Why Face-to-Face Events Should Matter to B2B Marketers

by Chris Brogan

If you’ve been to one trade show, you’ve seen them all, in a way. There are the exhibitor booths, the plush carpet, the signage, the fishbowl full of business cards in exchange for a free gadget giveaway, squeezy balls, little dishes of candy. Occasionally, there’s a “fun game” thrown in there, some “pretty girls” (sometimes called Booth Babes), and oh right, whatever products or services the industry’s events call for, as well.

Depending on the industry, there will be seminars, maybe a keynote speaker who has very little to do with the actual industry, an awards show (those are popular), and maybe a few box lunches and a forgettable chicken dinner thrown in as well. True?

These Events Hold Lots of Secrets and Opportunities

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about trade shows and B2B events from both sides of the experience. I’ve worked with the people who used to put on Comdex, one of the biggest trade shows in the world, and I’ve been involved in dozens of events covering multiple industries. I know why the carpet is thicker in the exhibit areas (it slows you down, which of course makes you look around a bit), the real purpose of squeezy balls, giveaways, and Booth Babes (they separate the REAL buyers from the tire kickers and pamphlet collectors), and how to keep down costs (put out 6 oz. coffee cups instead of 10, cut the danish into quarters, etc).

But you should know that trade shows are filled with actual purpose and value, however, and it’s important to attend and participate. Deals get done at shows. First meetings turn into negotiations and partnerships. And the Internet era doesn’t replace all that can happen at a face to face event.

The Power of Live Events for B2B Marketing and Sales

If you want to amp up your opportunities at trade events, there are a few ways to amp up your results.

Do Your Homework. Use sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to determine who will be at the event. See if you can find out more about the people who will attend, including any likes or hobbies outside of business. Imagine being able to walk into a booth knowing that the head of Business Development, Tonya, likes hockey so you bring her a customized jersey as a gift. Either side of the equation, exhibitor or buyer, can benefit from doing some homework.

Build a Gameplan. When quizzed, most people exhibiting at events answer the question “What’s your gameplan?” with “get leads.” Sure, that makes perfect sense, but if that’s the entire plan, you’re wasting the opportunity. How will you qualify a lead on site? What kinds of questions should all exhibitors be ready to answer? What first-step-into-the-funnel can you earn? Are there better follow-ups than just bland phone calls? What could you do to REALLY earn a next call?

Connect, Connect, Connect. I’m an introvert. I’m a bit shy. It’s not my favorite thing to meet strangers and poke around. But we all have to “play the part” of people hoping to connect and make business happen. I’ve seen shy buyers and I’ve seen shy exhibitors. If people have their faces glued to their phones and tablets, no business is getting done. Push yourself. Remember that you’re playing a role for the event. And if someone on your team is REALLY shy, make sure he or she isn’t the front line in the equation.

What the Internet Doesn’t Do For You

It’s hard to build rapport online. There are a lot of great reasons for the Internet. It’s “always open.” There are lots of ways to share great information like videos and downloadable white papers, and all that stuff.

But at the end of it all, we buy from people, and there are many (many!) studies that all came to the same two conclusions:

1.) We buy from people we like.

2.) We prefer to justify more than qualify.

That first one makes sense, especially when you extend it to mean that we buy from people we feel are somehow like us. That’s why doing your homework and building rapport and connecting are always going to trump a slick website and a cool demo video. We want the human connection.

On the second point, the idea of “justify” versus “qualify” is that no matter how important the purchase, we tend to buy based on emotion more than any other factor. You can disagree. You can tell me how thorough you are. There’s just too much information out there saying it’s otherwise.

That’s why we have to be there at these events. That’s why, with all the fancy phones and tablets and cloud computing and YouTube, we still need to be there to “press the flesh,” make eye contact, and get to know the person behind the email address.

Events are what we make of them, and I like it when we make our companies happier. There’s a lot of value still to be had. Go and grab it!

NOTE: This post originally appeared in Goodly.
Chris Brogan is CEO of owner media group, and a renowned business advisor, New York Times Bestselling author, and keynote speaker. Opinions are his own. Reach Chris through his website at ChrisBrogan.com.

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