Exhibiting at trade shows can be a good way to raise your profile and generate sales leads, but it's not cheap. We look at the groundwork you need to put in before going to a trade show, to maximise your success on the day.
Trade shows bring the main players in an industry under the same roof at the same time. Attending as a visitor is a good idea if you want to check out the competition and make new contacts. Being an exhibitor presents an opportunity to make even greater business gains - but it's essential that you're well prepared and go in with a game plan.
Here are the four main things you need to get in place before the big day.
1. Setting exhibition goals
Exhibiting can be costly, so you will need to be clear what you want to achieve. Typical reasons for taking a stand include launching a new offer, generating sales leads or conducting market research.
"You are more likely to achieve your objectives if you have specific, measurable targets in mind," says Tom Treverton, former director of the Association of Event Venues. "For example, to secure ten sales leads and/or carry out 100 market research interviews.
"People are very conscious of the thousands of marketing messages that get pushed their way," he adds. "But at a trade exhibition, it's all about permission marketing. Attendees choose to be there to see your type of business, so you can get a good return on your investment from an audience that has chosen to engage with your brand."
2. Planning your exhibition stand
Stands need to be well-designed in order to attract visitor attention, so work out how best to tailor yours for your audience. Remember that you only a have a few seconds to make your impression as visitors walk by.
Consider which display and promotional materials to use, and keep a supply of impressive-looking literature on your stand and in the show press office. You don't need to spend a fortune, as long as your business appears professional - no wobbly tables or poorly-printed banners.
Your location in the exhibition hall will also affect your visibility. The most desirable spaces cost more. For a couple of thousand pounds, you should be able to rent floor space and a basic stand from the organisers; you may decide a better location is worth an additional investment if it generates more leads.
Alternatively, you could settle for a less visible spot and spend more on an eye-catching custom stand. Being creative with your spending can ensure you make the biggest impression possible within your marketing budget.
3. Pre-event promotion
Experienced exhibitors tend to contact prospects and customers in advance to let them know that they'll be at a particular show, and would welcome visitors. Any email or mailing should focus on your main goal (such as a new product launch).
Also give leaflets promoting your appearance to your sales team/agents/distributors to pass out, and keep more in your reception area. VIP tickets are often a valuable way to entice more visitors to your stand.
Show guides, catalogues and the show website should all carry your news and company information. In the majority of instances this is non-chargeable, and a good way to get your name out in advance of the show.
In terms of advertising, find out which channels the organisers are using to promote the show. You can dovetail your advertising with the places where they are running previews and/or features. A PR agency may be able to come up with ideas (and contacts) to get you extra coverage in your local press.
Amend your social media profiles with the show info - and your website and email signatures too, so that all your points of contacts act as a small reminder in the run-up.
Finally, remember that many events will set up a diary or appointment system. Pre-book as many appointments as possible so you can predict traffic and busy periods. Not all will be adhered to, but a plan subject to change is better than none at all.
4. Training your stand staff
"Many firms prepare well and set up a great stand, but when the show doors open they think the job is over," warns Treverton. "They haven't thought about how their staff are going to interact with visitors. Your employees on the stand represent your brand, so they need to be appropriately briefed and trained.
"A motivated, well-informed team does more than anything else to differentiate your firm," he continues. "I've been to exhibitions where people are sitting down at their stands, eating, chatting to each other - it doesn't look professional."
Staff also need to be well briefed on the importance of generating leads. Make sure that visitors are given your contact details, so they can find your website and social profiles after the show, and that staff capture theirs so you can keep in touch.
After the show, follow up on new opportunities you have generated. Every visitor to the stand, for example, should receive a follow up, whether that's an email, a phone call or a sales visit. It's also worth reviewing the exhibition to work out whether you met your goals, and how to do it even better next time.
With thanks to business writer Tom Whitney and Simon Naudi of Answers Training International