I had Big Plans™ for 2020. Although I was financially strapping myself in for the most part, as one does following a divorce and big move (from Maryland to Connecticut, to be exact), I had still found a way to squirrel a little money away in my budget each month to go on new adventures.
For example, I was planning a week-long road trip from Connecticut, which would take me (and my Jeep) across New York State, through Buffalo, onward to my final destination of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Along the way, I had planned to stop at local craft breweries, do some hiking, and other fun shenanigans.
Sadly, all of those Pinterest-worthy plans went right out the window within 18 days of me moving to the Nutmeg State, when Governor Ned Lamont issued state-at-home orders and travel advisories, in the wake of the rising COVID-19 pandemic.
So, what did I do with all of that extra budgeted cash that I could no longer use to Eat Pray Love™ my way across the northeast and into Canada? Did I do something smart like build up a stronger emergency savings fund or pay down debt?
Of course not.
Instead, I've spent the last nine months cornering the leggings and athleisurewear market. You know, because I need to look my best "walking the runway" for my at-home audience of one — my cat — now that I'm a shut-in with limited human interaction.
My guess is I'm not the only one who relates to this little narrative. Even if it's not leggings, I think it's safe to say that many of us have gone a little wild with our comfort spending this year.
Here's the thing, though. While these bouts of quarantine-induced retail therapy are OK in our personal lives, we can't take the same approach at work.
So, if you're a business leader who is sitting atop a pile of trade show budget you now have no idea how to use, you might be wondering what the heck you should be doing with it, when leggings, air fryers, and weighted blankets are no longer an option?
Well, you're in luck — I've got a few handy revenue-generating ideas for you!
1. Virtual events or virtual event sponsorships
I want to start this list with the most obvious and literal translation of a trade show budget to a post-coronavirus reality. A virtual event is a great option if your trade show budget was more for putting on an event, rather than attending or sponsoring.
That said, if you're a company that attended events because bringing people to you was so important, you may want to consider a pivot to a virtual events strategy, as well. Or at least consider jumping into the pool of virtual event sponsorships.
When we entered this year, we had a single, in-person event for our strategy. Now, we are closing 2020 with seven profitable virtual events under our belt. Of course, it isn't easy to pivot to such a strategy, so here are a few resources to help you get started:
Remember, you can't just plug-and-play your trade show to a virtual event strategy, with no strategic thought or consideration. Evaluate your goals and clearly define that this is the right move for your business before you take the leap.
2. Invest in your business website
I think if we come away from 2020 having learned only one business lesson, it would be that having a strong, revenue-generating website presence — no matter what industry you're in — is more important than ever before.
But before you run off to the website redesign races, I want to be very clear about something. Making an additional "investment" in your website can easily turn into a money pit if you don't slow down and evaluate what your website actually needs.
One of the most critical competencies your sales team must possess going into the new year (if you haven't made this leap already) is virtual sales training. It doesn't matter what industry you're in, you are now in the business is being able to effectively sell your products and services virtually.
Here are a few of my favorite virtual selling resources to help you get started:
I know that taking budget traditionally allocated for something that is more of a "marketing" activity and applying it to sales training seems like you're "robbing Peter to pay Paul" (so to speak), but remember this: marketing and sales share the same goal of driving revenue.
And if your marketing is running a bit more smoothly, put your money where it's going to make the most difference — beefing up your sales team skills, so that when your marketing team hands off awesome leads to sales, they know how to close those deals effectively in what is now a virtual-first world.
4. Hire the right marketing people for your team
I'm always amazed at how massive trade show budgets can be, with literally tens of thousands of dollars allocated for hotel rooms, branded pens, and happy hours. Those things are still valuable, but if you're wielding a hefty trade show budget that needs a home, I would strongly urge you to add two critical players to your digital marketing team:
If you currently are spending your marketing dollars with outsourced digital content creation — written and video — trust me when I say that bringing your written and video content efforts in-house is much, much more profitable.
5. Invest in the professional development of your employees and teams
Whether you're looking at a platform like IMPACT+ or MarketingProfs, one profound way you can have a tremendous, positive influence on your employees' abilities to get the results you're looking for is to proactively invest in their professional development.
While there are many free options like HubSpot Academy, paid platforms such as IMPACT+ and MarketingProfs offer deeper, role- and skills-based courses, resources, and communities that will empower your people to easily level-up their know-how and core competencies.
6. Invest in smart, paid omni-channel campaigns
Here's a fun fact! While they may sound mutually exclusive and philosophically incongruous on the surface, paid media (like Google Ads and Facebook Ads) and inbound marketing do actually play very well together:
"If you have something new you want to roll out, if you have messaging you want to test, that's where paid benefits.
You're getting in front of people faster than waiting on the organic side to take off.
You can get there faster.
You can get quicker return.
You can make faster decisions.
So, let's say you're in a space or industry that's super competitive. Maybe you want to try out some messaging. Or you have a service that needs more love. Or perhaps you have an offer or something that isn't converting or hitting the right numbers, and you don't know why.
Whatever the case may be, you need to get people on your landing page, looking at that service page, or what have you, at scale, so you can see quickly what is or isn't working.
Again, you can do that faster with paid on your side."
Before you dive head-first into a single-channel strategy, however — where you're investing your dollars into a single platform like Google Ads — I encourage you to learn about how much more effective and powerful a strategic omnichannel paid strategy can be for your inbound, revenue-generating efforts.
Before you make any decisions, do this...
Everything I laid out in this article are great opportunities for you to repurpose your unused trade show in a way that truly brings value (and more ideal buyers) into your company. However, not every solution will be the right choice for you.
Only you can determine which of these options are the right fit, and that begins with having an honest internal dialogue about what it is you really need:
Do virtual events really make that much sense for your business? Or are events (in-person or virtual) something you should move away from?
Is our sales team really equipped to be as effective and efficient at closing deals in what is now a virtual-first world?
Is our marketing approach and team makeup outmoded and in desperate need of revitalization?
Is your website doing its job? If not, are you 100% sure you know where its broken and what exactly you need to do to fix it?
What part of our business is still suffering from post-pandemic consequences? Who really needs the most help?
Do your employees (regardless of their role) have the access they should have the training, education, and communities they need to grow and develop in their roles?
Those are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself right now, and you are the only one who knows what the real answers are. So, before you start making budgetary moves in the new year, slow down and challenge yourself to be honest about where you really need to be investing in your business.
Otherwise, you'll end up with the business equivalent of 20 leggings and hooded sweatshirts you don't really need.