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Tradeshows don’t generate many leads. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any marketing at tradeshows. The great thing about these events is that they gather a large number of people with similar interests in the same place at the same time. Face-to-face meetings are a critical part of building relationships with customers. If you are going to invest travel dollars in face-to-face meetings you will gain much higher ROI from meeting 10 prospects at the October show in Vegas than you would traveling to 10 different cities to meet each one individually.

So how can you maximize your ROI from a tradeshow?  First, don’t assume that you need to sponsor the event or pay for a booth to get value. There are many different marketing and sales activities that you can do without paying a dollar to the conference organizer. Here are three I recommend:

One-on-one Meetings – Schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings during the event. Meet with existing accounts to further develop relationships. Meet with prospects to move your deals forward. Often at tradeshows you can get access to additional decision makers that you would not otherwise meet with. The best way to get lots of meetings is to position it as a learning opportunity for the customer. Offer to introduce them to your CTO or Product Management Director to learn about best practices other companies are adopting.

Social Media – Even if you have no formal sponsorship at the event you can still create a buzz on social media. Tweet great quotations from breakout sessions. Use your iPhone to post photos of the keynote on Instagram. Hold your phone up on the tradeshow to create a selfie video to share on Periscope. You can create the same presence online as a platinum sponsor without spending a dollar.

Offsite Seminar – Host a breakfast seminar at a hotel within walking distance of the conference. Tradeshow organizers will frown upon this approach for non-sponsors, but there is nothing they can do to stop you. Once again you will need to plan early to secure a room as highly-coveted locations will sell out quickly. To draw a crowd invite an industry analyst or customer to speak about trends or best practices (versus giving a product pitch).

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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