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7 tips for exhibiting at trade shows

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I’m always on the lookout for new ways to grow my business and last year I decided to revisit the traditional marketing tactic of exhibiting at trade shows. Fewer companies do it now, so I was interested to see if it would raise interest in the printer ink cartridges we sell online. Over the eight exhibitions we attended I learned a few things that I’m sharing here.

1. Relevance and location 

Do your research and ensure that the show is targeting the right audience for your business. Visit the event a year ahead if possible, and certainly quiz the organiser on visitor demographics; quality over quantity is what you’re after. Also check how many of your competitors will be there and decide if you are comfortable to go head-to-head.

Picking the right stand location is important. The best positions are where people congregate and linger, so outside conference rooms, next to where they stop for refreshments and also by places geared to let visitors rest or network. And go for the middle plots over the perimeter. But also look for a location that’s amongst complementary businesses if possible.

2. Marketing ahead

Check how the organisers will promote it. Are there any PR opportunities for you? Mailshot any existing customers who are local to the exhibition – it’s better to have a busy stand than a quiet one, and it gives you an opportunity to put a face to that customer.

3. Get heard

If at all possible, get a speaker slot – but don’t use it as a sales pitch. You’ll get a bigger audience if you give out objective advice and aim to educate. Or ask a customer to speak with you and let them tell the story of their pain and how it was solved (by your company of course, but no need to ram that down people’s throats).

4. Set targets

Exhibiting is expensive so you need to be able to measure your return. We aim to generate ten to 15 per cent of attendees (based on the number of pre-registations) as “hot leads”. If we achieve over 25 per cent, we celebrate.

5. Staffing

Everybody at the trade show needs to know your objectives for the exhibition, what their targets are, and to be giving out the same messages.

Stay cheerful, however much your back hurts. Giving staff regular breaks and keeping them hydrated will help here. Maintain eye contact with the punters and don’t let your team sit behind their laptops or check their mobiles on the stand.

6. Attracting attention 

You need to stand out. With a name like Stinkyink.com we are ahead from the start as it draws attention and makes people smile (sometimes).

Consider your stand design. Get creative; build a shop interior, a film/photo studio or a laboratory; have some action going on. Give a demo or talk every hour and display a schedule of what’s on.

Think of something memorable to give away – even better if it has a direct connection to what you do and will remain in use after the exhibition. Decide if all visitors will get one or just a select few hot prospects, and this will dictate how much you spend on each gift.

Review your literature – is it interesting, concise and easy to identify what you do and why you are different? Does the design stand out from a distance? Use upright stands to display it.

6. Capture visitor data

The badge barcode readers supplied by organisers make this part very easy; they save you losing the business cards and making errors in writing people’s contacts. You get all the data in a spreadsheet that can be imported into your database and actioned. However, it’s still good to have some printed forms, pens and a stapler to collect additional notes.

7. Measure and follow up

To me, this is the most critical part of the whole process. You won’t know if the show has washed its face until a few months afterwards.

We try to convert at least 50 per cent of the “hot leads” into customers within a six month period. We email all attendees that we have details of, then my sales team hit the phones. Best to contact people while the exhibition is fresh in their heads, so don’t leave it longer than a couple of days.

So did exhibitions work as a marketing tool? Well, put it this way, I will be returning to one event but chalking the others up to experience.

John Sollars is a serial entrepreneur on his third business, Stinkyink.com.

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