can mean that competitors (from the same exhibition) will get there first.

Without post-exhibition follow-up, you’re restricting your ROI opportunity. We often think of exhibitions as “on the day” events, but leads are only valuable if you effectively progress them through your sales funnel.

We often think of exhibitions as “on the day” events, but leads are only valuable if you effectively progress them through your sales funnel.

And time is of the essence, because leads are only leads while they have a problem you can solve. If a competitor solves that problem first, you’ve missed your opportunity. Blythe reminds us exhibitions are a fundamental sales tool – not just a marketing opportunity.

A truly successful exhibition should be both. Exhibition follow-up allows you to amplify the brand-building effects of exhibiting, by reaching a larger audience. We wrote recently about the impact of live streaming your exhibition, for instance, which rests on the same principle. The more people who engage with your exhibition, the greater your ROI.

Capitalising on this momentum can also help drive attendance for your next exhibition by generating excitement. Getting the right prospects to visit your stand is important to overall event success – but that can only happen if the right attendees are at the exhibition. Attracting people to the exhibition becomes the first hurdle, and you can build your case with post-exhibition marketing.

Another major benefit of post-exhibition activity is the ability to assess your success. Exhibition marketing is best thought of as a cycle. Future exhibition success depends on post-exhibition analysis, so you can learn from any mistakes and hone your approach. Without post-exhibition activity, you’re refusing the chance to grow. 

3 steps to better post-exhibition activity

Given the merits of post-exhibition follow-up to boost returns, let’s explore some of the specific tactics you might use.

1. Measure and assess your success: The Achilles’ heel for most exhibition marketers is measuring ROI. It needn’t be. Siskind suggests six great methods for measuring exhibition ROI in Powerful Exhibit Marketing. Let’s unpick them:

  • Percentage increase in leads/sales/visitors from previous show: Don’t just use your previous show as a benchmark though. As Siskind observes, “you should be looking at some improvement”. Post-exhibition analysis must identify areas for improvement so you enter each show with clear aims to improve metrics such as cost-per-lead.
  • Booth traffic: It’s not about getting every single passing visitor – but attracting the right kind of visitors. As we’ve often said, exhibition success depends on laying the right foundations – which means identifying the visitors you want to attract, then measuring how many you actually did.
  • Increase in post-show activity: Track increase in things like website traffic, social engagement and enquiries immediately following the event, to get an idea how it has performed. You might even offer a contest or coupon with a tracking code, so you can more accurately allocate increased activity.
  • Number of qualified leads: Putting in place a rigorous system and methodology for qualifying leads. Remember, the quality of qualification dictates the quality of your funnel.
  • Survey results: Post-exhibition surveys are a fantastic way to add qualitative insight to your quantitative figures, which gives a holistic understanding of exhibition success. For example, maybe your cost-per-lead was higher for a particular event thanks to additional investment in your booth. Survey responses could show your investment paid off as visitors engaged more with your booth, which would mean higher quality leads and better lead-to-sale conversion. Don’t let one statistic tell the whole story.
  • Media exposure: Siskind notes that concrete results take time as does building relationships with media. But to take a quick snapshot, consider looking at the length of the list of media people you met/engaged with, and secondarily think about not just how many media kits sent out, but how many were requested.

These are common and useful metrics, but you might not choose these exact six. That’s fine. The key is to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative measurements to build a comprehensive picture of exhibition success – and a roadmap for future shows. To do this, you must lay the foundations early. Post-exhibition activity is only possible with effective pre-planning. Our article on measuring event ROI lays out this principle: define objectives; set goals; accurately calculate spend; and only then post-event analysis can enter the frame.

2. Develop a lead-grouping and prioritisation strategy

“The major post-exhibition problem encountered by most exhibitors is follow-up on leads and contacts generated”, writes Chris Noonan in Sales Management. “Some of the enquiries may have been of a very general nature, needing conversion to a specific product or service. Others will require technical data from other departments. Some may need follow-up visits and meetings; others just need postal communication”.

What Noonan highlights is the key issue for businesses with grouping and prioritising leads. This is especially true for large businesses with multiple departments, products and services. How do you ensure your field sales people get sales-ready leads, but don’t waste time and money chasing unqualified leads? How do you prioritise your channel strategy? Marketing and sales misalignment is the major bugbear on both sides, and exhibition leads are by no means immune.

There’s no simple or immediate solution, but establishing a regimented system before the exhibition is important. You don’t just want a generic list of names and contact details once the event is over. You want a pre-classified list so you can hand leads out quickly to the relevant teams once the exhibition is over.

Noonan hits on the idea with his “timetable” suggestion. The important thing is to have a structured method of classifying, grouping and prioritising leads so you know every lead gets the right follow-up as promptly as possible. He further suggests a “simple follow-up control form to ensure action is happening”. You could certainly do worse.

3. Embrace multiple channels

What should follow-up actually look like? Don’t rely on just one channel (usually PR). Try incorporating these four methods into your post-exhibition marketing mix.

  • Email marketing: Simple and cost-effective. Export contacts into email lists, then nurture towards sale. These lists will be considerably more effective if leads are already grouped and prioritised – some should go straight to internal sales, for instance. Everyone, though, should get a post-event follow-up email to thank them for attendance and reinforce your brand message.
  • Social media: Again, simple and cost-effective. Social media allows you to amplify reach during the exhibition, but don’t neglect social post-exhibition either. Exhibiting staff can collect content during the exhibition which you can use for subsequent social campaigns. Notable occurrences, photos, videos, visitor questions – these can all form social media posts after the event. Aim to keep the conversation going, so you’re capitalising on exhibition attendance for longer and reaching more people.

Social media allows you to amplify reach during the exhibition, but don’t neglect social post-exhibition either.

  • Content marketing: Turn a one-time exhibition into an all-time content asset. Whitepapers, e-books, articles, interviews, case studies – the possibilities are endless. One of the biggest benefits of exhibiting is the opportunity to speak to real-life customers about their real-life problems. Use those newfound customer insights to feed into your content marketing strategy, to create assets that are genuinely impactful for future customers.
  • PR: Press coverage is important but don’t rely on it in isolation. The problem with PR is that it’s generally very broadcast-centric. It’s rarely speaking to customer needs, so it’s less impactful than it could be. Saying that, press coverage does definitely help build brand awareness.

Post-exhibition marketing – the secret to better exhibition ROI

Without post-exhibition activity, you’re missing an opportunity to amplify both the sales and marketing impact of exhibiting. Make these minor shifts in process and attitude, and you’ll be on your way to maximum ROI with your next exhibition.