Catching up with Ruth P. Stevens

August 4, 2015

Author of Tradeshow and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote, and Profit

By Ryan Dinger

At BMA15 this past spring, Ruth P. Stevens, author of Tradeshow and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote, and Profit, presented her views on the value of event marketing for business marketers. As a follow-up to her session, Stevens sat down with BMA Buzz to discuss, among other things, what constitutes event marketing success, how to aggregate better leads, and some of the common mistakes marketers make at events.

Q. During your session at BMA15, you said that event marketing is a "thriving element of the B-to-B marketing toolkit." Why do you feel that way?

A. Eighty-four percent of respondents to a Regalix study last year named events, exhibitions, conferences, and trade shows as more effective than any other online or offline marketing element. Marketers are spending money on it, and they're saying that they're getting good value. There are good reasons why event marketing is important in B-to-B. Business buyers want to meet and get to know their vendors before they buy. Face-to-face contact is essential to business buying and selling. Events are an efficient way to get face-to-face contact with your customer or prospect, compared to the cost of putting a salesman on a plane and sending him out to see a client or prospect.

Q. How have the latest technological advancements changed the way events are planned and executed?

A. [One] big area is ongoing communications related to the event. Today, you can't even go to an event without there being a dedicated app available for attendees to find each other. Some events are experimenting with geocoding and other methods for attendees to not only communicate digitally, but also find each other physically around the show floor. Another category where technology plays a big role is post-event follow-up, which both show organizers and exhibitors want to do to keep relationships that were kicked off at the event nurtured, developed, and turned into revenue.

Q. What are some of the keys to success when participating in an event?

A. On the part of the marketer, the first [thing] I would mention is the importance of pre-show promotion. You can improve your productivity by contacting customers and prospects in advance and setting up as many meetings and appointments as possible. At the event itself, sometimes [companies] send the wrong people. You want to match the people on the show floor with the audience. If you're expecting the kind of event where everybody's really technical, then you want to have your sales engineers, design engineers, and other technical people at your booth. If it's an event for senior-level decision makers, then you want your senior people, not 20-somethings, managing the booth. It's also essential to have a plan for capturing contact information for the people you had conversations with and following up with them after the event. There are some companies that do not have a solid, disciplined lead follow-up process. If you do not have one, you shouldn't be using event marketing in the first place.

Q. Let's talk about authenticity. How do you have interactions that feel more real and less like a sales pitch?

A. Typically, the number one business objective of exhibiting at a trade show is to generate leads. So if lead generation is your objective, then the focus of your participation at the event should be around ensuring that the right number and the right quality of conversations is accomplished and that the data from those conversations has been captured. Everybody goes to business events for business reasons, so a sales pitch is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of people go because they want to learn about new products. They're trying to get informed about new technologies and new ways to solve business problems. They don't really care about a sales pitch — they're there to learn.

Q. What are some ways that you can effectively aggregate data from attendees and generate leads?

A. There are wonderful digital methods — badge scanning and so forth. To me, the more important — or more interesting — extension of that question is, "How do you qualify?" You might want to ask a question like, "What's your role in buying products like ours?" or some other qualifier on your lead form. Depending on the answer, you would follow up as appropriate. A lot of companies feel encouraged to try to drive traffic to their booth and collect business cards or scan people by volume — like putting out a fish bowl. I question that as a strategy. If you just need names, you can rent lists. You don't need to go to a trade show to collect names. The reason you're at the show is to have conversations and kick off relationships. Fish bowls, I think, are a lazy and ineffective strategy.

Q. What is an alternate route to the fish bowl? How should success actually be measured?

A. Say someone mistakenly thought that volume of names was the goal, and what they really want is quality of names. The way to generate quality is to have conversations with the prospects. Find out what they're all about, what they're looking for, what their business is, and if they're ever going to be in the market for your product or service, and what you can do to follow up with them. That's why you're at a show — to have those conversations. And to follow up on those conversations.


"Catching up with Ruth P. Stevens." Ryan Dinger. BMA Buzz. 8/4/15.