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7 B2B Marketing Trends Affecting Trade Show Marketers

This blog post originally appeared on as a guest post.  I wanted to share this with my readers as well.  Thanks to Jeremy Victor for letting this article first appear on his excellent blog site.

Like many marketers I am hard-wired to look for emerging trends.  I’ve read about or observed key trends affecting B2B marketers, and more about trade show trends, but I’ve yet to read anything that summarizes how current B2B trends affect trade show marketers.

Why look for the overlap between B2B marketing and trade show trends?  Because trade shows represent the single largest marketing expenditure for B2B marketers.  For some companies, trade shows are central to their B2B marketing.

So here are seven B2B marketing trends, and some ideas on how trade show marketers can take advantage of them:

1.  Economic recovery: With US GDP growth of 5.7% in the 4th quarter of 2009 (the fastest rate in six years), B2B marketers are getting off their heels and onto their toes, as prolonged uncertainty gradually shifts towards resurging ambition.  Marketers don’t just want to conserve cash; they want to make an impact.

“The extreme cost-cutting of the past has led to a big rebound in corporate profits, so businesses will start to compete for market share,” said Frank Chow, chief economist for Trade Show Executive magazine.  To look like a leader at trade shows, B2B marketers are getting new graphics to promote their more ambitious marketing messages, or finally replacing the entire worn-out trade show display they had been holding onto.  But they are cautiously spending even in their ambition, choosing lighter weight portable and modular exhibits, and renting exhibits more often than before the downturn.

2.  Change in the sales cycle. Until about 10 years ago, when a B2B buyer needed product information, they had to ask potential vendors’ sales people. That put the sales people in control of the sales cycle.  But now, buyers know they are in control, because they have so much product info instantly available just by searching Google.  The recent downturn gave any actual buyers even more clout.  Buyers can wait later and later until they contact the sales rep.

This places even greater value on trade shows, as when a prospect meets you at the show, they’ve already learned about your products on the internet, and want to check out your people.  Plus, at a show you finally get face-to-face access to the buyer that your salesperson is having a harder time getting an appointment with.

3.  Marketing Automation: With B2B salespeople losing access to their prospects in favor of the Internet, marketing automation software such as Eloqua, Marketo, Genius, Manticore, and Silverpop has gained popularity as a means to keep tabs on and develop top prospects.

For trade show marketers, if your company introduces a marketing automation platform, you will need to learn how to record leads at show so they seamlessly enter into the marketing automation program.  Even better, be able to tap into the lead scoring system at a show, so when a top prospect enters your booth, you can identify their value, and take appropriate action, such as introducing them to a top company officer, or bring them to a conference room for a longer discussion.  Also consider how lead nurturing drip campaigns can include your pre-show invitations and post-show follow up messages.

4.  Growth Internationally:  United States companies that want to grow are looking more at exports to achieve that growth.  Recently President Obama even set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years.  No wonder — according to the World Bank, GDP in developing countries is expected to grow 5.2 percent in 2010 and 5.8 percent in 2011, while GDP in the USA is only expected to grow about half that.

U.S. manufacturers looking to increase exports can get an easier start by exhibiting at international trade shows, either on their own, or within a U.S. pavilion at the foreign show.  Even if they don’t exhibit abroad, U.S. exhibitors can get started or expand exports by paying more attention to international visitors in their booths.

5.  Greater Sales and Marketing Integration.  The economic downturn put even greater emphasis on the need for marketing to better drive sales.  There just isn’t any more leeway for lost revenue and profits from friction and miscommunication between sales and marketing.  Marketing must provide the sales force with tools for every step of the sales cycle, and deliver leads that sales values and will follow-up on.  They become one team with a common goal.  Companies that embrace this partnership are more likely to succeed.

There is no greater example of this than at trade shows, where sales and marketing literally work side-by-side.  In the booth, marketing people have to act more like sales people, and sales people have to be willing to help generate leads for outside their territory.  That teamwork at trade shows builds stronger relationships between sales and marketing.

6.  Social Media: Social media growth has been one of the most high-profile trends affecting business marketers.  More and more B2B marketers have learned to take advantage of social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook to extend their brand reach, communicate with customers, build communities, and generate sales leads.

Those same social media tools are becoming more useful to trade show marketers.  Whether it’s posting on YouTube a video interview with a client in their exhibit, or sending a tweet during show hours to announce a drawing in their booth, business marketers will more fully integrate their pre-show, at-show, and post-show promotions with their company’s social media programs.  Also consider that your popular company blogger may now be a good draw in your trade show booth and that your bloggers could get similar treatment as your industry press as an attendee.

7.  Increased Use of Mobile: As more and more people carry their computer in their pocket, growth in mobile marketing is expected to grow 43% in 2010 according to Forrester Research, much faster than established B2B marketing mediums.  While some marketers are starting by ensuring their websites and blogs view well on mobile devices, others are taking advantage of the location-aware nature of mobile devices to create greater relevance and interactivity in their marketing.

For trade show marketers, mobile devices mean that trade show attendees don’t have to lug a laptop around the show to receive and act on their Twitter and email at-show promotions. Some trade shows are using apps that replace, even surpass the printed show book, with a scheduler, venue city info, and more.  Also, new lead management systems are now available that can be run on mobile devices rather than show-specific systems.  And audience polling apps can be used on mobile devices for greater interactivity, be it in their booth or at conference seminar sessions.

Marketers who exhibit at trade shows control a huge portion of B2B marketing budgets.  While other marketing areas appear to be undergoing more rapid change, trade show marketers are also affected and need to remain aware of how to adjust and adapt to these trends.

Do you have other ideas on how trade show marketers can adapt to these 7 B2B marketing trends?  Or have you noticed other B2B marketing trends you feel are more important to them?  Please share your insights in the comment box below.

Successful Exhibiting Strategies in Uncertain TimesLearn more proven trade show marketing strategies. 

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

9 responses to “7 B2B Marketing Trends Affecting Trade Show Marketers

  1. Mike, this was one of the most succinct summaries of the trends that will be shaping how we market today and in the future. Some of it is so far out relative how it will really generate greater sales, but it makes rational sense to explore every avenue to find the one(s) that will work for you and me.

  2. Great info here Mike. I see you consistently speak about 4 platforms for social media. Do you suggest any others, or do they tend to be a waste as the majority of web traffic goes to the 4 you have mentioned?

    1. Hello Andrew,

      There are other social media sites that have millions of members and lots of views, sites such as Flikr, Delicious, Digg, Reddit, and Stumbleupon I don’t think they are a waste. I just think it’s too overwhelming to attempt everything at once, so if you just maximize your opportunities with the larger audiences at YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn you’re doing great.

      I would say that while you interact via those 4, be serious about creating your own blog (via WordPress!) to tie in all your social media activities.

      Also, the list of those top 4 sites? It may change in 6 months, and most certainly in a year or two, so the choice of social media sites needs revisiting as they are constantly evolving.

  3. Mobile marketing would certainly open new demands for products intended for mobile applications.

  4. Mike, this is an interesting post. Reading it now a year after you’d originally written it, I would say your observations on trends were well placed.

    At recent shows I’ve attended, mobile indeed played a big part, especially enabling people to use Twitter for connecting with people both there at the show and people tracking activity from points around the world, via dedicated hashtags, especially when the shows are linked to informational sessions, which make for some of the most exciting shows.

    The reason I say shows that combine vendor expos with info sessions/seminars are the most interesting is that obviously tons of industry trends and late-breaking information get shared by thought leaders at these shows, and then people can discuss the content right there and then with others in the field. The networking and learning is a major reason to attend.

    It’s been said that “B2B marketing is dead” (see links) but what that really means is the manner of marketing has changed. It’s more and more about establishing relationships founded on trust and respect. The “B2B” equation becomes an “I2I” (individual to individual). It’s more than ever about listening, on each side. Which is why all the channels of social media make even more sense, if used judiciously–after all SoMe is about engaged listening and sharing.

    It’s also been speculated that live trade shows are in jeopardy due to virtual events and contracting budgets, but I find if anything they are getting more interesting and valuable as people maximize their budgets and time there. Recent online/digital shows I’ve attended have only underscored for me the necessity of real events. They are great for listening to some good presentations (often while processing email) and can be decent for generating Twitter sessions, but they lack touch and feel immediacy and typically do nothing to promote product except for very indirectly, and the virtual bonds are much weaker than those from shows. I suspect this newer addition will supplement and increase the number of real trade shows.

    Finally, it’s clear that the distinction between sales and marketing really is getting fuzzier all the time, which means more accountability, sharing of goals and intelligence through the organization, with the emphasis on what’s best for the customer in the cycle. Good changes!

    1. Ann,

      I am glad you attended our webinar last week and entered into our orbit. Your insightful comments are welcome anytime.

      Mobile has exploded with the use of Twitter at shows, plus the growing understanding of creating websites optimized for the mobile device, not just the monster LCD screens that replaced the heavy CRT monitors on everyone’s desk.

      The excitement you mention about late-breaking news at shows is one of the reasons you’re spot-on about virtual helping, not hurting live shows. Many of the people who attend a hybrid event virtually were not going to make it to the live show anyhow. But they get so excited about the energy, buzz, and event happening, that a surprising number do whatever it takes to make it to the next year’s event.

      And as marketers get pushed to deliver provable ROI, not just fuzzy awareness, they are getting closer and closer to sales. Which goes to show that most trends are for the better.

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