What are you doing with your trade show budget?

boomtime trade show budget graphic

The pandemic has meant that many of the events where you would promote your business and your product or service won’t take place this year. From trade shows to conferences, many organizations have canceled their events or taken them online.

At a time like this, it is tempting to cancel your networking budget. But in times of reduced margins, networking dollars should not be the first ones cut. There are many effective ways to stretch these budgets even further and gain some traction online.

Virtual networks have come a long way in the past several months. From their roots as a low cost and less engaging alternative to in-person events, virtual networking has become the only way to network with others in a live setting safely.

“Virtual events have provided us with the opportunity to reinvent what it means to gather and network.”

The need to meet virtually has also driven a more creative approach to gathering safely and productively. With more and more people turning to networking virtually, here are some ways to generate engagement and some ways to measure your ROI.

Network on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is like a virtual trade show that goes on 24/7. You want to make sure that your business and your employees are putting their best foot forward on their LinkedIn profiles. When people stop by your profile (read: booth), what are they seeing? Is it a display that was thrown together with little interest and effort? Or something well thought out, attractive, and captivating for those that happen to drop by? Once your profile is optimized it’s time to run a LinkedIn Connection Campaign that targets the exact prospects you want to talk to. Once you have made those connections, further increase engagement by creating and sharing content on the site. This helps establish you as a thought leader while continuing to drive further engagement and closer relationships on the platform.

LinkedIn Groups present another great way to grow your network on LinkedIn. These groups provide a place for members in the same industry or with common interests to meet up, share insights and information and build relationships. LinkedIn recommends groups to you based on keywords in your profile and interests, but you can also search for groups with a specific focus or even look for groups in your city. You can join up to 100 groups, but I recommend initially focusing on just a few groups to ensure you have the time to engage with the group and build quality connections.

Host a webinar

One of the benefits of exhibiting at a trade show is the ability to demo your product or service and talk with prospects about why it is the right solution to meet their needs. A webinar provides the opportunity to do just that, but for many prospects at once.

“Instead of trade shows this year, schedule a series of webinars to showcase your offering and talk about the pain points it solves.”

A webinar also allows you to interact with prospects and hear feedback on the problems they are facing. Hosting a series of smaller webinar events means you can tailor each one to a specific demographic or target market. Webinars also give you the opportunity to capture leads and a more personal context for following up with them. Recording your webinars is a great way to generate some evergreen content to share on your website, LinkedIn, or even via email to generate an asynchronous networking effect.

Attend virtual conferences or trade shows

Many conferences and tradeshows are still planning to go on, even if the convention center has become an interactive website and virtual presentations. But just because you can’t attend in person doesn’t mean you should cancel participating altogether. With lower numbers of exhibitors participating, and a more captive audience of attendees, a virtual conference could mean greater visibility for your business and your offering.

Be sure to follow up

If you don’t follow up with all of your new connections after a networking event, you will not see much return on your investment. Take some time to follow up with the connections who shared their email addresses or connected with you on LinkedIn. It’s the perfect warm context for follow up conversations since you already share something in common, allowing you to build those relationships further and qualify leads.

Measuring ROI for your virtual networking activities

All the networking in the world is not worth it if you don’t realize any return on your investment. There are many metrics you can measure to determine the ROI of your virtual activities. With LinkedIn, you can measure the number of connections you make and the engagement with your posts and messages. For virtual events like webinars, the clearest key performance indicator is to look at the number of registrants and attendees. Engagement can be measured by evaluating the open email rates for registrants, both before and after your event. Finally, measuring the number of leads generated for your sales team is another metric that shows networking activities’ performance.

Today’s virtual events are a great way to get in front of stakeholders and present some value. They also provide unique opportunities to measure your engagement on LinkedIn or through lead capture and conversion rates on your website. With so many businesses looking for solutions and the ability to connect with other people and businesses, now is the right time to rethink virtual networking and put effort into areas showing growth and potential.

All the best,

JP Clement

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