Customer Success Manager
Exhibiting at trade shows can be a fantastic way of meeting new customers. At the same time, you may also come across vendors, consultants and service providers who offer a huge amount of value for your organisation.
When it comes to setting up your stall, however, there are a lot of moving parts in play. Because of that, it pays to have a comprehensive plan to hand. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get the most out of exhibiting at a trade show.
Phase 1: Preparation
1) Booking the event
The first step is to identify whether the event is a good fit for your business. Will the kind of customers you are looking for be in attendance; and will it be an appropriate venue to pitch your offering? What’s important isn’t necessarily the theme of the show but the people who you’ll find there.
It’s the job of event sales reps to sell you a space, though, so you should take what they say with a pinch of salt. Do your research, check their claims and cross-examine similar events. And don’t be afraid to haggle in order to get extra value – the sales staff expect it, and will build it into their pricing. Getting a good deal will have a direct impact on your return on investment for the event, so if you overpay, then you’re setting yourself back from the start.
We’ve exhibited at 14 events in the past year. We suggest that you wait until the last minute (around 4 to 6 weeks before the event) before confirming your booking. Reps will try to push you by claiming that spaces and stands are quickly being taken up, but we’ve found that prices never rise. In fact, it’s usually the opposite, as the event’s sales team do deals to ensure that everything is ultimately sold. At the end of the day, we’ve always found a stand that fits our requirements and provides all the space we need.
At least a month before the event you need to start getting a complete plan together. We use Crugo shared task boards and lists to ensure that everything is covered. It’s essential that everyone knows what they are responsible for and that you have deadlines set to make sure that nothing is forgotten. It’s also useful to set reminders to give yourself soft deadlines before things become urgent!
You’ll then need to order banners, equipment and business cards to stock your stand. It’ll be important to keep close track of the physical items that you need and to keep a log of when new items will arrive, where they’re being stored, when they’re loaded into vehicles and when they’re recovered from the event – it’s a real waste to forget items, and you’ll be kicking yourself on the day if you discover that you’ve left the banners in the office, several hours’ drive away.
Next, you’ll want to get digital marketing campaigns in place to support your appearance at the show. Let your contacts and customers know that you’re in town – and even if they aren’t making it to the show, you can arrange meetings around the event. Showing that you’re getting out and about says great things about your business, and it creates unique opportunities to meet up with your contacts.
3) Practice and practical matters
With the planning well underway, you now need to look to the practical side of setting up your stall. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to plan and design your stand. One idea that is particularly suitable for small businesses is to simply use travel cases or cabinets on wheels. You can then load them up into a vehicle and manoeuvre them around with the absolute minimum of bother.
We practice setting up our stand the week before, so we know exactly how long it should take and how everything fits together – and we can identify any technical difficulties that we may need to overcome, so there are no nasty surprises on the day!
It’s also essential to enquire with the event about set-up times, breakdown times and access to loading bays and so on – which will make a big difference to your schedule on the day itself. You should also ask about access to power and internet at your stall, to ensure that you come prepared. We recommend you bring your own 4G router. It’s far cheaper, and you’ll get far faster speeds. Everyone uses the internet at the venue and, in our experience, it quickly becomes slow and overloaded.
4) Travel and accommodation
There’s then the all-important step of how you’re going to get to the event. You may well need to rent transport, such as a van because you’re probably not going to get all your banners and displays into an estate car. We get all our vans through Thrifty and have found them always to be very cost effective and reliable. This then follows on to the question of whether there is on-site parking and how much it costs. We recommend booking in advance, where you can – and always make sure to check height restrictions if you’re hiring a van!
For a multi-day event, you’ll also need somewhere to stay. We usually book an Airbnb, which tends to be flexible and affordable. Finding somewhere close to the event is advisable, and will make your day easier. Try to get something lined up as soon as your event booking is confirmed in order to avoid disappointment.
Phase 2: The show
After all your preparation, you’re in the venue and ready to start meeting people. This is where your real work actually starts, and you’ll begin to find out whether all the preparation was worthwhile. In many respects, the set up is the easy part – and the days are long, so make sure to wear comfy shoes.
Try to hand out as many flyers and bags as possible. They’re usually one-time hits and the more that your branding is seen at the venue, the better. We tend not to bother with the customer information barcode scanners that are offered by events as they’re overly expensive and people don’t always volunteer their correct information. That said, people don’t always have business cards, so it’s useful to have blank cards available so they can note down their contact information by hand.
It’s important to have your elevator pitch nailed (as well as a good grasp of the FAQs). You’re going to be judged on first impressions, so know exactly how you’re going to approach people. It’s essential to have a firm grip on what you’re going to tell people about your business in the first 10 seconds that you’re talking to them – this initial pitch will have an enormous impact on everything that follows.
And be prepared for a lot of rejection – a lot of people won’t want to talk to you however much work you’ve put into your stand or your pitch.
It’s also fairly rare that someone will buy your product or service on the spot while at the event. We’ve received anything from 30 leads at a local business event up to 170 leads at a two-day London based show. And don’t be afraid to quiz people, collecting information such as their name, their role, their business, what their company does and whether they’re a decision maker or have influence over decisions. This kind of information will be essential after the event, when you’re looking to close. Just make sure to write all this down, unless you’re psychic or have a perfect memory!
You will also get people attending the exhibition purely looking to sell to you. You can usually spot these people right off the bat by the direction of the conversation – so don’t be surprised when this happens, no matter how frustrating it can be.
Finally, try to enjoy the event – they’re great for generating leads and brand awareness, and for meeting real people (and finding out what they think of your product).
Phase 3: After the event
When finally packing up, do make sure to properly dismantle and store your stand if you’re reusing your equipment. This will ensure that your equipment isn’t bashed and scratched up when you come to your next event.
During the evenings, we input leads into our CRM so we’re one step ahead of the rest of the exhibitors to follow up with connections we’ve made. We then make the effort to call all our leads. After having had a personal conversation, people really appreciate a phone call rather than just receiving an email, and this can be crucial to closing a deal. Emails can get lost in the pile, and making a call proves that you’re committed to a person-to-person relationship.
Hot leads for us will usually close at least within the following month. Be persistent with the other leads that are still interested, though, as people get busy – and it doesn’t mean that they’re writing you off.
If you’re considering exhibiting at a trade show, it’s important to have a plan in hand, to know what audience you’re trying to reach and to have a firm grip on your return on investment. It’s also a substantial logistical operation, so your plans should account for travel, accommodation and setup – as well as creating an impressive, enticing stand, of course. Then, when it comes to the big day, your job is to get busy and press the flesh – and to make as many meaningful connections as possible.
Appearing at trade shows is a great way to get a large volume of leads in a short space of time and to have real, in-depth conversations with potential customers. It doesn’t end there though: to make it worthwhile, you need to develop those conversations into relationships and ultimately convince your leads to make purchases. And, of course, that’ll be all the easier if you enjoy the journey along the way!