Exhibiting at a tradeshow is one of the most cost effective ways of getting new customers, but it pays to have a good strategy for maximising the return on your investment, write Warwick Merry and Danielle Storey.

Too often businesses rush into exhibiting because it is "good for branding" or "you can make lots of sales" or even "because the competition is there and I don't want to miss out". Exhibiting is one of the most cost effective ways of getting new customers but if you do it wrong, it is one of the best ones to haemorrhage cash.

Here are the 10tips of a successful exhibitor or event sponsor:


1 Set goals

People often have no idea why they are exhibiting. They don't know why they are on the stand, what the business is hoping to achieve or how "success" will be measured. You must know why you are there and "branding" doesn't count unless you have a strategy on how to measure any shift in brand awareness.

Once you know why you are there, make sure everyone on the stand knows the goal. That way they can work towards it.


2 Pre-market

When you talk about exhibiting, most people get all excited about how sexy the booth will look and what else will be at the show. Hardly anyone takes the opportunity to do pre-marketing work prior to the show.

Don't depend on the show organiser to bring in the crowds. Do your own marketing to your prospects, existing customers, target market and loyal fans to get them to the show. Consider holding a private function for your high worth clients to say thank you and have them bring an industry friend.


3 Booth set up

Don't forget the exhibit stand is not about you. You think it is; your marketing department will insist it is, but it's not. It is about your customer and your prospect. What will they want? What do you want them to do? Make sure you set it up so it is easy for them to do what you want them to.

If you have a show discount, have signage to let them know. A sign saying, "ask me about the show discount" encourages them to engage in a conversation. A sign saying, "50 per cent off" gets them salivating. What do you want them to do?


4 Plan for worst

In business (and in life) a motto for success is "expect the best and plan for the worst". As an exhibitor this is your motto to live by. Plan on couriers not arriving, luggage being lost, signs falling down and your location changing and you won't be disappointed.

Disasters occur on a regular basis in the exhibition world. What counts most is your ability to engage with people and satisfy their needs with your products and services. Not your booth, your location, your freebies, your branding or any other item. Make sure you can keep your cool and deliver when all around you is going to hell.


5 Have 'pick-up' lines

Exhibiting at a trade show, expo, market or conference is exactly like speed dating. You are at a place surrounded by people who want what you've got. They are nervous, hesitant, shy and scared of making the wrong move to the wrong potential partner. You need to get their attention, attract them to what you've got and engage them into a lifelong, mutually beneficial relationship.

One thing that has proven itself for centuries is the will delivered pick up line. Make sure you have some. Naturally different ones work on and for different people. Find one that works for you and use it.

If the lines you have are not working, change them. If the ones you used successfully yesterday are not working this morning, change them. Do what it takes to get their attention and then engagement.


6 Have lead cards

Collecting business cards is not enough. They are over whelming and do not give a focus on what you need to do next. Have simple lead cards you can staple to the business card. This lead car can capture some basic but important info, such as:

  • Priority – Are they an A, B or C prospect?
  • Interest – What product or service are they interested in?
  • Follow-up – What day of the week is best to follow-up with them?
  • Budget – Do they have a budget set aside for this purchase?
  • Reason – What is their main reason to buy?
  • Existing – Who is their existing supplier?

You can have a lot of this information in a checklist format so that a few simple ticks on an A5 sheet will give you valuable information you can use in your follow-up call.


7 Be present

If you are on the show floor, be on the show floor. Turn off your phone or computer (better still, leave them at home or in the room), focus on the prospect and work toward achieving your goals. It is too easy to be distracted. Your firm will have spent tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for your time on the stand. Give those few days everything you've got.

Your feet will hurt. Wear your most comfortable shoes and toughen up. It's only for a few days. Do not sit down. You will lose money. People will not approach you, you will start chatting to colleagues and not be present to the reason you are there.

Be there for our prospects and customers; the rest of the world will wait while you are on the floor.


8 Follow up

The half-life of interest in you and your product after you exhibit is two business days. By that I mean, in two days they are half as interested as they were on the floor. Another two business days, they are half as interested again and so on.

Book out the two days directly after you exhibit to use for follow up. Naturally you will have mountains of emails and phone messages. They will wait another two days; your show prospects won't.


9 Measure

What gets measured gets improved. You also need to measure if your exhibit process was a success. Look back to your original goals, did you achieve them? If not, why not? What level of success have you experienced? What is the return on your investment?

Only by measuring can you establish whether you will exhibit at this particular event again next time. Granted you may need to commit to a couple of shows before you can measure the results but it is essential to measure your exhibiting success.


10 Have fun

People would much prefer to do business with people they like. Enjoy your time on the floor. It is an absolute buzz and you will meet some amazing people as you do it.


Reference – 7 July 2013 – CIM Australasia's leading business events magazine