The manufacturing industry had to go digital in more ways than one due to the pandemic; this rapid shift to virtual life demonstrated the importance of virtual manufacturing trade shows and events. These virtual events can be a huge benefit to your online operations in terms of brand awareness and audience connection; 87% of marketers consider the opportunities generated by virtual events as a success factor. 

But where do you start when preparing for a virtual trade show, and how can you measure your manufacturing organization’s success during one? We’ve got the tips for navigating virtual trade shows and events here for you.

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What Are the Advantages of Virtual Trade Shows? 

  • Pro: In many ways, virtual shows make it easier than ever for attendees to find and interact with your booth. The venue doesn’t limit the size of the crowd, and people don’t have to walk miles to interact with you. 
  • Pro: Online shows are a great equalizer. No longer are smaller booths relegated to the show floor’s outer edges where foot traffic is lighter. Every exhibitor is equally accessible, with on-demand access just a search and the click of a button away.
  • Challenge: You’ll need to work harder to maintain their interest. You’ll no longer get the benefit of visitors resting their legs before moving on. If you don’t catch their attention in the first few moments, they may click on the next exhibitor. 
  • Challenge: Your display options are limited as well. In the real world, your booth design is restricted only by your creativity and ambition. Online, you’ll have to convey your message solely using images, text, videos, and live sessions. This means fewer opportunities to distinguish yourself from the other exhibitors.

Why Should Manufacturers Engage in Virtual Trade Shows and Events?

The short answer is simply to maintain a presence in the future of how the industry continues to evolve and shift operations online. In general, virtual selling and virtual trade shows are an important aspect of the sales process for a number of facets of the manufacturing industry; they offer many advantages for manufacturers such as networking opportunities, insights into new technologies, media exposure, and sales leads. Some of these changes from in-person to virtual will be temporary, but most are likely to become features well into the future. 

Steps to Prepare for Virtual Manufacturing Trade Shows

Take Advantage of Every Feature Available to Maximize Your Efforts

Use every type of media available to you, including videos, GIFs, photos, animations, and HTML5 interactivity because not every attendee will want to engage with you the same way. You’ll want to grab their attention and incorporating many types of media can help with this. Some will want to live chat whereas others are more interested in reading on their own or even wait until after your presentations to learn more. You should prepare to offer a variety of means to connect with your audience to engage with everyone possible.

Part of this also means you should aim to entertain as well as inform your audience. Remember that people consider trade shows an experience in addition to a purchasing opportunity, so be sure to create a compelling online experience that transcends a simple web page or presentation deck. Additionally, don’t forget to record all of your sessions since they’ll have immense replay value and can be translated into emails or used as sales tools.

virtual trade show

Research Your Audience and Engage Them Early 

If possible, get your hands on a list of attendees ahead of the show to gain a better understanding of who will be there and who your target audience is. This is good advice for any trade show, but it goes doubly for virtual events because of the medium’s immediacy. Knowing who will be there can enable you to develop a targeted email campaign designed to raise awareness of your booth and events. Encourage recipients to contact you before the show to set up a meeting or a one-on-one demo. The more you can fill your schedules before the event begins, the better prepared you’ll be.

Being prepared will also empower you to connect more authentically with your audience. Since virtual trade shows make it easier for attendees to skip around between available content, you’ll need to get their attention in a distinguished manner. However, if you’re too pushy without establishing the value you provide, your visitors won’t stick around. It’s simply too easy for them to click through to the next exhibitor.

To grab people’s attention and bring them to your sales offers organically, you should provide valuable information with no strings attached; this might look like hosting panel discussions, Q&As, and/or guided lectures. The goal is to establish your manufacturing company as an expert in your field and provide immediate value to your prospects. 

Don’t Forget About the Fun

Be sure to consider the strengths and talents of your usual trade show sales squad first. Some people are great in person but struggle in a virtual, technology-driven environment, so it’s important to be willing to make changes to your roster for the best experience your manufacturing company can deliver. Trade shows require exhibitors to improvise and think on their feet, and they need to use the technological tools they have available to them as effectively as possible. If your star salesperson feels uncomfortable utilizing live chat, or if their personality doesn’t shine in virtual sales meetings, then it’s worth substituting someone else.

After all, you need to keep people engaged and give them reasons to stay with your content. In addition to bringing on your star sales cast, consider including periodic prizes, giveaways, and other incentives to keep people interested and bring them back later. Pull in compelling case studies, testimonials, and related trivia, and include contests or other gamification elements to make your presentations fun as well as informative.

manufacturing business owner attending virtual trade show events

Best Practices After Virtual Trade Shows

What you do after the show is just as important as what you do before the show and even during the show. Be sure to do the following as part of your review and reflection process:

Reflect on the Experience with Your Team

After participating in a virtual show, you and pertinent members of your team should take time to reflect on the experience. Most virtual trade shows include an analytics dashboard that lets you review things like session attendance, viewing duration, and engagement levels. Utilize these metrics to your benefit by finding correlations between these numbers and the questions or content you presented to your audience. This information can be leveraged when participating in future virtual shows.

Speaking of your audience: compile a list of frequently asked questions to have readily available and, again, use this information to tweak future presentations. Were there more questions about process or pricing? How can your manufacturing organization anticipate their pain points with targeted messaging? Consider these points as you and your team discuss the experience.

Automate Your Follow-Up Efforts to Connect with Your Leads

Automating follow-up processes will make your time at the virtual show most effective, and ensure you don’t miss any leads. Before the show, be sure to have an email campaign ready to launch, including messaging thanking the lead for connecting with your manufacturing organization. Send emails as soon as possible during and after the show.  This demonstrates your team has considered meeting with new customers and prepared messaging that reflects as much.

Compute Your Return on Investment

It’s important to know how well your trade show investments paid off. This helps estimate future virtual show budgets and gain an understanding of how virtual events impact your manufacturing organization’s bottom line. Calculate each lead’s average cost based on historical lead-to customer conversion rates and your average customer lifetime value.

Ready to Develop Your Manufacturing Trade Show Strategy?

Developing a sound manufacturing trade show strategy includes considering every aspect of your strategy and working to optimize every detail possible. Know how you’ll promote yourself ahead of the show, how you’ll roll out your content, and how you’ll handle the post-show follow-up. Virtual trade shows can be enormously rewarding, but they require thinking differently about nearly every part of your strategy. If you put in the effort now, it will pay dividends in the future. 

To learn more about how to integrate virtual selling into your business plan, contact CMTC. CMTC provides free sales operation audits in which we review your business and provide actionable insights that you can use moving forward. Transform your organization for the future today!

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About the Author

Gregg Profozich

Gregg Profozich is a manufacturing, operations and technology executive who believes that manufacturing is the key creator of wealth in the economy and that a strong manufacturing sector is critical to our nation’s prosperity and security now, and for future generations. Across his 20-year plus career in manufacturing, operations and technology consulting, Mr. Profozich helped manufacturing companies from the Fortune 500 to the small, independents significantly improve their productivity and competitiveness.

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