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Your Tradeshow Objective

I'm preparing to give a talk at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston, May 4-5. The subject is tradeshows. And as I was thinking about the subject on my flight this morning, something became suddenly clear to me about a pervasive problem facing those trying to market at industry shows. It all boils down to a single question:

What's your objective when you attend a tradeshow?

Go ahead, ask any five people involved in your next big event and see is they say the same thing. Chances are they won't. 

You'll hear about getting leads. Some will talk about closing sales. Some may say it's all about PR. Some are interested in improving existing relationships. Some just want the free food. Others only care about the liquor. I've even heard the, "Gets me away from the family!" excuse trotted out.

I'm not writing this to disparage any of these objectives. (Well, maybe some of them. But certainly not most of them.) And really, all of these can be valid reasons for attending a tradeshow. What I'm trying to highlight is that the managers leading the teams at these trade events rarely bother to even ask the question, "Do we all understand our objective for being here?" And as a result, the team becomes ineffective through a simple lack of focus.

We're not talking about a lack of planning either, which is also something that can derail a good tradeshow effort. What I'm talking about is that group that goes to a show with a seemingly solid plan of action, yet still finds themselves being ineffective. If you're in this latter category, then consider these points:

Manage Competing Visions

Clearly there's no way to completely erase the individual objectives of a team. Sales people will be sales people and they will still be seeking their own commission first. However, a well managed tradeshow team will account for these individual motivations without letting them usurp the objective of the whole. Make sure you understand what people expect out of their attendance and then start to shape these passions to the organization's objective.

Clarify Roles

When we clarify what each person on the team gets personally out of the show, it helps us to assign roles in a way that is most effective
toward reaching the aims of the whole. It also gives us the opportunity
to clearly communicate to each person what they are working toward. Take time to help each person understand how their unique skills can contribute to the success of the event.

Invite Grand Thinking

Be careful not to squash the individual passions of the team along the way. There's no surer way to demotivate someone than to tell them to put aside their passions for your vision. So without compromising your show objectives, work with the team to see how individual objectives can still flourish while working toward the greater good. For instance, if you view the show as a lead show and marketing sees it as a customer appreciation opportunity, you could create an event that rewards customers for bringing leads. It's all in the spin.

Clarify Communications

When everyone knows the objective, brochures, talks, mailers and even the booth creation becomes a simplified task. You no longer need to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. You can target message to your aim. The more targeted your communication elements can be, the more success you will have in achieving your objective for the show.

Offer a Clear Path to Accomplishment

Never under-estimate an employee's desire to please a manager. Communicating clearly what you see as the objective of the show, can actually make the team happier and more engaged in the experience. It serves to manage expectations and keeps the team efforts focused on what you, the manager, will view as a success. So make sure you notice and appreciate these efforts.

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