Go-To-Market Propeller Tradeshow ROI – DRONELIFE

The latest in an occasional column on bringing products to market in emerging technologies, by industry marketing expert Amy T. Wiegand: Go-to-Market Propeller.  The deep dive on how decision makers maximize trade show ROI: from choosing the right events to post show follow up.

By Amy T. Wiegand

In the rapidly evolving world of drone technology, tradeshows are pivotal events for networking, brand exposure, and business growth. However, the success of tradeshows depends on strategic decision-making, efficient budgeting, and effective planning. We’ll explore how decision-makers can extract maximum return on investment (ROI) from their tradeshow spend, covering everything from choosing laser-targeted events to preparing for attendance.

Plan Ahead

Maximizing ROI starts with planning ahead. Most tradeshows sell their prime spots a year out or more. Start planning one year to six months ahead to help save costs associated with planning. This planning allowance will leave your team time to optimize your strategy, prepare the necessary initiatives, and even order items at early bird prices – saving you money. Planning only a short distance from the event can cause an increase in cost with items like storage and rush fees. Be mindful of speaker submissions and other tradeshow deadline cut-offs.

If you hire an event planning team, hire them at least six months prior. Also, realize your overall cost may increase when hiring a contractor, yet an expert planning team will know how to save on overall cost and maximize your tradeshow goals and outcomes.

Plan a Participant’s Strategy

T & E is where we can break the bank. Everyone wants to go to the show, yet to maximize ROI, we must have a clear participant strategy. Start by aligning the attending teams with your organization’s business goals, objectives, and KPIs so that you realize faster and greater tradeshow success. Pending your tradeshow objectives, the attendee teams must be a strategic selection and comprise the superstars and brand ambassadors from sales, marketing, tech, product, regulatory, recruiting, and customer success. 

Understand Tradeshow Objectives

To maximize ROI, attend tradeshows that align with your target audiences and business objectives. Then, create a tradeshow objectives strategy to determine your organization’s needed outcome at each event.

  • Ensure alignment on business goals and objectives, and then tradeshow objectives.
  • Determine a participant strategy based on tradeshow objectives.

Segment Your Audiences & Evaluate Attendee Profiles

Before understanding our tradeshow objectives, we must prioritize our business objectives, identifying short-term and long-term goals. Review the attendee profiles at potential tradeshows—segment by industries and direct customers, alliances, partnerships, investors, recruits, industry experts, etc. Plan your tradeshow objectives according to the audience and business objectives.

Tradeshow Objectives

Choose a tradeshow objective strategy to maximize ROI for your team. Not all returns will be monetary, yet each objective can show relevant gains to add value to your attendance. Check out the 21 tradeshow objectives below:

  • Brand Awareness: Increase brand visibility and recognition within your target industry.
  • Competitor Analysis: Analyze competitor offerings and strategies to refine your business approach.
  • Customer Feedback: Collect feedback from existing and potential customers to improve products or services.
  • Customer Retention: Strengthen relationships with existing clients and reinforce their loyalty to your brand.
  • Demonstrations: Successfully demonstrate your products or services to showcase their capabilities.
  • Educational Engagement: Educate attendees about your technology, products, or industry trends.
  • Global Expansion: Explore opportunities for international expansion by connecting with global industry players.
  • Investor Relations: Attract potential investors or funding by showcasing your company’s potential and growth prospects.
  • Lead Generation: Generate a specific number of qualified leads to expand your customer base.
  • Market Research: Gather insights about market trends, competitor products, and customer preferences.
  • Media Coverage: Attract attention from industry media to gain coverage and exposure.
  • Networking: Build and strengthen relationships with industry professionals, potential clients, and partners.
  • Partnership Building: Identify and establish partnerships with other businesses for mutual benefit.
  • Post-Event Follow-Up: Set objectives for post-event follow-up activities, such as sending thank-you emails, scheduling meetings, or delivering promised materials.
  • Product Launch: Launch a new product or service and create buzz around its features and benefits
  • Recruitment: Source potential talent for your organization through networking and engagement.
  • Sales Opportunities: Close on-site deals or secure commitments for future business opportunities.
  • Social Media Engagement: Boost social media engagement and followership by promoting your tradeshow presence.
  • Thought Leadership: Position your company as a thought leader through speaking engagements, panel discussions, or presentations.
  • Training and Development: Provide training sessions or workshops to educate attendees on industry best practices.

Maximize ROI as an Exhibitor

As an exhibitor, focus on turning your tradeshow presence into tangible and non-tangible returns. Track as much as possible for post-show review.

  • Invest in prime booth locations with high foot traffic. Strategic booth visibility greatly influences attendee engagement. Send invitations to visit your booth to tradeshow targets pre-show with a map and booth number. Mention an incentive to stop by, as well. While email invites are okay, email is less affected than it used to be. Send a handwritten note to key targets via FedEx. Then, follow up with a call.
  • Submit thought leaders to speak at keynotes, panels, and workshops. Post videos or media coverage post-event. Speaker submissions are due months in advance, so planning the tradeshow strategy needs to coincide with speaking engagements and messaging to create integrated value.
  • Ensure the right team members are working the booth. This is key to maximizing value. Be a stickler on this.
  • Create a tradeshow playbook for team participants to align everyone on the tradeshow objectives and plan. Include a script to align the team with initiating conversations with common talking points from business and tradeshow objectives. Meet before the floor opens to unify the team.
  • Train booth staff on how to showcase product demos confidently. Everyone in the booth needs to know how to demo the product, or only those that do should work the demo.
  • Leverage social media platforms to create pre-event buzz, showcase influencer marketing or brand activation ops, and share live updates. Use event hashtags to widen your reach. Encourage your team to share social posts for maximum exposure. Create a team contest for the most engagement – likes, reshares, etc.
  • Organize side events such as workshops, meet-n-greets, presentations, or happy hours. Invite your targeted customers, partners, investors, etc. Keep costs minimal by meeting in the lobby and social areas at show hotels and the tradeshow center (where allowed). Take note of the quiet times and vacant spaces to maximize time well spent with your guests at no charge!
  • Only spend on giveaways that maximize your brand’s value post-tradeshow. Turn attendees into brand ambassadors with giveaways contributing to referrals or broad brand awareness.
  • Use lead-gathering devices that help organize leads for easy import into your CRM. Promptly follow up with leads gathered during the event. Share additional resources, schedule follow-up calls, conduct surveys, and nurture relationships established at the tradeshow.
  • Announce product launches or strategic PR before the show or even a few weeks after so your PR is not in the mix of hundreds of announcements during the tradeshow.

Lora Burns, Marketing Manager with Commercial UAV Expo, states, “Maximizing time at events is one of the most pivotal aspects of strategic marketing. If you have a booth, try incorporating engaging or hands-on activities, hosting giveaways to attract leads, and leveraging pre-event social media promotion. If you are an attendee, make sure you have a game plan. Intentional participation in networking activities is essential. Be proactive in your approach. Make a yearly “Call for Speakers” calendar to amplify organizational visibility and position yourself as an influential thought leader within the industry. Although the upfront costs associated with events may seem substantial, the potential impact of making just one good connection or a few contracts can return tenfold in ROI for years to come.”

Prepare as an Attendee

Attendee preparation is just as crucial if you’re attending a tradeshow as an exhibitor.

  • Identify key exhibitors you want to visit. Prioritize those aligned with your business goals and industry interests.
  • Plan to check out the critical competition.
  • Craft concise yet compelling elevator pitches for introducing yourself and discussing your company. Be ready to articulate your value proposition clearly.
  • Review the event schedule and plan your agenda. Attend relevant keynotes, panel discussions, and networking events.
  • Set a schedule to meet targeted in-market prospects you know will be at the show. Even if only for a quick meet-n-greet. Schedule it to maximize your time value.
  • Ensure you have ample business cards or a digital business card to share. This traditional networking tool remains effective for quick and efficient information exchange.
  • Dress in professional attire that aligns with the industry norms. Represent your brand, too. If your brand reflects wearing three-piece suits, wear three-piece suits. If your brand represents casual, be brand casual, yet remember a polished appearance can positively impact first impressions.

Create Budgets

Efficient budgeting is critical to making the most of tradeshow investments. Have an annual budget and a per-show budget. Track all line items, goals, KPIs, and outcomes for historical purposes and annual decision-making. Extracting max value out of each tradeshow means:

  • Understanding your overall business goals and how they impact your tradeshow objectives.
  • Aligning with financial leadership to evaluate and align on expectations and outcomes. What are the tangible ROI goals? What are the non-tangible goals? E.g., lead generation, brand visibility, recruitment, partnership opportunities, etc.
  • Prioritizing tradeshow investments based on your ROI goals. 

Plan for Optimal Outcomes

Strategic planning is the backbone of a successful tradeshow experience. Clearly define what success looks like for each tradeshow, and know your objectives, whether they’re brand awareness, a specific number of leads, recruitment, partnerships, exercising mass product demonstrations, signed contracts, or a focused mix. Hire event pros, and refrain from attempting to stick this job on a novice. You’ll end up spending more money and getting less return. Yet, the best investment is ensuring seamless communication within your team. Each team participant should understand their role and how it contributes to achieving overall objectives.

NUAIR’s Director of Marketing, Megan Crout, stated, “I’ve been supported by teams that offer me the ability to align business objectives with proactive, strategic marketing plans. This allows me to hone in on ROI and create programs of value.”

While Megan is new in her role with NUAIR, she is not new to marketing in the emerging technology ecosystem. She was asked to create an ROI plan for a $40,000 total conference spend. And she did. Events are notorious for having a reputation as cost-sucking initiatives without the ability to attribute ROI. Yet, they don’t have to be. She and the sales team met to align before the event to plan for customer acquisition, tighten talk tracks, and more; she then had only the essential team attend the event, saving on expenses. She divided and scheduled them to work the booth at the event equitably. When not managing the booth, each sales rep in attendance was held accountable for booking five meetings with in-market opportunities while at the conference. That took team effort and planning. Yet, this plan gained her team $500,000 in closed-woncontracts within a few months post-event. And, “Voila,” Megan’s common sense approach to team alignment, proactive planning, and accountability created an ROI for her organization.

In the dynamic landscape of drone technology, tradeshows provide invaluable opportunities for growth, collaboration, and visibility. By strategically choosing events, budgeting effectively, maximizing exhibitor strategies, planning meticulously, and preparing as an attendee, decision-makers can unlock the full potential of their tradeshow investments. Embrace a holistic approach to tradeshow participation, and watch your ROI soar in this exciting and innovative industry.

Amy T. Wiegand is a go-to-market professional, having worked with the best of tech start-ups and notables like Walmart, The Coca-Cola Company, NATO, UPS, local, state, and federal governments, colleges and universities, top ad agencies, and more. She has realized revenue generation growth throughout her career and champions brand management, pipeline strategy, organizational process and implementation, content, product and digital marketing, public and investor relations – and profitability. Amy is also a project architect and master director, having developed award-winning programs in aviation, technology, and special military operations. Amy was the first person to facilitate a sUAS training program for The State of Virginia in 2014, is an enthusiastic leader of STEM initiatives, and distant cousin to the notable Amelia Earhart. She is the founder of Earhart Alden & Associates, LLC, a go-to-market consulting firm, and the proud single mom of a college-age daughter.

Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.


Read more from Amy:


Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


Subscribe to DroneLife here.

Related Articles