Practical hints for exhibitors

Maximising the power of exhibitions

Marketing is a peculiar discipline, often full of impenetrable jargon and needlessly complex 'strategising'.

But the more you simplify the art and science of marketing to its basic truths, the more one medium emerges as a uniquely powerful force: exhibitions.

An exhibition is the only medium that brings qualified buyers straight to your company for face-to-face interactions. It's also the only medium to harness all five senses, letting you demonstrate products, answer questions, overcome objections and - most importantly - build relationships with your customers and prospects.

The best results are guaranteed if trade fair participation is preceded with a marketing plan.

Practical hints for exhibitors

Preparing the ground: What to do before the show

Evaluate the available exhibitions

Analyse the audience profiles and choose the right show for you. Pre-selection of the target audience group will result in the following:

  • sales cost reduction by 45%
  • facilitating the sales process by 40%

Set specific goals

Do you want to generate 200 sales leads? Launch your new product to customers, prospects and the media?

The tighter the goals, the better your chances of achieving them. How about meeting at least 25 qualified new prospects? Or finding three new dealers? Or handing out 5,000 samples?

Exhibitions are incredibly versatile. But you need to focus on your most important goals. Want to demonstrate your product to 250 top buyers? Make 40 new appointments? Test a new idea? Sell products directly from your stand?

Establishing specific, measurable goals is probably the single most important thing you can do before every exhibition (exhibitors’ objectives)

Plan the stand to meet the goals

Your stand location, design and activities should reflect what you hope to achieve!

Even if you have a company exhibition stand in storage, think about how you can tailor it to a specific audience.

The number of staff manning the stand and the mix of disciplines should also be goal-driven. Do you need technical staff to explain things in detail? Top managers to meet blue-chip decision-makers? Energetic extroverts for maximum smiling and sampling?

Let your goals be your guide.

Tell people why they should visit you

Make the most of pre-show PR and advertising

You can mail your own lists, buy in a list or mail to the event's list of pre-registrants (organisers often make theirs available).

Tell people what you'll be doing at the show and why they should take the time to visit you.

Stress the benefits.

Add some intrigue. Have a bit of fun. But never skip this vital step.

Benefits are king. And photos help.

Ask the show organiser to tell you which media are doing show previews. You may also want to run your own ads in Preview issues, with a 'See us on Stand 20' flag.

Sponsorship can be an extremely cost-effective way to jump out of the pack at your next exhibition.

Talk to the organiser. Tell them your goals end your budget.

Train your show staff

The first rule of exhibitions is 'The people make the stand'.

Make sure yours are well trained for the job. Selling at an exhibition is different from selling in a one-to-one sales call. Your stand staff need to understand the goals of the stand and each member's specific role in achieving them.

(There are many stand-staff training courses available that can help staff develop the skills they'll need. Contact the AEO or your show organiser for details.)

Use the web

Many shows have web sites to promote the event and register visitors. If you've got a web site, it's a great place to promote your presence at the show. Find out if the show site can provide links to yours.

The number of visitors to the stand may increase by as much as 45% if prior to the commencement of the fair the exhibitor makes use of other marketing instruments, such as advertising, direct mailing, press conferences.

Lights, camera, action!

  • The day has arrived.
  • You've done the groundwork.
  • Your goals are clear.
  • Your people are trained.
  • The doors to the exhibition fly open and the visitors start streaming in.
  • This is where the rubber meets the road...

Brief your stand staff each day

The people on your stand make the difference between a good event and a great event. A highly motivated, well-informed team does more than any other factor to differentiate you from the other stands and make an impact on your market.

Daily briefings are a must!

Remind everyone of your goals, your key messages and the role of each team member.

Report on your progress towards your goals. Make adjustments if necessary. Announce the winner of your lead-generating competition.

Most importantly, keep the energy up and the attitudes positive.

Spend the optimum amount of time with visitors.

The 'AREA' system summarised in the box below describes one way to process people through your stand. The key is to find the right people and spend the right amount of time with them - not too much (there are lots more to meet) and not too little (you need to get that lead or appointment).

Again, the optimum time per visitor will depend on your goals.

But make sure you've planned a system that matches your needs.

This is your AREA!

Speak fluent body language

We've all seen them: the crossed-arms-and-frowns brigade, the newspaper readers, the quick lunch eaters with their backs to the aisle. The staff who are so busy chatting with each other they ignore the people on their stand.

Try something else: divide the total cost of your participation in the exhibition by the number of minutes it's open.

Then remind yourself and your staff how much every minute is worth. Smiles, eye contact, open may be common sense but it's not so common in practice!

Focus on your key targets

Chances are, your key prospects are a subset of the total audience at the show. Decide who your key targets are and brief your team to focus on them. Set your goals accordingly (not just '100 leads', but '75 production directors or senior managers').

Classify all leads

Use a lead classification system to make sure the hottest leads get the attention first. One system used grades every lead as follows:

  1. Large order, ready to buy
  2. Small order, ready to buy       OR          Large order, longer time frame
  3. Small order, longer time frame
  4. Send literature or add name to database
  5. Other' eg. press, salesmen...

Earn media coverage

Invite key journalists to visit your stand - or visit theirs. Keep a good supply of bright, well-presented literature in the Show Press Office (too many exhibitors let this resource go untapped!).

Work with the show organiser to steer the right journalists your way.

And make sure your story is ready when they arrive.

Keep it all business

Lots of very comfortable stand furniture encourages people to drop in and stay on your stand. Do you really want that?

Current customers might expect to monopolise your time. Unless they're your main reason for attending, try to set aside specific times for customers, ideally in a hospitality area on or off the stand.

Networking and social contacts are part of the appeal of an exhibition, but you'll want to keep it under control.

Colourful, high-impact graphics stop buyers while separate stand areas allow to offer free samples, conduct demonstrations, give out recipe leaflets or price lists and close the sales in a quiet meeting area.

Two hints: always bring more samples than you think you'll need and always try to give information as well as a taste.

Reap the rewards: What to do after the show

The visitors have all gone home. The stands are being taken down. Now is the time to follow through all of the new opportunities you've generated. Capitalise on them and turn them into profits.

De-brief the team

When you get back to the office on Monday, sit down with the stand staff and key managers.

Do an honest assessment of what worked and what didn't.

Elicit suggestions for improving performance at future events. Your staff's insights are a valuable asset, especially while their impressions are still fresh.

Measure your results

Remember your specific, measurable goals?

Now is the time to measure your success against them.

If you exceeded your goals, try to determine why, so you can replicate that success at the next event. If you fell short, figure out what you could do better.

Track the leads

Don't just evaluate your results immediately after the event. Many companies do written lead-tracking reports three, six and even nine months after a major exhibition to track the new contacts right through to the bottom line. Only then can you truly determine the value of the exhibition for your company.

Follow up all contacts

Every visitor to your stand should receive a timely follow-up.

The degree of follow-up will depend on the classification of the contact, ranging from a simple thank-you letter to a sales visit, phone call or information pack.

To your prospects, the days and weeks following the exhibition make it clear who most wants their business and who may not be ready to handle it. Don't blow it now!

Send a mailing to all show visitors

You may not be able to meet every visitor, but you can contact them. Most organisers make the visitor lists available in their entirety (often free, sometimes for a one-time rental fee). A quick 'Sorry we missed you but did you know...' can mop up quite a few new leads.

Follow through on all press releases

Call all the editors you mailed your press releases to or who visited you on your stand. Ask if there's any more information they might need.

Tell them of your successes at the show.

A timely phone call now could mean a solid mention in a post-show review read by thousands.

Reserve a place for next year!

If you've met or exceeded your goals, now is the time to lock in a prime location at the next event. Visit the Show Sales Office, or make sure you see a floorplan so you can reserve your stand early.

(quoted from Association of Exhibition Organisers – UK)