The following is a guest post by Chris Newkirk. His bio is at the end of the article.
Even with the growth of Internet-based companies and virtual communications, business is still all about relationships. Without a solid rapport with clients and co-workers many companies aren’t able to secure sales, referrals and growth.
Trade shows and expos used to be more popular among business owners, but they are still a viable tool for companies looking to expand their customer base. The problem is many businesses fail to market themselves correctly and lose possible referrals in a misguided attempt to increase sales.
Use your company blog to make connections
A blog is a lot of work, and if, after a couple of posts it becomes stagnant, or the person(s) responsible for writing posts isn’t creative or engaging it can actually hurt your company and website rankings. If the blog is interesting and offers something of value to your site’s visitors though, it can help build connections, increase client engagement, and be a positive tool for marketing.
To build engagement for a new or scarcely visited blog, invite clients to write a guest blog for your site. If they’re interested, you can offer them a link back to their site in their bio, and you’ll want to encourage them to share it on their social sites. Not only will your blog reach a wider audience, it offers you a chance to get to know your clients and forge a stronger bond with them.
Findings from a 2012 Social Media Transaction study by LoyaltyOne even showed a direct correlation between social media engagement and purchasing behavior. Furthermore, a survey by the Internet Advertising Bureau from a sample of 4,500 consumers found, “nine out of 10 would recommend brands that they interacted with through social media.”
Based on those findings you really have nothing to lose by sharing details about upcoming trade show and expo events through your blog and use the platform to create a buzz—and don’t forget to share your posts via other social outlets including Facebook and Twitter.
Engage your audience with live updates from the event
Changing the way you approach an expo, and the people you meet at it, can be the single most beneficial thing to do to build relationships and increase referrals.
Engage the people visiting your display as well as people who couldn’t make the event who follow you via your social channels. You can effectively create a buzz around your booth and on social media by using a tool like Storify or Twitters Custom Timeline feature and a projector screen.
There are merits and disadvantages unique to each tool. Storify is more user friendly and pulls from all media, whereas Twitter’s Timeline gives you access to other Tweets and can only be used via TweetDeck, but can be embedded virtually anywhere, including your business website or blog so you can share it with a wider audience.
You can update either tool in real-time during the event and host live Q&A sessions at your booth in addition to, or in lieu of traditional informational pamphlets. Plan ahead and pick a hashtag specific to your brand and the event, share it via social networks and promote it using banner stands or handouts.
Post tweets, photos, and comments from people at the event and encourage those who couldn’t attend to send in their questions or comments. Share them live on your Storify or Timeline, which people can then view on your projector screen or on their mobile device or computer.
How to connect with other attendees
Keep in mind that event attendees aren’t the only connections you can make that will benefit you. Other exhibitors can make great connections too and are one way you can gain solid referrals. You will be provided with an exhibitor list, look it over to find people to connect with before the event.
Think of the events you’ve been to—people dread showing up early and many would rather be a tad on the late side to avoid any awkwardness. However, going early is exactly what you need to do. Meet the other early birds, tour the room together, and bond over small talk.
These people are guaranteed to remember you, especially if you’re able to send potential clients from your booth to theirs. Your gesture, although not entirely selfless, can help build a lasting business relationship. Feel free to ask people you connect with to share your event hashtag with their booths’ visitors, and consider updating your Timeline or Storify with comments about the other people your team has met as well to create a reciprocal bond.
Find these people and their companies on Twitter and Facebook during or after the event and send them a message. Let them know how much you enjoyed getting to know them. These individuals may also be people you want to approach for a guest article in your blog—ask them to share their experience.
How do you turn relationships into referrals?
Bluntly asking for referrals too soon can actually damage your relationships, and directly following an event shouldn’t be your first action. Stay in touch with the people you met through social media and email, and as the relationship progresses you can start asking for referrals. Remember, it’s still not all about what’s in it for you and sending them referrals is the best way to get one in return.
You can do the same with clients. Share your Custom Timeline from the event with them and thank them for participating; or ask if they’d be interest in sharing a testimonial with you for your timeline and website.
If your company or a specific product gets a great online customer review, feel free to follow up with those customers and ask them to recommend the product or your company to their friends or business connections. You might also consider asking for referrals at the bottom of emails or as a friendly reminder through social media posts and tweets.
With some of your best clients, you can organize 2 by 2 lunches—you bring someone they would like to meet and they do the same. If you take the time to look through your client list and determine who would benefit from knowing your clients (and vice versa), you’ll be surprised at how willingly clients respond.
Finally, remember to be considerate and always thank customers and other companies for their referrals. Keep in mind that business runs on relationships and not just through sales.
Chris Newkirk works in sales and marketing and helps companies find ways to promote themselves and their brand through their display at trade shows and expos. Chris personally enjoys spending time rock climbing in the Arizona desert and planning his wedding with his wonderful fiancée.