Tradeshows can be an invaluable sales tool—or a colossal waste of time and money. Success largely depends on good planning and effective strategies. The right approach will connect businesses to a wide range of customers as well as vendors and even potential partners.
A successful exhibit will benefit any company, but small businesses and startups stand to gain the most, since they can achieve significant exposure from the customer-dense environment with relatively little cost.
How can these businesses get the most bang for their buck? Good planning is critical. Like anything in life, you cannot expect success if you have not put in the effort. Take vacations, for example. Most people spend time researching the best flights and hotels and lay out their itinerary beforehand. Sure, you can play it by ear, but do you really want to show up to the Louvre on a Tuesday—only to learn that the museum is always closed that day—or discover that you flew to the Alps without your new ski jacket? Exhibiting at a trade show is no different. Take the time before you arrive to know what you are doing so that you can do it right.
A good first step is to establish clear goals. What do you want to achieve from your tradeshow experience? What do you hope visitors take away from visiting your booth? What message do you want to send? Are you trying to boost sales, raise the profile of your company, connect with new customers, or launch a new product?
Once your primary goal is determined, you will need to choose the best venue for that goal. There are thousands of tradeshows in North America every year, so finding the right one is critical to success. In addition to Internet searches, talk to your customers and vendors to find out what shows they attend and listen to their feedback. If some of your customers already attend a certain tradeshow, it is likely that you will find other customers there who would also be a good fit for your business.
As you research potential shows, keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better. If a tradeshow draws thousands of people who are not a good fit for your product or service, then you are unlikely to generate many leads, regardless of how many people wander by your booth. Furthermore, smaller companies may find themselves overshadowed by industry leaders at the larger tradeshows.
Once you have chosen a tradeshow, it helps to visit as an attendee before exhibiting. Being onsite is the best way to get a feel for the event and determine if it truly is a good fit for your company. Keep a close eye on the crowd to gauge if the majority of attendees could be potential customers. Notice what companies attract the most attention and what is engaging about their booths.
Do not wait to reserve a space once you have chosen the right tradeshow. The earlier you sign up the more likely you are to secure a high traffic location for your booth. Latecomers often find themselves stuck with an out-of-the-way site that is easy to overlook—if they can get a spot at all. When you reserve your booth, try to choose a location that people are likely to walk past—near the elevators or restrooms, for instance.
Once you choose a tradeshow and reserve a spot, it is never too soon to start marketing! It is crucial that attendees know that you will be there so they can plan to visit your booth. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the crowd and overlooked. Let the media work for you. Issue a press release to relevant trade journals to announce your presence at the tradeshow. And, be sure to prepare press kits to take to the show and leave at the pressroom for reporters to utilize.
Many tradeshows provide email addresses and mailing addresses of registered attendees, so be sure to use that resource to your advantage. Send these potential customers details on your company as well as specific reasons why they should check out your booth. For example, give them a teaser about a new product you plan to launch at the tradeshow or let them know that there will be a giveaway of sample products.
Follow up with phone calls. Go the extra mile and set up appointments for people to visit your booth and discuss business. Fill in as much time as you can with these appointments to ensure a steady flow of traffic to your booth. This traffic might help bring more activity your way—people tend to congregate where they see other people gathered. Check back in a few days before the show to remind people of the appointment.
Once you have people lined up to check out your booth, be sure you are prepared to speak with them. Think about the goals that you set out for your tradeshow experience and create an outline of points to hit with attendees. Be ready to pitch your product or service and to answer any questions that might come up. Keep in mind that most people will only give you a minute before moving on to the next booth, so make sure that you have a clear and concise hook to get their attention.
You will also need to prepare an attention-grabbing display. Print a banner with your company name so everyone knows exactly who you are. Include a few key details—such as a new product or key service—written large enough to see from afar. Be careful not to cram too much information into your visuals; people tend to zone out when they see a lot of writing. Stick to a simple message and be sure to include plenty of blank space in your banners, posters, and flyers. Catchy logos and color coordination are also effective design strategies.
Use a variety of tools to catch attendees’ attention and keep them engaged. This might include touching your product, tasting your product, watching a video, or hearing a catchy jingle. People want to be entertained and wowed—they do not want to listen to a long, monotone lecture about your product. Let them experience it firsthand instead of taking your word for it.
Giveaways also draw people to your booth. Who doesn’t want free stuff? Pass out samples of your product or, if that is not an option, think of an item to give away that relates to your product. For example, a glasses manufacturer could hand out packets of lens cleaner. If there is not an inexpensive item that directly relates to your product, you can still attract attention through giveaways. Just be sure to print your company name and information on the product or package. For instance, a tube of hand lotion or a Frisbee with your booth’s colors, logo, and product name on them can drive traffic your way even if your product has nothing to do with skincare or sports.
Everyone working your booth should understand the company’s intended goals and know what the talking points are. These talking points should reiterate the message communicated visually. As with the visuals, try to stick to just a few points in order to keep the communication clear and simple and ensure that attendees get the message. The same message should also be clearly communicated in all of the marketing materials that you released before the show.
During the show, be sure that everyone working the booth actively engages with passersby. There is not a minute to waste when anyone who wanders by your exhibit could be a potential lead! You should bring enough people to staff the booth at all times so that when one person takes a break, there is always someone standing at the ready. People are far less likely to stop at a booth where people are sitting behind a table or tuned out. Instead, you need to make the first move. Smile and approach attendees when they walk by. Ask them a question or offer them your free giveaway—whatever it takes to politely catch their attention without being aggressive.
Collect the information of any potential leads that stop by your booth and then follow up with them after the show. While it sounds like a no-brainer, it is all too common for leads to fall through the cracks after a tradeshow. Take the time to reach out as soon as you return to the office, rather than catching up with other business first. Potential customers want to feel that they are worth your time and attention and a speedy response communicates this effectively.
A well-executed tradeshow appearance can bring in valuable new business and raise the profile of your company or product. Careful preparation, a clear focus, diligent marketing, and an engaging presentation will all work together to create a winning exhibit with tangible results.