Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez from Pexels

A trade show is an event where companies that are involved in a certain industry gather to exhibit their products learn about current trends in their industry, and gain knowledge about their competitors. Trade shows provide opportunities for selling, reinforcing existing relationships, and launching new products. These events can range in size from a small regional show featuring fewer than two dozen participants to massive national shows, which may draw hundreds of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors over a period of several days to a week.

The continued validity of trade shows exhibitions provide businesses with excellent opportunities to stand on equal footing with far larger competitors. For small companies with limited marketing budgets, Trade shows can serve as an economical and effective pathway to new clients and increased industry visibility. Moreover, trade shows provide entrepreneurs and their business managers with priceless opportunities to gather information about new industry innovations and competitor products and/or services.

Selecting the Appropriate Trade Show

The first step in establishing a presence in a trade show is choosing the right show. Finding the show that best meets your company’s needs is crucial, since exhibiting is a costly proposition. Attending the wrong show is a frustrating waste of time and money. In order to avoid committing to a trade show that provides little in the way of new business or contacts, companies can take several precautions:

Businesses should request detailed statistical and other information on past trade shows from the organizers.

  • What was last year’s attendance? Was the show visited mostly by serious buyers or by browsers? Savvy business owners are aware that some trade shows pad their attendance numbers by counting every person who walks through the doors, including exhibitors and repeat visitors.
  • Is there demographic data available on attendees? For example, how old is the average attendee? Male or female? What is he or her income?
  • Who else will be exhibiting? Will your competitors be there?
  • How stable and successful is the show promoter? Are they experienced in managing a show and delivering an audience, or is this a new, untested exhibition?
  • What will the cost be? Expenses include booth space (typically 25 percent of your expenses); furnishings, equipment, and other exhibit expenses (30 percent); utilities (20 percent); transportation of staff and materials to and from the show (15 percent); and preshow promotions (10 percent). Booths that incorporate new electronic technologies will add to the expense as well.  Some companies that exhibit infrequently rent displays (typically portable booths that come in east to assemble kits) rather than invest in booths. 

If you are a small venture with a new and exciting product seeking national distributors, then the goal would be to attend a national show with high visibility and attendance by all key players. If, on the other hand, you have an exciting product that you want to expose to new markets, you would target potential buyers. For example, if a company decides that one of its software packages (originally designed for and used by the publishing industry) also would be useful to teachers and educators, the sensible strategy would be to attend shows aimed at teachers instead of computer software industry shows.

Experts counsel entrepreneurs to scout potential trade shows before committing resources to a booth. Business owners can often get an accurate sense of trade show’s value simply by visiting a show, sponsoring a show related event, or participating in a show related seminar or conference. All of these avenues can be excellent ways of gauging the quality of the attendees.

Business owners are also urged to consider whether or not he/she should even be exhibiting at trade shows. A very small business with limited funds and a clear business model might decide that the best route to go is direct mail and promotions to a well-defined audience.

 On the other hand, a business that is attempting to publicize an established product with low profit margins might well decide that attendance at large national and regional shows with heavy traffic are a good strategic move. And some industry sectors, such as high tech, transportation, communication, and manufacturing place a heavy emphasis on trade shows..

Preparing for a Successful Trade Show Exhibit

Once a business owner has decided to attend a specific trade show, there are steps that he or she can take to ensure that it is a successful and profitable endeavor. Of course, shows will vary in content, character, and tone from industry to industry, but for the most part, these guidelines can be followed no matter what field your business is in.

Perhaps the most important first step is to approach the show with enthusiasm and treat it as a sales opportunity and not a money drain. To take advantage of the opportunity, set specific goals. If the purpose of the show is to gather leads, then set a number in advance that would make the show, in your mind, a success. Compare actual leads gathered to that target number to gauge whether or not the show was worthwhile.

According to a research on trade shows, 45 percent  of trade show attendees are drawn to a company’s exhibit as the direct result of a personal invitation (via direct mail, email, telephone, and through the social media platforms), trade journal publicity, or preshow advertising. A trade show is worthless unless prospective customers visit the booth, and the best way to ensure that those visits occur is to make them aware of your location on the floor. Indeed, industry surveys indicate that 75 percent of all trade shows attendees make out their schedules in advance of arrival. This is an important step, then, so companies should make sure that they allocate sufficient funds for marketing needs.

Staffers manning trade show booths should be personable, well-informed, and well trained to demonstrate and sell your product and/or service. Conduct a preshow meeting with all key personnel who will be part of the show, from employees who will spend their time at the booth to the shipper who will send your products to the show and be responsible for setup.

Let each person know what is expected of them at the show, and make sure that they know about all pertinent facets of the effort, form the location of promotional brochures to products that should be highlighted. Other assignments, like observation of competitor’s booths and materials or breaking down the booth at the end of the show may be assigned to specific people. 

Successful Exhibition

Getting attention on a crowded show floor isn’t easy for a newcomer. However, you can create a respectable looking booth inexpensively without being tacky: Buy good quality, three sided skirts for your tables and portable banner stands for signage, and make flyers on your computer to set on plastic literature racks. Don’t clutter the space with lots of giveaways, but do hand out your business cards and a small gift with your logo and phone number on it to qualified leads.

There are two types of booths you can set up at a show, with different sales techniques needed for each. One is designed to make sales in the show, so salespeople should be trained in “one interview selling”, quickly identifying a customer’s needs  and selling him or her your product  to meet that need. At such a booth, it is common to have smaller and less expensive items on display and for sale at the show. Larger and more expensive items can be sold at the show and delivered later. All sales at the show should be at a discount over the regular price, at least 20 percent. If sales are your goal, be prepared to deal with cash, credit cards, and checks.

The other kind of booth is more informational and fewer sales oriented. It is primarily designed to meet people, to demonstrate a presence in the industry, to promote customer relations, or to generate new business deals. It can also serve as an excellent meeting point for people you are hoping will invest in your company or join you in a partnership. Since the focus of this type of booth is not sales, the booth personnel should approach their roles differently than that of a pure salesperson. Interaction produces valuable feedback.

In the booth itself, try and have at least two people on duty at all times so that visitors receive a healthy measure of personal attention. Arrange the booth to maximize flow of traffic, for overcrowded booths will lead many potential visitors to pass on by. Instead they should encourage browsing and be attentive to signals of interest in products/services from visitors.

Make sure everyone who will be manning the booth understands the rules of etiquette at trade shows. There should be no eating or drinking in the booth, and no smoking. Do not spend time talking to the other salespeople in the booth. Assume friendly body posture and look receptive to questions. Perhaps most importantly, do not be in a hurry to get out of the show, since many people will wait until the end of the show to make their purchases.

Post Exhibition Follow Up

Businesses that maintain a quality presence at a trade show are likely to obtain a number of business leads during the show’s duration. Yet many companies never follow up on these leads. According to research statistics, as many as 83 percent of exhibitors do not engage in any sort of organized post exhibition marketing to trade  show visitors. This is a terrible oversight that blunts much of the business potential at trade shows. With this in mind, trade shows experts offer a variety of tips to make sure that business owners make the most of their trade show experiences:

  • Allocate money wisely. Many analysts believe that businesses should devote at least one third of their total trade show budgets to post exhibition follow up. Separate hot leads from those that seemed lukewarm or ambivalent and concentrate on those.
  • Use a lead sheet to collect information on prospective customers who visit the booth. If applicable, send new leads back to the home office every night.
  • Make sure that salespeople follow up on a lead within one or two weeks after the show; time is often of the essence in these cases.
  • Do not gather more leads than you can follow up on. Analysts contend that many business owners or representatives that gather a surplus of leads at trade shows are likely to break promises made (sending literature, following up with an answer to a question, etc.) at the show, which will reflect badly on the company.
  • Do not let new leads keep you from servicing existing customers. If you cannot handle new leads without neglecting the existing customer base, then maybe you should not be at the show.