By Kristy Campbell

Industry event marketing can be a strategic and cost-effective way for entrepreneurs to network, meet targeted customers, and demonstrate industry leadership. However, it’s easy to get so caught up in the enthusiasm of telling a larger audience about your company that events become a time and money drain.

Quiet the hype and ask these five questions of yourself and your team BEFORE you invest in an industry conference.

Is now the right time for my startup to invest in this event?

Entrepreneurs exhibit at industry events to generate leads and network. But just because customers from your target industry will be there, doesn’t automatically mean that your company is ready to have a booth. Do your goals for the event match your company’s ability to leverage what you achieve. Events can be exciting and fuel connections and ideas, but having one or two successful implementations doesn’t mean your startup is prepared for the broader market. Coming back with strategic contacts or a fistful of leads that you aren’t ready to follow up on squanders your resources and wastes potential customers’ time. If you weren’t spending time and money on an event, what would you be spending it on?

Do I understand the industry enough to know that this event is right for our company?

Taking a booth at a trade show to find out if your solution fits the industry is an inefficient and costly strategy. Don’t sign up for any event until you understand the basics of that industry. How do suppliers to the industry acquire their customers? What are the key industry channels? Are there companies already selling into the industry that would find your solution complementary? If you don’t have industry experience on your team, get an advisor or board member who does.

Do my team and I have the time and know-how to make the event a success?

To be successful at an event requires up-front planning, deliberate execution during, and detailed follow-up after the show.

If lead generation is your objective, AND you are certain that attendees include potential customers who engage with suppliers at this event, create an exhibit space, messaging, and a call to action that attracts traffic and captures contact information. Have a back-end plan for putting that information into your customer relationship management (CRM) system with a process for following up on those leads. Don’t yet have a CRM system? Then what you are doing exhibiting? Go back to question #1.

If your goal for the event is networking and connecting with strategic partners, identify the individuals you want to meet and schedule one-on-one time with them in advance. Many industry conferences facilitate ways to connect with other attendees through the event web site or app. If you expect to get on people’s schedules the day of the show, you’ll miss out. After the event, follow up with a brief email to every strategic contact and add them to your contacts and LinkedIn.

Am I leading with the customer or with my technology?

Conference attendees want to know how your product will solve a real need in their market. In meetings with potential customers and strategic partners, lead with the customer value proposition. Don’t blow limited conference time by diving deep on how the technology works.

Do we look like a company that customers would want to business with?

Don’t think you need to rent out a flashy suite or spend a ton of money on bus-wrap advertising to woo your target customer. Tactics like that can backfire—making potential customers and strategic partners think twice about doing business with a company that wastes money. Focus instead on doing the pre-event legwork to target the right contacts, getting the right message in front of the right customers and partners, and then being organized and deliberate about following up after the even

Events are exciting and fuel connections, but they can also take focus and energy away from building out a core product or getting first customers up, running, and referenceable.

Event-savvy startups take the time up front to assess whether the goals and expectations of participating in any event are aligned with the time and energy that will be required and the results that can be achieved. 

About Kristy Campbell: As Rev1’s COO and CMO, Kristy Campbell leads Rev1 Ventures, the Ohio-based venture fund that helps entrepreneurs build great companies. @Rev1Ventures