How to make business exhibitions work for you

Blurred photo of a business exhibition

People buy from people. In our digital world, exhibitions can give your business a unique marketing advantage - the opportunity to meet, connect and build rapport with prospects and customers face-to-face. Here's how to make the most of business exhibitions and events

Going to a business exhibition is often seen as a big investment, particularly by small businesses. However, by investing in the short term, you can reap benefits in the long term, turning the leads collected at an exhibition into loyal customers.

Choosing the right business exhibition

To get the most out of your investment, it’s important to pick the right exhibitions, trade shows and conferences. By doing your research and understanding what you want to achieve by attending, you can establish whether the event will match your objectives and deliver your target audience. Search for suitable 

If you're attending a business conference, it needs to have a strong speaker line-up to draw visitors to the event. Also make sure that the event's marketing strategy is focused on delivering the maximum visitors through the door, and ensuring these visitors are decision-makers.

Ask the event organiser how they market the event and how they maximise visitor numbers.

Build relationships at business events

Exhibitions, conferences and trade shows are the perfect platform for meeting key people in your industry - giving you the opportunity to market your business face-to-face.

Talk to as many people as possible, take the time to learn about their business, and remember to take their business card. You’ll need it to follow up after the event.

Don’t forget that the event can also be used for carrying out market research. Ask people what their needs and objectives are, and get their opinions on your brand, products, sales pitch and marketing material. You may be surprised by how much you can learn.

Pre-exhibition planning

Careful preparation before you go to a business event is vital - it will help you maximise opportunities and the value you get from attending. Read the exhibitor manual carefully, and ensure you organise everything you need on your stand (such as lighting and electricity) in good time.

Set objectives for the event, and put a plan together as early as possible. This should include all deadlines for getting the stand designed, and the information you need to submit to the organiser.

If you're exhibiting for the first time, you may need bespoke materials to promote your business - from custom-built exhibition stands, banners and graphics to take-away marketing literature and promotional gifts. Specialist exhibition suppliers can help you make a big impression on a limited budget.

Promotional gifts

Branded gifts and gadgets are an excellent marketing vehicle. Thanks to the prominent logo, they become a great way to promote your brand. Giving out a branded gift or gadget at the exhibition is an unmissable opportunity to create a great first impression with a potential customer.

According to surveys, 94% of users remember how and where they received a promotional gadget. 85% of individuals appreciated the gift so much that they felt the desire to do business with that brand. A promotional gift or gadget can extend your brand's visibility up to two years from the date of the gift.

Gadgets work like metaphors: they communicate certain ideas and impressions which consumers will associate with your business. For example, giving away branded wireless chargers will create an entirely different impression than a traditional calendar, mouse mats or pen. Equally, a customized gift made from recycled materials, you can subtly communicate green credentials to your audience.

Customized promotional gifts are easy to source online. Once you have identified the most suitable promotional item, look for a quality provider. You will be able to select your gadget, upload your logo and place your order for fast delivery - well before the exhibition.

Marketing messages at business events

Make sure your exhibition marketing messages are prepared in advance of the event. Your messaging should be consistent across your stand, in company literature, on your website and in press material.

Make sure you can clearly communicate who you are and what your business is about. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need an 'elevator pitch'. This pitch should say everything a prospect needs to know about your business and its USP in less than 30 seconds.

Maximise your exhibition presence

Maximise your presence at business events by combining it with your other marketing efforts. Use direct mail, e-newsletters, social media and PR to raise your profile ahead of the event.

Check the event website to find out who the media partners are, and target these publications with your press releases.

You’ll also need to prepare a press pack, as most exhibitions have a press office for journalists attending. A press pack should include background information, images, news, customer case studies and contact details. Invite journalists to your stand, or set a time to meet them for a chat.

Following up after a trade show

Remember, the event doesn’t end when you’ve left the venue. In fact, in most cases this is when the important work starts. Make sure you follow up with all the leads you’ve generated and the people you’ve spoken to.

Many events offer the ability to scan visitor barcodes (on their badge or lanyard) at your stand. The data is provided to your business in a spreadsheet after the event for easy follow-up. This ensures you have details for everyone you met, even if you didn’t get their business card or contact details at the time.

You need to keep your business at the front of your prospects' minds by staying in touch after the event. This increases the chance of converting your leads into long-term relationships and sales.

For hot leads, a phone call follow-up shortly after the event is appropriate. For others, send personal messages inviting them to stay in touch, perhaps by connecting on social media.

Many sales can be completed at the event, or soon after. However, some relationships will take months or even years to translate into a sale. Staying in touch helps maximise your long-term return from the event.

With the right preparation, exhibitions provide an excellent platform for building brand awareness and generating sales leads. It’s important to build a pipeline of new business opportunities all the time and to keep your current customers happy. Attending an event, conference or exhibition offers your business the chance to connect with current and prospective partners and customers.

Six great reasons to attend business exhibitions

Here are the benefits for your business, according to research by The Freeman Company.

1. More bang for your buck

Exhibiting is one of the most cost-effective way to reach qualified audiences. The average cost per visitor reached at a trade show is £120, while the average cost of a field sales call is £195.

2. Closing sales is easier

Sales leads gathered at events require less effort to close. Only 0.8 calls are needed to close a qualified trade show lead, compared to 3.7 calls to close a typical business sale.

3. Meet more fresh faces

Only 12% of the average exhibitor's stand traffic has been contacted by that business in the previous 12 months - the remaining 88% are new prospects.

4. Reach the decision-makers

B2B shows deliver high-quality visitors. 82% have buying influence for your products or services, and 49% are actively planning to buy.

5. Persuade in person

Event attendees use the opportunity to 'comparison shop'. This is your opening to point out where your product is superior to those of competitors - in performance, pricing, customer service, and so on.

6. Face time

You can reach more prospects in three days at an exhibitions than your sales force can in three months. Meeting prospects and engaging face to face is also the fastest way to build relationships.

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