How to get ROI from â€¨an exhibition space
Be prepared, be approachable, and make sure you follow up, advises Douglas McPherson
Whether it is on a geographic or sector-specific basis, more and more law firms are investing in exhibition space. The problem is that it is an expensive business.
The combined cost often means exhibiting is not the best use of the time, budget, and resources a law firm has available for business development. I thought I
would use this month's column to share some best practice covering what you need to do before, during, and after the event to make it worthwhile.
Get going early: One good thing about an exhibition is that you will usually know you are going months in advance. Your clients, targets, and contacts are as busy as you, so use that lead time to let them know you are there. Send invitations in the post, followed by regular email updates about where you will be, when, and why. Telephone the prime targets a month before you go to underline just how much you would like them to visit you;
Use the organiser's lists: The organiser will have a list of exhibitors, sponsors, and pre-registrants. Ask for them all as a condition of your attendance and include them in your pre-marketing. Cherry-pick the most interesting co-exhibitors and get in touch with them in the month leading up to the event to confirm a time and date for coffee;
Give people a reason to visit you: It may be you are offering a free 15-minute consultation slot or holding a contracts amnesty at the event where you will provide an on-the-spot review of a particular type of document. You could even do something more quirky:
I remember a firm at an international exhibition sending their contacts the flights for three darts with the promise that if they brought them to the stand, they would get the darts and the opportunity to throw them at a board, with the highest throw winning a magnum of champagne. They had a busy show; and
Set your stall out: What do you want your stand to do? Does it need a seating area, refreshments, or furniture? Do you need to ask if there is a more private area on site for confidential conversations? One bit of good news: at least we don't need LAN cables for the internet any more.
Think about your demeanour: If you look grumpy or disinterested, or are on your phone or hidden behind a podium, you will look unapproachable. Try to stand near the front of the stand, don't be afraid to approach anyone who stops to look at your fascia, and be prepared to give a few brochures to passers-by - a fair percentage will enter into conversation, if only to find out why you are there. And, for goodness' sake, smile;
Have a chat with all of the other exhibitors: That is what they are there for and they will be more than amenable. Explore how you could work together on future marketing initiatives or if there is a way you could cross-fertilise your respective client bases. Most importantly, make a favourable impression, because if they are active in your location or your chosen sectors, they will be able to refer you at some point; and
Do the social stuff: The social add-ons are where the relationships are built and the gossip is shared. You are only there for day or two, so force yourself to go so you get maximum exposure.
Follow up, follow up, follow up: You will have left with business cards and an exhibitor guide. Every contact, every exhibitor, and every sponsor needs to be added to your database and LinkedIn, all within a couple of days, because delays denote disinterest. Pick the contacts that look most interesting (from both a target and referral perspective) and ask them for a coffee to continue your conversation; and
Wash up: Sit down with the team that was involved and discuss leads gained, potential opportunities, and potential referrers. Work out what the resultant pipeline could deliver (obviously you are not going to get work there and then, but you should be able to use something as sophisticated as a yes/maybe/no model). And do not sign up for next year unless that pipeline is cash positive to the money you spent to attend.