Trade Shows: When to Go and What to Do When You Get There

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Attending trade shows seems like an absolute must for educational publishers; the cost, personnel, and logistics can be obstacles for even the larger companies. But going shouldn’t be booth or bust, though. In a new edWeb series Making the Most Out of Trade Shows, industry veterans discussed key factors in deciding when and where to go and how to make sure events support your company’s overall plan.

First, since no company can attend every event, staff should meet to discuss event strategy every year ahead of trade show season. Discussions should not only include sales and marketing staff, but also developers and representatives from executive leadership. When there’s buy-in across the organization, the implementation is typically more successful.

For these meetings, have essential information ready to share.

  • Available budget and costs for different shows: While this seems obvious, you need to make sure you keep everyone focused on the fiscal reality.
  • Strategic goals for the coming year: Know what products are you launching in what grades and for what subjects. If you’re focused on a new social studies program, for instance, then math-centered events won’t be as relevant.
  • Data from previous shows: Take a look at who has attended the event, who actually came to your booth, and how the event impacted your company’s goals. For example, if you need to meet with tech directors and you’re getting classroom teachers, you need to rethink your strategy.
  • Focus/audience of the potential shows: Trade shows change over time. Take a look at the year’s upcoming theme, whom they’re trying to attract, and what the networking opportunities are. If you haven’t been to an event before, see what information they have online about past participants.
  • Talk to your customers and good prospects: Ask them what events they attend and why.

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Then, with the trade show team, you can figure out what presence is beneficial for each event, which doesn’t always mean what size booth to buy. While a booth may be best for some, there are other opportunities to meet attendees and network.

  • Propose a panel or speaker: Find an advocate of your product and have them apply to speak at the event. Or, have your developers share their expertise on a panel. Just make sure you’re paying attention to deadlines—some requests for presentations are a year before the event—and make sure the presentation isn’t a sales pitch. For instance, if you incorporate VR into your product, then the discussion could be 10 best practices for using VR in the classroom.
  • Sponsor (or co-sponsor) a reception or other part of the event: Sponsors get increased visibility with attendees, and sharing a sponsorship can make the price palatable.
  • Host an invite-only dinner: Secure a restaurant near the event and invite customers and key prospects. Make sure to leave a seat or two open for people you meet on the floor.
  • Attend: There’s great value in just buying a ticket for the event, especially if you’ve haven’t gone before. Listen to presentations, talk to other attendees, and take time to learn about what your customers need.

Overall, make sure that the majority of your interactions are focused on the customer and not your company. Ask them what they do, where they work, their key pain points, etc. Show them that you are there to help them, not sell. And train your non-customer facing staff on what to say and do as well.

Before each event, determine what information you need to get for each prospect. Then, while you’re at the event, make sure you’re collecting information on all of your interactions. If your company is part of a panel, for example, have a sign-in sheet asking for name, role, school, and email address. In your booth, you could have an interactive sign-in sheet or some activity that requires visitors to share contact information. And for general floor walking, many companies use badge scanners or rely on exchanging business cards to gather information.

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As important as the demographic info, though, is capturing the conversation. Not only should you follow-up with leads as soon as possible (waiting until you get home is too long), but you should make sure the follow-up is tailored to their interests. The presenters suggested preparing your CRM ahead of the event and having a plan for inputting data while on site. Automatic emails should go out to each lead to keep your meeting fresh in their mind; specific follow-up can happen later depending on what the customer needs. Again, the key is to make sure that the email is not a sales pitch but focuses on the person’s interests. Your company might have a white paper on SEL, for instance, or a blog post on improving parent-teacher communications that would be relevant.

Most important, remember that trade shows are not about making a sale. They’re about building relationships. There’s constant chatter bombarding educators; when you go to a trade show, your goal is to establish a foundation for future conversations—or build on previous ones—and to show that you want to be a partner with their school.

These edWebinars were sponsored by SIIA.

Making the Most Out of Trade Shows: To Booth or Not to Booth:

WATCH THE EDWEBINAR RECORDING

Making the Most Out of Trade Shows: We’re Attending, Now What:

WATCH THE EDWEBINAR RECORDING

This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

For over 20 years, Jill Abbott has been a leader and visionary in education. She currently serves as the Sr. Vice President and Managing Director of the education division of SIIA. Most recently, she founded Abbott Advisor Group and focused on providing strategic planning and visioning and policy development for the role of educational technology in education innovation and transformation for federal and state governments, businesses, and non-profits. Previously, she was the CEO of Continuum Education, Associate Executive Director and COO for the SIF Association, eLearning Strategist and Education Liaison for the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio SchoolNet, Chief Learning Officer for para instructional designs, Regional Curriculum Director for nine school districts, and a classroom teacher.

Joyce Whitby is a lifelong educator who spent over ten years teaching graduate-level courses in Educational Technology at Long Island University, where, in 1984, she developed the T.E.A.M. program (Telecommunications, Education, and Multimedia). Since then, Joyce has been in the business of educational technology with key roles in professional development, marketing, and sales leadership. Most notably she has developed strategic sales initiatives targeting complex and urban environments for several organizations, including WICAT Systems, Jostens Learning, Scientific Learning, Apple Computer, Monarch Teaching Technologies (makers of VizZle, an app for students with autism), and the education group of West Corporation (SchoolMessenger solutions). She has been an active member of SIIA for over 15 years.

Ana-Le Cairns is the Director of Brand Engagement at McGraw-Hill. She focuses on leading the development, optimization, and implementation of company initiatives that support the positioning, personality, and voice of the brand for the PreK-12 School market. She ensures that a consistent brand message is maintained and common goals are being met across all communication channels and customer touchpoints at the national and local levels. Prior to her work at McGraw-Hill, Ana-Le served as the marketing manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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