Matt Kays, VP of Business Development for Kays Engineering, has managed over 20 trade shows in the last five years.

The company exhibits at six shows during odd numbered years and two shows during even numbered or IMTS years. Kays Engineering makes a major investment at IMTS, including bringing in equipment and extra staff to man the booth, which is why they do only one other show those years.

Matt, who does all his own marketing, has grown his company’s presence at trade shows – and has figured out what works and what doesn’t for his company. We sat down with him recently to get his perspective on trade show marketing.

Trends: Booth Size, Made in the USA

When asked about any trends he’s seeing, especially with regard to attendance, Matt commented that the number of people who attend shows and/or exhibit at them has remained pretty consistent over the last five years.

He finds that in terms of booth size, bigger is better. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean huge; simply moving up from the standard 10’ x 10’ to a 10’ x 20’ booth can help attendees notice you more as they walk down the aisle.

A 10’ x 20’ booth also gives you room to add a machine and/or a table and chairs where you can sit and have conversations with prospects.

“You want to configure your booth so that people can easily enter it. If you block the entrance, they’re stuck in the aisle and are less prone to having a conversation with you,” he says.

One trend that doesn’t work is booth clutter, especially in terms of messaging and signage.

“Attendees,” says Matt, “will ask themselves, ‘Who are you, what do you do, and why should I care?’ You have to make sure your message is clearly stated so people ‘get it’ in mere seconds. You don’t want them overwhelmed.”

One message that does work is “Made in the USA,” especially if you’re competing against international distributors and companies.

Number One benefit: Relationship building

For many manufacturers, especially those selling equipment, the time from initial quote to sale can be very long – from months to years – hence establishing a relationship early on plays a huge role in the sales process.

At trade shows, you have the opportunity for lots of relationship building.

“In the digital age,” says Matt, “face-to-face time at shows is extremely valuable. Trade shows offer a good way to establish a relationship right up front. And, it’s good for prospects to see or demo products live.

Pre-Show Marketing: What works, what doesn’t

Over the years, Matt has experimented with various tactics. The one tactic that works well is sending an email to prospects within a region.

If Kays Engineering is exhibiting at Eastec in Massachusetts, for example, Matt will send an email 4 – 6 weeks before the show to all the people with whom they’ve spoken at previous Eastec shows, as well as to the people within the region who requested a quote but haven’t yet taken action.

“The emails have a link to a specific landing page, and we generally see a 15 – 20% open rate,” he says. “We also send postal mailings, but it’s a little harder to track those.”

Matt sends press releases to approximately 20 publications in order to let readers know Kays Engineering is exhibiting at a specific show.

While 15 – 20% of the publications run the release, it’s tough to gauge whether the press releases bring traffic to the booth or the website as Matt isn’t able to use a targeted URL in the release.

What is effective, however, is print ads. To track traffic from the ads, Matt uses vanity URLs (see Figure 1), which then redirect to specific pages on the company website. Matt can track the redirected traffic.

Figure 1: Kays Engineering ad with vanity URL

“I spent a lot of time a few years ago correlating data between website visits and quotes,” he says. “I know that X amount of traffic translates into X number of quotes. From this data, I know how much a website visit is worth.

“For example, let’s say 25 – 30 visits translates into $4,000. Using the URL data, I can see how many people visited the website from the print ad and compute that into dollars. If an ad delivers a 70% ROI, this means the value of the website visits it delivered is 70% above the cost of the ad.”

One print vehicle that doesn’t work as well is the tradeshow directory. “I’ve not received one visit from an ad in a directory,” he says. “I think it’s because people don’t hang on to them and don’t place much value in them.”

Matt has also been experimenting with Passport, the IMTS marketing app. Users can send secure email to 2016 show attendees and filter down to target people by interests and industry. The app costs $2,300 for two years of access, and according to Matt, is worth the money.

Measuring Show ROI

Matt calculates ROI by determining the value of the quotes they do based on the leads they get from each show. He also looks at the number of badges scanned.

“We use a historical quote-to-sale ratio to predict the expected sales from the dollar value of quotes we send from show leads. We then compare that number to the cost of the tradeshow. Of the 20 shows we’ve done in the last five years, we’ve had a positive ROI on all but two of them.”

Kays Engineering, based in Marshall, MO, designs and manufactures DeHoff and Eldorado deep hole drilling machines.