Your 2015 B2B Social Media Predictions Are Totally Wrong. Or Maybe They Are Totally Right!

b2b-social-media-predictions-2015It is the time of year when bloggers dust off their crystal balls and try to predict what will happen in B2B social media in the coming year. I have done this for many years myself. Whether these predictions are based on recent data, anecdotal experience or pure conjecture, they are frequently wrong. Or maybe they are right.

But the best part of writing these blog posts is that nobody ever goes back and looks at last year’s post to see what bloggers got right and what they got wrong. It is a content creators dream come true: attractive headline, shareable content, no repercussions.

Anyone can predict the future if they are not accountable for being right.

These opinion pieces are just that. Opinions.

It is very easy to find a survey and say that B2B companies are increasing their social media budgets. The percentage of B2B marketing budgets spent on social media will rise from 9% to 13% in the next 12 months. It will continue to rise to 21% in the next five years. This single data point will let a blogger predict growth in social media budgets for the next five years. And this survey is updated every year, so this one can go on for eternity.

But nobody is checking up on the bloggers to see what really happened. Or the marketers.

Every year the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs release their benchmark report about content marketing. But in this year’s version they changed the definition of content marketing and the number of B2B marketers indicating that they used content marketing went down from the previous year from 93% to 86%. Does this mean that bloggers can use this study to predict the decline of content marketing? Of course they can.

But other parts of the report reveal that B2B marketers are spending more time and money on content marketing. These selective data points support a prediction of increased reliance on content marketing. A blogger can take their pick of the direction, based on their opinion.

And be right either way. Or wrong.

What about making predictions about mobile? Is this really the year that B2B marketers will finally embrace mobile? It’s very easy to predict. Even easier than it’s been for the past five years that bloggers, including me, have been predicting it. 58% of American adults have smartphones. The breakdown of that data is even higher when you look at groups that likely contain your customers. And that data is almost a year old.

Predict away about the impact of mobile, but B2B marketers will prove it wrong once again. B2B websites, white papers, ebooks are still designed and built for desktop computers. This is one of the biggest no-brainers for marketers in years. But bloggers can predict this until they are blue in the face, but it is just not happening.

Other areas that inspire prognosticating for 2015 are marketing automation, social media advertising, scaling of social media across organizations beyond marketing, measurements of success beyond chasing likes and followers and true executive understanding and adoption of social media.

But for every one of these data-supported predictions, there will be many B2B companies that just don’t follow the trend. And prove the predictions wrong yet again.

It is easy to sign up for a Twitter account, but hard for many B2B marketers to embrace the platform and share information that is of value to their customers. It is easy to pull a white paper out of the archives and say you are doing content marketing, but harder to build a content funnel that matches prospects’ interest and timing so it can all lead to sales. And yes, it is easy to look at your own behavior on your mobile device as a rallying cry to go “Mobile First,” but to get all the pieces in place to make this happen at most B2B companies is hugely challenging.

For many B2B companies 2015 will be the year of true social media adoption and success at many levels. Unless I’m wrong.

Photo credit: Flickr

20 Most Important Stats from the 2015 B2B Content Marketing Report

The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs released their annual benchmark report on B2B content marketing. It is based on surveys of 1820 North American B2B Marketers across all industries and company sizes. This is the fifth year that they have released this report, and it continues to improve each year. The entire report is embedded at the end of this post.

The first, and most notable stat in this report is that number of B2B marketers using content marketing has gone down from 93% last year to 86% this year. That is because they changed the definition of content marketing to “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Apparently this helped some respondents realize that there is a difference between content marketing and just creating content.

This is a benchmark study, so it gives you something you can compare yourself to. The study also examines the habits and activities of the most effective B2B content marketers, so you can see how you are doing against those who report that content marketing is meeting their goals and driving business value.

1. 86% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing

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2. Only 38% of B2B Marketers rate their content marketing as effective

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3. 47% of B2B Marketers have dedicated content marketing groups

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4. 69% of the most effective B2B Marketers have dedicated content marketing groups

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5. Only 35% of B2B Marketers have a documented content marketing strategy

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6. 54% of the most effective B2B Marketers have a documented content marketing strategy

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7. 55% of B2B Marketers plan to increase their content marketing spending in the next year

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8. The top goal for B2B content marketing is brand awareness

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9. 83% of B2B marketers use content marketing for lead generation

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10. 81% of B2B marketers use content marketing for engagement

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11. 70% of B2B Marketers have created more content in the last year

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12. 63% of B2B Marketers use website traffic as their metric of content marketing success

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13. 94% of B2B Marketers use Linkedin to distribute their content

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14. 88% of B2B Marketers use Twitter to distribute their content

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15. 84% of B2B Marketers use Facebook to distribute their content

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16. 54% of B2B Marketers see producing engaging content as their biggest content marketing challenge

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17. 50% of B2B Marketers see producing content consistently as their biggest content marketing challenge

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18. 49% of B2B Marketers see measuring content effectiveness as their biggest content marketing challenge

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19. 54% of the most effective B2B Marketers publish content daily or multiple times per week

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20. 37% of the total marketing budget of the most effective B2B Marketers goes to content marketing

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Give Your B2B Customers Clear Calls-To-Action on Social Media

b2b-social-media-call-to-action2Sometimes B2B marketers focus all their efforts on creating the best content, the ultimate customer experience, the perfectly nuanced status update to drive traffic back to their website or blog, but they forget to provide a clear call-to-action for the visitor.

The other extreme is to create a complex series of Rube Goldberg-inspired steps to get a visitor to the right place that is very nearly personalized for their interests, industry and stage in the buying cycle. This is not a bad idea in theory, but an overcomplicated process confuses prospects and they may never convert to a customer.

I was on vacation in Alaska for the past week and stopped at Meier’s Lake Roadhouse to get gas (click the picture above to enlarge it). This remote roadside stop understands the difference between just telling their customers something and providing clear instructions what action they would like them to take.

“Meiers Lake Roadhouse is now on Facebook,” reads a simple printed sign (shown below).

As a traveler passing through, and unlikely to ever return, I would not gain much value from liking their Facebook page. But maybe it was the perfect spot in this remote area to get gas before running out. Or maybe I ate at their restaurant, stayed in a cabin or bought the perfect souvenir to remember my trip. Maybe I just enjoyed my interactions with this Alaskan independent businessman.

“We appreciate your reviews,” was the second and only other thing on this sign.

Liking their Facebook page is not the action they want you to take. It is just a means to get to the call-to-action. They are asking you to leave a review. If this was a good place for you to stop, then it might be a good place for others. And the owner of Meier’s Lake Roadhouse wants you to let others know about your experience. It is a simple ask, and it is very clear.

There is no need to beat this idea into the ground, especially since I am just back from vacation. Here are the two social media lessons from this Alaskan roadside business:

1. Make sure you give prospects, customers and visitors an obvious call-to-action, by telling them what you want them to do.

2. Make it simple and clear.

And even though these are lessons for social media and online activities, they definitely apply for physical interactions.

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B2B Sales Pros Need to Create Demand with Content Marketing

b2b-demand-generationI recorded another video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but that really oversimplifies the process.

Today’s conversation is about demand generation. Tom smartly points out that no matter how much content you create or share, if you are not creating demand for your product or service, nobody will want to buy it.

Highlights of the Conversation:

  • Without demand, there are no buyers.
  • Use authoritative third-party content to create demand for your products or services.
  • Create hybrid content that “wraps” your own content in someone else’s authority.
  • Speak the language of your prospects and customers.

How are your sales teams using content to drive demand for your B2B products or services?

Photo credit: Flickr

What’s the Difference Between a B2B Blog Post Topic and an Ebook Topic?

b2b-blog-post-ebookB2B marketers are trying to produce and publish more content than ever before. More social media channels mean more content. More followers mean more content. More content from others means more content. And ever increasing goals mean more content.

In this ongoing battle between more content and better content, B2B marketers sometimes choose the volume side of the fence. When your boss is looking for more leads for the sales team, one way to get there is by producing more ebooks. Even though this can sometimes create an unsustainable model of content that can spiral out of control, I have seen the result of heading down this path.

Blog posts masquerading as ebooks.

Since ebooks are often gated content hiding behind lead forms, it is easy to think that you should turn some of your blog posts straight into ebooks. But that is not the way to build trust in your content or your company. Blog posts drive traffic to your site and the ebook offer converts the visitor. They are not likely to fill out a lead form for lightweight content. The ebook offer needs to provide more depth to the blog post topic, not just be a blog post prettied up by a designer and converted to a PDF.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good B2B blog post topic (Tweet This)

  1. It is about one simple idea.
  2. It can be based on another blog post.
  3. It can be based on one product update.
  4. It can solve one customer problem.
  5. It can easily be divided up into several small sections.
  6. It can easily be presented as a short list.
  7. It doesn’t need complex graphs or charts to explain it.
  8. It doesn’t require more than one author.
  9. It can easily be read on a mobile device…
  10. in a short amount of time.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good B2B ebook topic (Tweet This)

  1. It is about a big or complex idea.
  2. it can be based on several blog posts.
  3. It can be about something one level more general than your product category.
  4. It can solve several customer problems, or one big problem with multiple steps.
  5. It can be divided into multiple chapters.
  6. It can contain lists as examples within chapters.
  7. It can use charts, graphs or graphical elements to better explain or divide it up.
  8. It can have multiple authors to bring multiple perspectives to it.
  9. It is substantial enough that it needs to be downloaded…
  10. and maybe even printed out to read it.

Have you considered creating a PDF of a single blog post idea just to get leads? Did the short term result of leads pay off in the long run with sales?

Photo Credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

Grow Your B2B Audience by Considering Size, Engagement and Value

b2b-marketing-audeinceJeffrey K. Rohrs is the Vice President of Marketing Insights at ExactTarget, a salesforce.com company, and the author of the new book, Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers. I had the chance to talk to him about the importance of audience development in B2B marketing and how this idea needs to be considered as a crucial part of achieving success across social media, email and more.

What’s the premise of your book Audience?

Lots of people say every company is a publisher. Every company is a broadcaster. And we’ve seen some companies really embrace that quite well, and do some wonderful things through content marketing.

But what’s been gnawing at me for a while is that I go to a lot of the content marketing shows, and I hear people speak about what they’re doing in content marketing, and they have what I call Audience Assumption Disorder.

They think their beautiful, well-thought-out content; their wonderful ebooks; and their tremendous videos are just automatically going to get traffic. And it reminds me very much of the early days of website development, where people had that “build it and they will come” mentality. That’s simply no way to build traffic.

The days of “built it and they will come” never really existed in the internet, and yet people continue to operate under that assumption. So what I’m trying to do with Audience is reflect on my experience with email, mobile, and social, and boil it down into some thinking that parallels the growth of content marketing.

Newspapers and magazines have editorial, but then they have a nice wall, and over on the other side of the wall is audience development and circulation. And that’s true of broadcasting as well. There are people who are constantly thinking about how they can bring more people to the table so that when we do have content, they’re going to consume and share and amplify.

And right now, if you look across marketing organizations, you really don’t have audience development professionals, even though every single part of marketing is very dependent on audiences. These are audiences that we can build through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SMS and contests.

All these channels are siloed because as each new channel came around, you developed a tactical approach to it. How are we going to leverage this? Are we going to leverage this? I call it the Pre-cambrian period of marketing, where we had this explosion of all of these new, evolved states of direct communication in the last five to ten years.

After dust settles on all of these new channels and we know what we should do from a tactical and a strategic standpoint, there’s going to be a rise in new responsibility, and that is audience development. Without audience, content is a tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it. And without content, the audience has nothing to consume and engage with, and doesn’t develop loyalty or interest in the brand.

So this duality of content and audience is very intriguing to me. Content marketing is still at its early stages of development. And you have great folks proselytizing out there, like Joe Pulizzi and Jay Baer and Ann Handley, but there’s nobody similarly carrying the torch of audience development.

And therefore we’ve been left to siloed responsibilities, where you have people who are in charge of email marketing, and in the back of their mind — or maybe it’s their third or fourth or fifth responsibility, they’re supposed to grow the email audience. But they often don’t have any influence across all of the different marketing tactics that they could use to grow the email audience.

The same is true with social media. It gets a little bit more traction because it’s visible in public how many fans and followers you have, so there is a little more top-line focus on audience growth. But across all these channels, growth is really a three-dimensional kind of object. It has size, both in terms of absolute number and quality and caliber of the data.

The second is engagement, which is always so touchy-feeling in social media. But what it means in terms of audience growth is you actually have an audience that’s paying attention, and ready to pay attention the next time you have something important to say.

And the third part is value. We measure the value, or ROI, of these channels focused on campaigns, instead of saying, “What is the aggregate value of this audience on an annualized basis?” If you look at your audience in terms of what it brings you over a non-audience member, for example, a customer versus a customer who’s an email subscriber, you start to see the value of that audience as an asset.

And it’s that asset-based mentality towards proprietary audience development that marketers need to develop. We can’t just look at the individual ROI. We can’t be so tactically focused all the time. We need somebody who’s looking horizontally across all of the different audiences as their focus. This role develop into a director, or a senior director, or a VP level of audience development.

You need to look out across every single channel and understand which channels produce the best audiences in terms of value. And then maximize what you’re doing across all those different channels to grow those audiences by those three dimensions of size, engagement and value.

B2B marketers approach social content, and even all of their marketing, from a persona-based perspective. How does the idea of personas layer on top of this view of audience development?

What I see is that your persona-based development now has to take place with consideration of where those personas live and what they are willing to do to become a part of your audience. When you’re thinking about creating your persona for Jamie, a small business owner and mother of two, or Bill, the 20-something Millennial who’s unattached and has a decent income, you’re not just thinking about their interests, their income level and where they live. You’re also thinking about where do they live in the virtual world, and what are the channels that they’re willing to engage with brands through. That becomes an important part of the development of the actual persona, which then translates into which channels you should prioritize in order to build those direct relationships, and build these audiences and assets.

That’s a perfect world scenario, because if you develop your personas absent an understanding of the channels they live in, then you’re apt to have some inefficiencies in your paid advertising and your owned media efforts. You’re also not going to get as much earned media out of it, because you’re perhaps chasing them in the wrong places.

So relative to B2B folks, it’s a matter of making sure your personas are also looking at what types of channels they’re looking at. The kneejerk reaction with B2B is to say, “Oh, well, you should consider LinkedIn.” Which is very, very true. But those personas may deal in some places where you might find that Facebook’s going to have some interests for you on maybe the HR employee development side of things. Twitter’s going to have certain implications for you beyond just your advocates and influencers. Instagram could have an amazing place in the world for certain personas.

b2b-maersk-marketingJay Baer cited the Maersk Shipping Company in his book, Youtility. Look at what they’ve done with photography, these giant vessels, and explaining what their industry is. And out of the woodwork come folks who really appreciate that industry and are willing to share it in what are ostensibly personal social networks like Facebook, as opposed to just professional ones like LinkedIn.

So I think my bottom line is to make sure that your persona is taking into consideration the channels through which your audiences are willing to have those two-way communications with you.

How does a content-based call to action sit alongside the idea of overall audience development?

This brings up the larger question of how large your audience needs to be so that you actually get results of people taking that action.

The first thing is that you really need to take a step back and decide, are we investing as much time in audience development and distribution as we should be relative to content creation?

You’ve got a lot of companies who have it upside-down, who are out there creating content, creating content, creating content, and they’re not measuring results efficiently to understand that they might be creating the most beautiful content in the world, but they’re influencing such a small percentage of the available broader audience out there that their efforts would be much better directed towards more efficient activities.

This is called the Audience Imperative. We need to use our paid, owned and earned media to not just sell in the short-term but to increase the size, engagement and value of our proprietary audiences over the long-term. So the content is a carrot at the end of the stick. It certainly does attract people to us. But it often attracts three types of audiences: seekers, amplifiers, and joiners.

Data often attracts seekers. It attracts people who are looking for information or entertainment. But those are temporal audiences. They’re there. They’re gone. Once they get entertained or they find information, they leave. We know these people as Google searchers. We know them as television viewers, radio listeners, window shoppers.

The amplifier audience is the one that we most closely associate with social media. It really is just any sort of word of mouth. Social media just technologically enables word of mouth.

But again, with amplifiers, they don’t have to have a relationship with you. They can be there, and they can be gone in a split second of a retweet. They see some sentiment that they like and they retweet it. Somebody who follows them retweets that. They’re an amplifier. So they’re an audience of yours. They’re an amplifier of yours. But you have no relationship with them.

So with both seekers and amplifiers, we should be looking to convert them over to the joiners. The ultimate joiner, of course, is a customer.

Short of that, we’ve got these subscribers and the followers, and all these different types of channels that have different expectations and needs. And job number one of marketing is to make the sale, but one of our jobs now is to get more out of what we do with paid, owned and earned media. That means we need a secondary call to action, or in some instances a primary call to action, to join our audiences.

And that way, the next time you go out with content, you’ve got a bigger audience to impress. Content marketers don’t have the kind of collaborative relationship that they need with email, mobile, and social teams who are managing these very siloed audiences.

This is why I think there’s going to be a director of audience development at some point, because that becomes the person who is the peer to whomever is in charge of content marketing, and those who work hand in glove to say, “All right, how am I going to get you a bigger audience?”

That might mean advertising. It may be that I go over to the brand folks and say, “That ad you’re about to run, just having our logo at the end isn’t sufficient. I want you to have a really clear call to action to come join us on this site. Follow us, or subscribe, or what have you.”

Those conversations will start off the org chart conversations among people who understand this. Content marketing will play a really important role. Email and social media play an important role.

And out of that we begin to understand that if we’re truly going to appreciate and build our audience as assets, we need a leader of audience development. We need a person who can think about this. And it’s only going to benefit the content marketers, because they are going to get broader distribution.

Work in B2B? LinkedIn Can Supercharge Your Personal Brand

b2b-LinkedIn-LogoEmployees at B2B companies know that LinkedIn is the B2B network. It can meet a host of individual and business objectives such as increasing awareness, enhancing SEO, driving website traffic, dripping on prospects and lead generation.

In 2004, when I was running digital marketing for a financial services company, one of my project managers told me he had joined LinkedIn. I asked him what it was. His answer? It’s kind of a digital rolodex that connects people. I didn’t really get it at the time but since I was the guy in charge, and supposed to be leading the digital efforts, how could I not join?

Well, a decade later, I am a believer. LinkedIn is more like a rolodex on steroids and then some.

I’ve used it for all of the things mentioned above, but today I’ll focus on a couple of my favorite tips which helped me become one of LinkedIn’s top 1% most viewed profiles and will help you to supercharge your personal brand.

Start Them Up With Your Summary

Your summary is the first piece of content your profile visitors will see. It’s where you can clearly differentiate yourself from others in your field. What you do in your profession are table stakes. For example, a financial advisor will typically help clients save for retirement, or create financial plans to increase wealth. If every advisor in town does the same thing, how does one rise above the rest? That’s where the summary comes in.

Think of your summary as the place to tell your story. Not in a static resume kind of way, as that’s what the rest of your profile is for, but in a more dynamic and engaging manner. Start by considering simple questions beyond who you are and what you do. What do you stand for? What have you done that’s cool, fun or different? How can you showcase your personality? And why would someone care? Consider what you write as the value proposition of your personal brand. Your value prop separates you from everyone else, so use that to pique your profile visitor’s interest and generate immediate interest in you.

Before you finalize it, consider your keywords. That’s right. Not unlike your website, consider the keywords you want people to find you with – not only via LinkedIn searches, but web searches. Search engines pay attention to LinkedIn profiles and using them as indicators of relevance so choose those keywords carefully and you’ll enhance both your search engine optimization (SEO) and your awareness generation efforts.

Stay Top of Mind with Status Updates

Businesspeople are starting to use the status update feature but there is plenty of room for more. In fact, LinkedIn is allowing people like you and me the opportunity to blog on LinkedIn as another form of status updates.

Status updates appear on the home page of your connections and group members. They can be shared, liked and commented on which will expand your reach even further. Your updates will get noticed if you post enough relevant and engaging content.

To be successful, begin with a content strategy. Decide what you want to post based on your value proposition and what you want to be known for. You can post original content, share other content, curate content – there are a lot of ways to do it, just choose what’s best for you.

I’m a content curator. I research content every day to source content that my network and prospects will find interesting. I schedule my posts a day in advance using HootSuite, and post every two hours starting at 7:00 am. I chose this schedule based on research I did about when my prospects are online and engaging with content. Though I may not get as many views and shares as Jeff Weiner or Richard Branson, I know my content is seen, as I’ll have people stop me in the supermarket asking to chat about something I shared.

Increase awareness, stay relevant, and support your brand with status updates.

What else have you done to supercharge your personal brand on LinkedIn?

I Went to a B2B Trade Show, Was Underwhelmed by Your Presence and Kept Walking

b2b-social-media-trade-showB2B companies make products to solve problems and make their customers’ lives better or easier. B2B service organizations help customers run their businesses more efficiently or more cost effectively. These are noble causes. Sure, if we are successful at it, we make money, but a business product that doesn’t add value to the business is not worth considering.

And social media doesn’t help this problem.

If you have a bad product or service, social media provides both an outlet for frustrated customers and the means to amplify the message further.

So let’s assume that you have an awesome product that solves problems, a great team to provide services, and even a great sales staff to explain the value proposition and close deals. With all that awesomeness in mind, take a look at your trade show presence.

Really take a look at it.

Are you telling a compelling story? Are you enticing prospects to stop by and chat about your great products and services?

Or are you giving away pens and hard candy? Maybe you have progressed to give away squeeze balls in the shape of the world. Maybe you made enough of them that it is in the shape of your logo. These are perfect for the conference attendees who need a gift for their children. I know it has always worked for me. Even as a teenager my daughter still loves kitschy trade show giveaways.

And don’t even get me started on collecting business cards, scanning badges and any other means of gathering leads. “I just need a business card to give you one of those squeeze balls.” What’s the follow-up plan for those leads? Gathering dust on the sales manager’s desk?

Are you building awareness at the top of the funnel? Are you qualifying prospects or are you just trying to hit a metric that someone else imposed on the marketing team?

How about sending them an email newsletter or your latest ebook? It’s better than many of the emails I get. “Thanks for stopping by our booth. Did we tell you how awesome we are while you were there? Can we schedule a phone call with our junior level inside sales person to remind you how awesome we are?” This is not a follow-up plan. This is spam. And nobody will respond.

This is what happens when your only trade show metric is gathering leads rather that acquiring qualified prospects. And it is obvious to everyone who walks by your booth.

Here are 5 tips to change the outcome of your next trade show:

1. Adapt your personas for the trade show audience to make sure you present the correct message to the onsite audience.

2. Focus on qualified prospects as a metric of success, not raw lead numbers.

3. Don’t bother giving away something with no connection to your business that provides no value.

4. Create a true follow-up plan with a timeline, prepared emails and phone scripts and areas of responsibility.

5. Enhance your trade show presence with social media by posting and sharing content resources before, during and after the event to provide value to all attendees, but especially your targeted prospects.

Photo credit: Flickr