12 tips for trade shows

  • We were at the Federation of Small Business Expo in East Sussex this week, which prompts us to share a few thoughts on what we learned while there. Here are our 12 top-tips on making the most of a trade show.

    1. Advertise your presence
    Your leverage of the event should start from the moment you make the commitment to go. Arguably it is the role of the organisers to promote the event, but it does no harm to give them a hand where you can. We told our contacts that we were exhibiting and also made announcements on Twitter and Facebook.

    2. Don't skimp on the stand size
    We took the second smallest stand available and frankly wish we had gone bigger. The extra cost for a larger stand deterred us at the time of booking, but would only have been a relatively small increase on the total cost of attending. Give yourself enough space to operate and make the biggest impression you can.

    3. Invest in your stand
    We invested appropriately in large panel graphics for the stand as well as a flat screen TV to create a moving display of our work.

    Many other exhibitors failed to do anything like this. A trade show is a shop window and yet many businesses' stands looked more like a car boot sale than a boutique.

    Plan in advance and be creative: you will be surprised how little it costs to make a stand look good. Whatever you spend on hiring the stand space, we recommend budgeting at least as much again on furnishing the stand itself. This is your brand and first impressions count.

    4. Arrive early
    Arriving early (even the night before if possible), means you can get the stand set-up calmly and deal with any of the last minute hitches that inevitably occur. This also gives you the opportunity to network with the other exhibitors, who could all be valid prospects (they certainly are for us). There is a camaraderie amongst exhibitors, which normally makes them receptive to approaches. The time not to try selling to them is when they are promoting their own services to delegates - you will be deservedly ejected from the stand if you do!

    5. Take a team
    Working on a stand is physically and mentally draining and, no matter how strong you are, you will need a break at some point. There is nothing worse than an un-manned stand, so make sure you have some cover. A rest will re-energise you and having somebody else on the stand is good for maintaining the motivation.

    6. Brief the team
    We had a team briefing just before the doors opened to go through our pitch and generally remind ourselves of why we were there. The money we had spent on being at the show was made known to everybody, as was what we needed to achieve to make a return on the investment.

    7. Work out your pitch in advance
    Once the doors are open and people start coming past your stand, the time you get to put your pitch across is tiny, so you need to be ready and confident with what you are going to say. Savvy B2B marketers wrote a very timely blog post on the elevator pitch, which we used to structure our own approach. We have provided a link at the end of this post.

    8. Don't be afraid to approach people
    Hiding timidly in the back of the stand isn't going to get you very far. Talking to people is why you are there.

    The need to approach people is another reason to have a good opening line worked out in advance. The IT support business on the stand next door to us simply said 'Do you have a PC at home or in the office?' The answer was invariably 'yes', which set up the opportunity for a longer conversation.

    9. Celebrate success
    When somebody on the stand gets a lead, celebrate it. Everybody likes a pat on the back and success breeds success.

    10. Stay until the end
    Have you ever watched how many people leave a football match 5 minutes before the end? Why do they do this? Is beating the traffic more important than the money they have spent to be there? And how many times is there some amazing action in the dying seconds?

    The same principle applies at a trade show. Always stay until the end, even if it seems all the action has passed. We got our best lead at a previous show right at the end of the day when everybody else was packing up. You have committed the time and the money to be there, so use every minute. Getting home early could be more costly than you will ever know.

    11. Review the results immediately
    Despite the fact that everybody was exhausted at the end of the day, we didn't go home until we had been through all of the leads and reminded ourselves of the potential of each one. Memory fades, even overnight, and staring at a pile of business cards and hastily filled out lead forms in the morning can be a confusing and frustrating experience.

    Going through the results was another chance to show everybody how well we had done and to thank people for their efforts.

    12. Follow-up
    The whole exercise is wasted if you don't follow-up on your leads...and quickly. Going through the results the night before allowed us to prioritise who we needed to contact straightaway, who we should diarise for contact across the course of the next few days and who we should simply be adding to our email data-base (no contact is ever wasted).

    Prompt follow-up is polite, professional and another reflection of the efficiency of your business.

    Our results
    We identified 8 'hot' leads on the day, 7 warm leads and a number of additional contacts that might prove useful in the future. Inevitably there were a number of non-starters, including people who approached our stand with services that had no relevance to our needs.

    By lunch time on the following day, we had been in touch with all of the 8 'hot' leads, had 4 firm appointments in the diary and an agreed way forward on the others. The other leads had all been appropriately followed-up by the weekend. The ball is now firmly in our court to turn these leads into clients and achieve our target ROI.

    If you have any tips on how to make the most of a trade show, please comment. We're happy to share them and learn.

    The perfect elevator pitch - Savvy B2B Marketers
    Exhibition support services employed by The Marketing Eye - PR Exhibitions

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