How to Execute Perfect Trade Shows
A well-executed trade show exhibit can generate many valuable new business opportunities for your company, while a poorly planned exhibit is likely to be a colossal waste of money and effort. Here are 12 tips that will help your trade show investment pay off.
1. Know the show before committing to go. If possible, scout a show the year before you intend to exhibit for the first time. Talk to industry colleagues about the show. Study the attendance records and demographic reports from the event organizer. Most importantly, ask some of your key customers if they attend the show; if their answer is a consistent “yes,” then you probably need to exhibit there.
2. Set a hierarchy of goals for each show. The three most common trade show goals are generating new sales leads, introducing a new product and improving customer relations. Setting a goal for the show will help you decide what tactics to use.
3. If you are launching a new product, you need a PR plan. Reporters who work trade shows try to book every minute of their schedule well ahead of the show. If you are unveiling a product at a press conference or a hospitality suite, book the venues eight or more weeks prior to the event, and alert reporters early and often via email and phone. Be prepared with press kits and product samples or demos if appropriate. Finally, remember that reporters hate conducting interviews at your booth; there are too many distractions and interruptions. Instead, arrange to meet reporters at the conference press suite or in a lounge.
4. Generate booth traffic with pre-show mailings. Send a postcard to your customers telling them you’ll be at the upcoming show and inviting them to visit your booth. Purchase the registration mailing list from the show organizer and send a mass mailing two weeks before the start of the show. Always give your mailing recipients a reason to come to your booth, such as a new product introduction or a drawing for a prize.
5. Make sure your sales reps know what you expect of them. How many leads do you want them to collect? How many presentations should they make? Do you want them to entertain customers at dinners or events? What reports will they be required to submit?
6. Set a reasonable booth schedule. Working a show is exhausting, so create a schedule that gives your booth workers a morning and afternoon rest break and enough time for a reasonable lunch. Set aside time for each worker to walk the exhibit floor and check out the competition, and allow time for your reps to meet with customers off the floor.
7. With sales literature, less is better than more. People collect reams of paper at trade shows, and most gets thrown away without ever being read. Smart exhibitors hand out a simple, inexpensive tri-fold brochure and promise interested visitors that they’ll follow-up by sending them a full informational kit after the show.
8. Don’t view give-aways as a necessary evil; see them as a way to incur indebtedness. The fact is that people like collecting freebies, so don’t waste time complaining about the sense of entitlement that booth visitors have about getting the. But don’t put out a basket of pens for the taking; instead, give something of greater value to a visitor who has actually spent time with you. And when your guest thanks you for the gift, ask for a favor in return, such as sending a colleague or manager over to your booth.
9. Arrange an off-the-floor presentation about your product. Many show organizers will allow exhibitors to present, but you’ll be better served by arranging for one of your champion customers to conduct a presentation about his or her experience with your product. Don’t forget that planning for a presentation should start a full 12 months before the show.
10. Right after the show, send a thank-you message to every prospect you met. It could be a hand-written note, a mail-merged letter or an email; just make sure you tell the recipient what to expect as the next step in the sales process.
11. After each show, conduct a "lessons learned" meeting to assess its value. Employees who worked the show should fill out a feedback form like this one. Review what worked and what didn’t, and start a to-do list for the following year.
12. Resist the temptation to have your sales manager, marketing director or administrative assistant coordinate your trade show activities. Why? Because these people work in the “now,” always focused on this week’s urgent project or problem. Pulling off successful trade shows takes year-round planning. Even if you attend just one or two shows a year, you should use a dedicated trade show coordinator.
Remember, booth space and travel account for the lion’s share of your trade show costs; that money will be wasted if you don’t devote the appropriate resources to trade show planning, marketing and management.