Virtual trade shows can be a boon for your small business in terms of networking and generating leads while allowing you to stay close to home. According to Market Research Media’s most recent Virtual Conference & Trade Show Market Forecast, the virtual event market is on track to reach $14 billion by 2018. By 2023, it’s expected to climb to $18 billion, a sign of their increasing popularity.
You can expand your contact list through virtual trade shows. Here’s what you need to know to be a networking pro.
1. Fully flesh out your profile
With a virtual trade show, you rely on your profile to paint a clear picture of who you are. Moving beyond the basics of just your name and title can help you stand out and attract interest from potential connections.
For example, your profile could outline your small business’s mission and history. Include a brief rundown of the products and services you offer. You can also spell out the problems your business solves for its customers. The goal is to create a profile that’s compelling so prospects and potential partners will want to learn more.
2. Check the roster
Before a virtual trade show gets underway, review the list of event attendees. Specifically, take time to identify any competitors attending, as well as the industry influencers who are set to make an appearance. This can also be a useful way to build your prospect list of potential customers you’d like to connect with. Be sure to share the breakdown of who’s who with your team, particularly anyone who’s going to be manning your virtual booth during the event.
As you’re scanning the exhibitor list, take note of the names you already know and the ones you want to. For example, let’s say you’re interested in finding a mentor or having a conversation with a notable name in your industry. If you’re attending a virtual trade show with people that are currently part of your network, they may be able to help by offering you an introduction to some of the key players.
3. Be actively engaged
Even though a virtual trade show takes place online you still have an opportunity to interact with prospective customers or other small business owners. On the contrary, virtual events typically offer multiple ways to socialize, including live chats, forums and message boards. This is a prime opportunity to reach out and say hello or lay the groundwork for a more in-depth conversation.
When you’re prepping for the event, take the time to work out a schedule for manning your booth. Someone from your team should be available during all show hours to respond if a target contact pays a visit. Again, this is why step #2 is so important. If you or your employees don’t have a clear idea of who you’d like to network with and why, opportunity may pass you by.
4. Track your traffic
One of the great things about virtual events is that you have the ability to track who’s coming to your booth and what they’re doing while they’re there. For instance, you can see what kind of content they’re accessing, how much time they’re spending at your booth, which discussions they’re getting involved in and what questions they’re asking. Besides that, you also have their name and contact details.
All of this information can be invaluable for expanding your network, if you know how to use it. As you collect the data, take time to sort visitors into two basic categories: sales leads and networking leads. Keep track of who’s visiting your booth and compare that to the list you made earlier, identifying your competitors, influencers and prospects. You can use the names that overlap on both lists as a starting point for who you plan to reach out to first.
5. Follow up
The end of a virtual trade show event is just the beginning for growing your network. At this point, it’s time to take action to ensure that none of your leads falls through. There are a few ways you can do this. The majority of them are the same ones follow up tactics used after a physical show.
For instance, you could send out a friendly email a day or two after the show is over to say hello and refresh your contact’s memory of who you are. Connecting via social media is another option. Always strive to be polite without being pushy and look for ways to add value to the relationship. Just remember to aim for striking the right balance between give and take with any new contacts you make.