By Mary Bukovic, AEM Director of Exhibitor Engagement Services

How many training programs have you gone to that start the planning with an exercise on how to determine your goals and objectives? In theory, we all agree it is very important; however, the reality is often it’s the last thing people think of, or the step that has the least amount of effort put into it. 

Frequently exhibitors pull out standard answers to “Why exhibit?” with responses such as “Because we’ve always been at this show” or “Our competition is here, so we have to be” or “We want to generate leads.” These answers are weak at best. Unless your trade show goals are aligned with your organization's goals and are specific to measure real value, trade show involvement will continue to be seen as just an expense that will be subject to cutbacks. In other words, don’t shortcut defining your objectives! So let’s take a closer look at some keys to sustaining trade show success and meeting objectives…

1. Make sure that your trade show objectives connect to your organization's overall business goals. Otherwise, why are you there?  If, for example, one of your business goals is to increase annual sales by XX percent, first make sure the trade show has the right buyer demographics to help you reach that metric. Then, set a trade show objective to meet a certain amount of “pre-qualified buyer” leads for sales follow-up.

2. Next, involve those who are key to your success. Go broad, and don’t just limit it to marketing and sales. Include areas like product development, customer relationship management and senior management. Understand what the broad business needs are and make sure you are incorporating that into your objectives. Building broad support for your trade show programs will make it easier to meet your objectives, because other key stakeholders in your organization play a critical role in their success.

3. As you set your objectives, keep them specific with defined success measures. This will allow you to track achievement after the show. For example, if your goal as mentioned above is to generate leads, make sure you have specific numbers by customer demographic and/or region spelled out. Again, connect to your organization’s overall business goals or objectives. If growing market share in a specific region is one of them, make sure your lead measurement speaks to that. If you have exhibited at the show previously, use history to set realistic measures.

4. Follow-up your objectives with written action plans that outline the tactical steps needed to achieve and communicate them. Make sure all your stakeholders are aware of their role and have a mechanism to provide input to ensure that success.

5. Finally, make sure to check your progress along the way as you develop your booth designs, marketing plans and staff selection, as well as complete other logistical tasks. Objectives are your guidelines, and they are the basis for everything you do and by which success is measured. Use checkpoints pre-show to make sure you’re on target. Once you’re on site, set daily meetings to monitor progress. And lastly, conduct the necessary follow-ups post-show to help ensure results.

Your final report should include all of the data on how successful you were in achieving your objectives. If something didn’t work, include what revisions are required. And of course, tie it all into the impact to the overall organization.

With more scrutiny given to organizational budgets, proving leadership with tangible results that align with the organization’s objectives will not only validate your trade show return on investment, but will likely help with growing marketing budgets for future trade show involvement. 

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