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8 secrets to generating leads at trade shows

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Billions of dollars are wasted every year on trade show marketing hype. Expensive booths. Costly travel. Fancy-schmancy marketing materials.

Sure, I love a few days in Orlando, Chicago or Las Vegas as much as the next sales person. But here's the big problem with the marketing money you invest: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

If you are in charge of lead generation, what should you do to increase prospects? Instead of booth babes and free candy (what is this, Halloween?), use these tactics:

1. Quit wasting money. First, understand that generating leads is an investment and should be measured like any other investment. So quit wasting money on ineffective means. The best marketing investment you can make is to follow the lead generation formula of offering helpful information to prospective customers.

2. Attract the right prospects. Have a system for attracting the right prospects, not just the ones who wanted a free pineapple or the chat with the rent-a-models. (The next biggest crime in sales and marketing is the lack of follow-up with the leads you do generate, but that's a whole other post.) What you offer at the booth should be intentional and tied to the solution you offer. Fewer people will be interested in you, but those who are will be more intensely interested.

3. Help prospects with info. As I was drowning in the ocean of marketing hype at one expo, I found a refreshing island of marketing help. What caught my eye was an ad with a college cheerleader wearing a "Hack U" tank top (I know, sounds booth babe-ish, but stay with me). "At Hack U, you will learn how hackers think, how they work, how they take revenue away from your games, and how you can prevent it," said the ad. "Come by our booth to grab a bite to eat and join us for one of our sessions." Yes, they used free food, but that's not all they used.

4. Publish a white paper. "Hacker University" (good old Hack U) was the brainchild of Macrovision, a California company that was helping the software industry protect and license software. A Macrovision white paper entitled the "The ROI of Content Protection for Games" was available for those who attended.

5. Be timely. Hack U provided timely coverage of the growing threat of game hacking, combined with its real-world impact on revenues. The hacker community's previous focus on PC and online gaming has expanded to include the Xbox and PlayStation 3, further impacting game developer and publisher revenues.

6. Converse, don't just present. Instead of just handing out tchotchkes like logo pens and other trinkets (hype marketing) to the sea of passersby, Macrovision was able to engage potential clients in conversations about how to overcome the problems they face (help marketing).

7. Conduct research. Prospects today are bombarded with seminars, speeches, and articles that contain generalities and do not distinguish the author or presenter from any of his or her competitors. The answer is a neglected tool: conducting proprietary research on topics of interest to prospective clients.

8. Dazzle them with data. Macrovision conducted a survey of 9,000 video gamers showing that 21 percent of console gamers and 40 percent of PC gamers play pirated games. Most important, 73 percent would have purchased the game within one month if a free version had not been readily available.

Here is the reaction you want from trade show prospects: "Thank you for the help." In business, that's something we need all we can get.

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