12 Planning Steps for Successful Defense Contractor Trade Show Marketing

Posted by douglasburdett

With the right planning, defense contractors can use trade shows to speed up the sales cycle, reduce the cost of sales, and reach customers, prospects and even "hidden buyers."

 “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight Eisenhower

In an article by Margit B. Weisgal, President and CEO of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association, she outlines the benefits of trade shows:

"Exhibit marketing is the most cost-effective means of reaching customers and prospects; it reduces the buying cycle; it allows you to reach hidden buyers.  Most important, though, is that it can reduce the cost of a sale by as much as 75%."

However, to attain those kinds of results, planning is essential.  And that's where many exhibitors fall short:

"Seventy-one percent of all exhibitors have no measurable goals or objectives or even a written marketing plan."

Weisgal offers a 12-step planning process that can be very helpful for defense contractors who are actively marketing at trade shows or who are considering it.

  1. Define the Situation - This is the military eqiuvalant to a commander's situation report.  Who is your company? What is your product and its real benefit? Who are your competitors?
  2. Identify Your Target Audience(s) - This needs to go beyond just the procurement people. Think about the end users and those who can influence the purchase decsion.  You probably have multiple, distinct audiences.
  3. Pre-participation Research - Not all shows are a good investment of your time and money.  The author includes 8 questions to ask before deciding on a new show (and 5 questions you should ask for shows at which you currently exhibit).
  4. Set Goals and Measurable Objectives - Sales goals are not a realistic metric given the long sales cycles for most defense contractors, but other goals should be set and measured such as contact and qualified leads.
  5. Management Support and Input - To be effective, management needs to perceive trade show marketing as a cost rather than an investment.  Don't exhibit if you can't get management support and input.
  6. Strategies and Tactics - This contains the specifics of how to achieve the goals and objectives from #4 above.  Unfortunately, many exhibitors skip #'s 1-5 and start here.
  7. Integrate Current Advertising and Corporate Communications - Your trade show message needs to be consistent with all other corporate brand touchpoints.
  8. Develop Pre-Show/At-Show Promotion - After you've determined who you really need to see at the show, develop a promotion beforehand targeting that group to drive them to you.
  9. Design an Exhibit to Support Steps 1-8 - Take the perspective of the visitor whose mindset is "what's in it for me?"
  10. Plan the Follow-Up Program - According to some experts, 80% of exhibitors don't follow up on leads. By developing a follow-up program beforehand, this problem can be eliminated.
  11. Involve and Train Your Staff - One of the biggest challenges is getting staff to listen to vistiors before jumping into a presentation.
  12. Measure Results and Make Money - This invovles getting back to management, comparing results to objectives and determining if a return to that show is in order.

Click on the following link to read the full article, Twelve Steps to Exhibit Success: A Primer for Planning your Exhibit Marketing Program, or view the SlideShare presentation below.

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