It’s safe to say that most, if not all industry tradeshows, expositions, and conferences are moving from in-person to virtual this year, if they are happening at all. For many B2B companies, it can feel like a lifeline has been cut.

These annual events are places to meet up with old friends and colleagues, create new contacts, experience equipment and products firsthand, and shake on some potential business deals. Many of our clients are asking – how could a virtual show possibly compare?

The Most Important Question

Before committing to a tradeshow, or even reading this article any further, you need to ask yourself a crucial question. When your company exhibited at this show when it was in-person, did you achieve your goals? Overall, was it a good show for your business?

If yes, then we recommend participating in the virtual version. If you attended shows in the past that did not pan out for your business, we would not expect the virtual version to be much different. You can, however, take the opportunity to attend the show and see if you get any lead traction by walking the virtual show floor.

Our Top 4 Reasons You Should Exhibit

The same principles of why you exhibited at an in-person show still hold true for a virtual show. With many companies pulling back on their marketing efforts in the pandemic, it is now time to increase your efforts and rise above some of the noise and competition. Here are Gravity Marketing’s top five reasons to exhibit in virtual tradeshows this year.

  1. A Time for SMBs to Shine. Studies show that companies that spend the same or increase marketing during a pandemic have seen three times more sales growth post-pandemic than companies that have pulled back on marketing. Many large companies have pulled out of shows, so this is the time for smaller businesses to be able to expand visibility and create more awareness.
  1. Stay Top of Mind. The saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” holds even more truth in a pandemic when people are sheltering at home and their highest priority is saving their business. When business owners are ready to spend money again, and research shows they are starting to, you want to be top of mind, so continuing to exhibit, even virtually, will help keep awareness up.
  1. Deliver Content Directly. We’re not just consuming snacks in quarantine. Decision makers across all industries are creating and consuming enormous amounts of content as they search for answers, solutions, opinions, and guidance that lead them to the fastest path to revenue. Tradeshows are an excellent avenue to deliver targeted content that your audiences will value most.
  1. Fulfill Fresh Needs. The pandemic has shifted priorities, creating new pain points and needs that businesses now face – such as the need for video conferencing and cloud-based software. IF your business has the expertise to solve any of these issues, it is your time to step into the spotlight.

Virtual Vs. Traditional Tradeshows

When talking to most people about virtual shows, all we tend to hear is the negatives – there is no face-to-face contact, we cannot take clients out to dinner, no one will be able to touch and test our product. However, virtual tradeshows have some great benefits that in-person shows do not.

Normally, virtual shows see a larger attendance number. This is directly connected to cost efficiency gained from removing travel, lodging, per diems, and shipping from the budget. With these savings, companies are able to allow more of their employees and decision makers attend the show.

With traditional shows, attendees receive a book with all the exhibitors and a floor plan, and are left to just cruise up and down the aisles. Virtual tradeshows are going above and beyond to help connect your business with the right attendees.

For example, we have a client exhibiting at a show in April. The platform uses artificial intelligence to match attendees and exhibitors, much like a dating site. Attendees receive exhibitor booth recommendations based off of what they stated they were looking for in their profile they set up during registration. As they interact with the platform, it learns based off of booths visited and content read and is constantly updating exhibitor booth recommendations for attendees based on their behavior.

With this type of data collection, virtual tradeshows are better able to provide analytics for people who stopped by a booth. Exhibitors can receive specific information, such as what people downloaded, how long they were at your booth, contact information, and what they are interested in. A big step up from a tag scanner.

Another great benefit of the virtual tradeshow is their longevity. From the shows we have researched, virtual booths within a show can live on the Internet well past the closing day of the show. This is great because you can continually drive people back to the booth to check out content, videos, etc.

Before you select the virtual shows to participate in, we recommend conducting a little more research than you might with an in-person show.

Do Your Due Diligence

It is important to keep in mind that every event organization that is transitioning from an in-person to virtual tradeshow has the best interest of the exhibitors and attendees in mind. If they did not provide value to both audiences, they would not be in business very long. Still, here are some important questions to ask as you consider exhibiting:

  1. Does the show’s target audience align with your company’s ideal client? Really just a gut check to make sure you are in the right place and that any goals you set are realistic.
  1. How does the show define and help achieve success for its exhibitors? What resources – webinars, guidelines, technology – will the organization provide to make sure you are making the most of this new frontier?
  1. What platform is the organization offering to help connect attendees and exhibitors? Many tradeshows are now offering unique ways to connect attendees and exhibitors. As mentioned in an example above, the tradeshow we are working on currently with a client, has the AI. Match Making platform to connect and create meaningful interactions. DO your research to see if the shows you are considering have anything similar to this.
  1. What does the exhibitor fee include? This can include how many videos you can post, how many pieces of content can be offered for download, social media links, drop a business card features, chat and messaging online during show hours, meeting features for connections, lead capture. One of the common misconceptions we have seen from our clients is that the virtual show would be a reduced cost or free to exhibit at. However, that has not been the case. So, make sure you do your research for what the platform will be offering with your exhibitor fee. While there is normally no reduced cost, you will still save money from not having to travel and ship tradeshow items. Though, depending on what the tradeshow allows you to have in your booth, you may want to set some of that savings aside for content creation.
  1. How will you be able to see the leads your virtual booth generated? Will they just give you the name of the person, will they give you links they clicked on? Will you be given their email address? These are all important answers to have for when you are setting your goals for the show and creating a follow up plan.
  1. Will the virtual booth be accessible after the live dates end? Many platforms are extending out the dates people can access booths even after the show is done. This would be a benefit that should be calculated into your ROI.

How to Make the Most of the Show

Now that you’ve signed up and acclimated yourself to the new virtual tradeshow landscape, it’s time to create a strategy. Good news here – traditional tradeshow strategy still holds true – develop a plan, set goals, pick a theme, have an offer, market your attendance, and follow up! Your experience will only be as valuable as the time you put into prepping and planning to meet with these specific audiences.

If you need help with the overall planning of your show, we have an entire Tradeshow Planning Tool you can download for free

Tradeshow Planning Tool

Remember, it is a pandemic, and companies are looking for ways to recover and grow their businesses.

Keep your focus simple – don’t clutter your virtual booth with too many messages or products. Don’t just offer a list of features and benefits – put yourself in the shoes of the audience and show them how your product can solve their problem. Be an ally. Then demonstrate why your product or service should be their No. 1 choice.

While justifying a sale has always been a hurdle, with the pandemic this is a much larger hurdle that you need to keep in mind while interacting with customers. Something you may not have done in the past but may want to do now is offer flexibility with customers. This could be a discount, flexible terms, any gesture to send a message you are trying to work with them will be heard loud and clear.

Lastly – promote, promote, promote! The best thing about a virtual show is that anyone in any of your channels could consider attending, especially if registration is free. Don’t limit your pre-show and post-show communications to attendee lists. Share your excitement for the show and experience during it with social media channels, email databases, with trade media, and on your website.

Managing Expectations

When setting goals for leads or sales during a show, keep in mind the trending issues B2B industries face – lost customers, paused production, shipping delays, raw material shortages, fear of spending – all factors add up to longer sales cycles across the board.

Focus your goals more on quality leads over quantity and make sure every conversation you have is meaningful. Just because a lead may not pull the trigger at that moment, you could make a strong connection. Stay top of mind by following up with information that is valuable to them, and down the line when they are ready to purchase, your company could be the first they call.

If executed properly, exhibiting at tradeshows, including virtual ones, helps build your brand, create visibility, support your industry, and generate leads and ultimately sales. While no one wants to work remotely forever, right now it is a good way to bridge the gap until in person tradeshows – and meetings – can come back to life.