Sales Success Secrets for Your Next Tradeshow

Failed events are dues paid and lessons learned. Don't quit. Implement the second to get ROI from the first.

learn more about Shaun Buck

By Shaun Buck

Emily Price
Motorola E press conference in a box.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Over the years, I have become a student of marketing. In approximately 2001, I remember being extremely impressed by all the success and huge numbers many of my fellow marketers were experiencing. At times, I was even frustrated by the fact that I was not having as much success. Something that I have learned since then is that my fellow marketers had not found some magical road to success. They had failed and fallen, but in order to rise they had gotten back up and tried something new.

I have to confess that even though I have come a long way since my early marketing years, I am still a student of marketing. Last year I exhibited and spoke at a large dental conference. We did really well. I invested about $12,000 in the event, and as of today, we're on pace for the show to return over 25 times what I invested in it over the next 12 months. Moreover, we will get another bump from follow-up. Sounds great, right?

If I stopped the story right there, it would have a happy ending … and I would be just like everyone else, only giving you half the story. The rest of the story isn't as glamorous, but here it is.

The backstory.

Before this particular conference, I'd tried my hand at no fewer than three other dental shows. I spent a similar amount of money at all three and completely bombed at each of them. Of course, I learned lessons and kept making changes to what we were doing, but I still had to invest $30,000 before I could knock one out of the park.

Fortunately, this one show makes up for all those losses. But what would have happened if I had given up just a little bit earlier?

It's not like trade shows just don't work. When these past trade shows didn't work for me, there were usually a number of reasons why. Sometimes my product wasn't right for the audience. Sometimes the offer simply sucked, or the pitch wasn't good, or any of a dozen other factors. It would have been easier and "cheaper" to just give up after the first show.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that giving up would have been a major mistake -- but I watch people do it all the time! And I challenge you to ask yourself, have you given up on a marketing idea too early?

Follow through is everything.

I have a friend who once sent a direct mail campaign to high school coaches and got 35-to-1 ROI. Five years later, he still hasn't repeated that campaign … does that seem crazy to you? It does to me. But we have all done that before. Why?

What campaign do you have sitting on the sidelines that killed it for you? Maybe it's time to dust that bad boy off and run it again.

Related: Do You Still Need a Marketing Plan? Yes, But Constant Updating Is Key.

As I mentioned before, we have struggled to sell at past trade shows -- even with follow-up after the event, we've still come out with nothing but a big, fat goose egg. Instead of focusing on what didn't work, I want to share some of the changes we made to finally have some success, in the hopes you'll get an idea you can use.

The first change was the front-end product. Newsletters were too big of a leap for most prospects, so we changed from selling newsletters to simply selling a strategy call -- a call that was fully refundable should they not move forward with us. This allowed us to not only slow the sale down (since we didn't have to close right there at the show), but to also start building a relationship with them (which, being in the newsletter business, is something we preach).

Related: 3 Tips to Improve Sales Conversations for Faster Growth

Getting out there.

The next big thing we changed was that I started speaking at the events. Some of these speaking opportunities were paid for, others were spots we were invited to fill, but we saw a quadrupled increase in leads and sales just for speaking.

Finally, I changed what I spoke about. I gave huge value but didn't focus solely on newsletters. I positioned myself as an authority on marketing strategy, and I proved that with my presentation.

Of course, all of these areas are works in progress, but I'm a lot closer to success today than I was just a few weeks ago, and I encourage you to take a "test and improve" approach to all your marketing and sales endeavors. When I look back on all of the things I've tried that didn't work, I try to consider this quote by Alex Rascanu: "The difference between average people and achieving ones is their perception of and response to failure."

So don't get discouraged by "failed" marketing attempts, and above all don't give up. Simply take the lesson to be learned and carry it forward to the next idea.

Related: Why Adopting a 'Campaign' Mentality Can Poison Your Marketing Efforts

Shaun Buck

Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author, & CEO of The Newsletter Pro

Shaun Buck is the co-author of No B.S. Guide to Maximum Referrals and Customer Retention (Entrepreneur Press, March 2016) as well as CEO of Boise, Idaho-based The Newsletter Pro, the largest custom print newsletter company in the world—printing and mailing millions of newsletters annually for diverse industries all over the globe.

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