How to Keep Your 2021 Pipeline Full Without Trade Shows

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Sales & Marketing

Symbolically, it’ll feel good to leave 2020 in the rearview mirror.

But who knows what lies ahead in the new year?

  • Will a vaccine prove effective, reinstating travel and in-person meetings?
  • If so, how soon? 
  • What about trade shows? If they’re not cancelled yet, we should assume they will be

So what to do then, in the absence of trade shows? Well, first of all, I encourage you to look at this as an opportunity. 

I’ve consulted 100+ mid-sized manufacturers over the past few years and very few don’t rely on trade shows. Heck, some spend $300K+ on single events – shipping equipment (and lots of people!) across the country, renting floor space, printing collateral, etc. And those are only the hard costs. 

Although most have generally positive things to say about their trade show experiences, few have told me “we consistently source $500K or $5M or (fill in the blank) from these events”. 

More commonly, I hear, “We usually come home with a stack of business cards and might close a few deals. Not sure how many.”

So here’s my big question, headed into a year where from day one, you know you’ll have to do biz dev differently…

What if you reallocated that budget to generating demand in a measurable way among 50% or 75% of the most important buying process influencers in your total addressable market?

Here’s a simple framework for you:

STEP 1. Focus on your best type of customer

Identify your best, most profitable customers. Document that ideal customer profile – industry, role at company, geography, etc. Then document their buying triggers, pain points, personal goals and common questions. Get it all down in writing because you’re about to put it to use!

STEP 2. Create a bank of amazing content specifically for them

There’s so much knowledge stored in the brains of your Engineers, Sales professionals and Account Managers. Those who regularly interface with your best prospects and customers know them inside and out. 

So tap into their brainpower and extract that knowledge for content that will attract, engage, nurture and open the door to sales conversations with those ideal buyers. Your content can come in many forms – from written word to a podcast to live webinars (that you can record and publish as on-demand video content). 

STEP 3. Distribute. Distribute. Distribute.

If your audience doesn’t know your content exists, they can’t consume it. So we need to proactively go out there and target those Engineers, Plant Managers, CFOs and other individuals inside your target accounts and deliver your content directly to them.

Put a little media budget behind it and tell LinkedIn or Facebook (for example), “Show this three-minute video of my two subject matter experts talking about the total cost of ownership of X type of packaging machinery to Plant Mangers from the Food Manufacturing Space in the Midwest”.

Combine this with smart SEO and email distribution playbooks, and now you’ve got a marketing strategy where you’re:

  • reaching the right people with content that matters to them
  • positioning yourself as a thought leader in your space
  • building trust through every little insight you deliver week after week

If you do all this right, believe me, the sales calls will follow.

THIS is what works today. Not print ads. Not brochures. Not direct mail. Not cold emails. And not trade shows (at least for now).

Joe Sullivan is a Cofounder of the industrial marketing agency Gorilla 76 and host of The Manufacturing Executive podcast. Visit for an ever-expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools to help midsized manufacturers identify, attract, engage and drive sales with ideal-fit customers.  Joe is a frequent contributor on LinkedIn, and don’t forget to listen to his show at