Alex Iskold, the CEO of Adaptive Blue has a great post on events. It's worth a read for any startup thinking about Demo, TechCrunch, E-Tech or any of the other conferences and events out there.
I've done a _lot_ of tradeshows and events in my time (30+ at a rough guess) and attended even more. They range in size from User Group table-top events to humongous monsters like E3, NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters annual show in Vegas, ~120,000 attendees) and CeBit (second largest in the world back when I did it).
While the kind of events Alex is talking about aren't exactly the same as a typical tradeshow, there's plenty of commonality in the goals: get noticed and sell somebody on something.
So after reading Alex's post, I figured I could share some useful information. I thought twice about it -- don't want to be too kind to the competition :-) -- but here it is. I'll use the term event and tradeshow interchangeably -- most of what I'll talk about applies readily to either.
Fact: Most companies handle events very poorly.
It is all too easy for a show to become the worst kind of marketing event. What's the worst kind? A "get our name out there" event. That's crap and a waste of money. If you have a marketing person and they ever say this to you, beat them with sticks. Getting your name out there does nothing WHATSOEVER for you or your company. You go to a tradeshow to accomplish something specific:
- Sell your product to customers
- Strike deals with partners
- Sell your company to investors
- Get press coverage that drives any of the above
You need to decide which one you're going to pick and prepare accordingly. You can pick more than one, but only when you get the hang of it.
There are plenty of ways to screw up an event, but nail your focus and you're at least pointing in the right direction.
Fact: Even after agreeing with Fact #1, most companies handle events poorly.
There are lots of ways to completely screw things up. Here's my top 10 sins list for your consideration:
Sin #1: No signage -- who are you and what do you do?
Sin #2: Bad signage
(a) Keep it simple, clear and readable
(b) Find a designer. Even a bad one will probably be better at this than you
(c) No handwritten anything EVER
Sin #3: No "flow" planning. What do you want people to do when they hit your booth/tabletop. What order do you want them to do things in? Is it obvious from the layout? What are the focus points of the booth? Where can a customer get information? For example, if you want them to watch a demo and then register, don't put the registration bit (with your fancy giveaways) in front of the demo bit.
Sin #4: Not engaging everyone that stops at your booth. You're there to meet people -- don't let them just walk away without knowing who they are and how to reach them. Once they leave your booth, they're gone.
Sin #5: Not tracking leads. Figure out a system for tracking who came to the booth and what they were interested in. Crummy notes on your palm or the back of a biz card are a bad idea -- capture that info!
Sin #5A: Not qualifying leads. The point is not to collect the most names, it's to collect the most USEFUL names within the context of what you are trying to do at the show.
Sin # 6: Know where your key people are at all times and know how to reach them. If an investor wants to talk to your CEO and you can only mutter "Umm. S/He should be right back", you've blown it.
Sin #7: Not reading people's name tags. Sometimes it won't tell you anything, but quite often it will. Look before you speak.
Sin #8: The wrong kind of enthusiasm. Cut back on the redbull. Some folks get waaaaaay too aggressive at trying to stop people as they walk by. Bad idea unless people think you're entertaining, like me :-)
Sin #9: The unmanned booth. This is a big one. Make sure someone is at your booth WHENEVER the hall is open. Every show I have ever been to, large or small, has had empty tables and booths. Some of the most productive encounters I've ever had at an event occur in the slow times when not many people are in the hall. A lot of funding-related events have a main stage that is "on" much of the time, with set hours for looking at exhibits. But savvy individuals frequently cut out of the main event to explore exhibits in detail. And if no-one from your company is manning your booth, you won't know that
Sin #10: Follow up. This really is the deadliest and least excusable sin of the lot. Follow up IMMEDIATELY. Not in a week, not in two weeks, not never. Now. These leads will quickly go colder than a penguin's butt at hatch time (you did see that movie, right?). So get on it and get going.
So that's my top 10 sins list. How about throwing you a bone, I hear you cry. Okay. Here are some thoughts:
1) Go to some big tradeshows. Walk the floor. Which companies pop out at you and why? Be sure to check the mini-booths in the back of the hall. Most of them will suck -- good lessons in what not to do.
2) No matter who you are, assume no-one knows you or your product. They need to be intrigued from a distance. A simple monitor on a table-top is the equivalent of being a bread-roll on a steak and seafood buffet table -- you're not what anyone sees first. Signage is critical. It needs to be simple, clear and readable by a myopic octagenarian from a distance of 10-20'.
3) Practice what you pitch. Everyone at the booth HAS TO KNOW THE PITCH. Identify your key points and get everyone on the same page.
It's a lot of work -- think releasing a product -- but if you don't do it, you can be sure your competition will...