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How To Shift Your Marketing Approach When Trade Shows Are Cancelled ·

Prior to COVID-19, one of the most popular ways to generate leads as a B2B company was using trade shows. 

Under normal circumstances, approximately 13,000 trade shows happen in the United States every year (and that only accounts for 40% of all trade shows around the globe!

And there’s a reason they’re so popular! At the start of 2020, 93% of face-to-face marketers were feeling“optimistic” or “hopeful” about trade shows being an effective marketing medium. That has obviously changed.

But, even without a pandemic at hand, there are drawbacks associated with trade show marketing. Of course, the most obvious one being cost. Depending on the show you attend, the size of the booth you purchase, travel costs and so on.

But, I’m not here to try and tell you not to exhibit at trade shows – because even if we all wanted to, it’s probably not a feasible option until 2021.

So, what can B2B marketers do to make sure that they’re able to fill their pipeline without trade shows?

Virtual Trade Shows

Considering the mass closure of trade shows and travelling, there’s a lot of people who started to look at virtual trade shows. As you can see below, a virtual show looks a little reminiscent of a video game like the Sims, but it is an interesting option for B2B marketers who are looking for the trade show experience without the risk of actually being near other people.

But, of course, the question on everyone’s lips is do virtual trade shows actually work as a lead generation tool? A study conducted by Marketing Profs and ON24 (a virtual event company) showed that 84 percent of virtual event attendees take some kind of action, with 77 percent of those downloading information.

However, despite these statistics on engagement, 85% of people said they preferred in-person events and 92% believed they would receive more leads at a physical conference than a virtual one. 

Virtual trade shows also historically have had lower attendance than their in-person counterparts which means there is likely going to be a smaller audience for you to share your solution with.

However, these statistics were taken prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, so the pandemic may have had an impact on these statistics.


If virtual trade shows aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to consider webinars as a lead generation and engagement solution.

Even before COVID, 73% of B2B marketing and sales leaders said that webinars are the best way to generate good quality leads.

Webinars are definitely on the rise thanks to COVID. So, if you weren’t doing them before, now is definitely a great time to jump on the bandwagon. Particularly, if you were used to doing in-person events like lunch and learns before.

Beyond being a way for you to generate leads for your team, webinars are also a great way to demonstrate some thought leadership and educate your buyers.

So, what does success look like for a standard webinar?

The average webinar attendance rate is 40-50% of the people who have registered. Most webinars have less than 50 people attending, so if you start your webinar and it seems like attendance is trending low, don’t panic. 

20-40% of webinar attendees turn into qualified leads. Which means even if you only have twenty people come to your webinar, chances are at least four to eight will turn into potential opportunities. 

But even just registering for a webinar, shows some level of intent – particularly if it’s on a topic related to what you do. So don’t neglect following up with everyone who registers, there might be some gold in that list.


Next on our list of online lead generation tools is email. A tried and true favourite for many companies.

Even though events are super popular as a B2B marketing tool, e-mail is actually the #1 used strategy for B2B lead generation.

There’s a lot of reasons email is so popular for B2B. When surveyed, 86% of business professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes. CTRs are 47% higher for B2B email campaigns than B2C email campaigns. So, it’s pretty obvious that email is a really useful tool for you to be using.

Search Engine Marketing

Another well known, but often not well-executed lead generation strategy is search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing includes both showing up in organic search results, as well as paid results. 

I have often heard when talking to B2B or industrial clients “oh, no one is searching for the kind of stuff we do – we’re too niche, we’re too specific” The truth is that across the board 80% of all purchase research starts with a Google search – even if they know your brand. We’re so used to the concept it’s literally become a verb – we’re always googling to find what we need.

You want to make sure that if there are people looking for what you sell that you’re there at the top of the search results. Or they’ll just end up visiting your competitors who do show up there.

Online Advertising

So, even when people aren’t specifically searching for exactly what it is you sell; you know that there are certain places your target audience is going to be. One of those places is industrial & B2B publications.

There are two major kinds of ads you can do in industrial publications. Banner ads or sponsored content (also known as native content). Banner ads are the standard display ads that you see shown at the top of sites or in the sidebar. Sponsored content is a piece of content that an advertiser can pay for that is shared alongside the articles written by the publication.

Sponsored content has been gaining a lot of popularity with advertisers and it’s not surprising considering sponsored ads tend to get 8X more engagement than banner ads. That number drives up even higher when you use a solution like ActiveConversion that can share the publication’s subscribers engaging with your ads and content.

Getting Started

While trade shows and in-person events have been paused, it’s important that you don’t hit the pause button on your sales and marketing activities.

If you’re not sure where to get started on your digital sales and marketing journey, ActiveConversion is here to help. Simply fill out a Contact Us form and we’d be happy to discuss your strategy and how we can fit into that.

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