By Cassie Oliver
There are hundreds of trade shows taking place in the UK every week focused on every industry and business need. Each event represents a significant sales opportunity for businesses; in fact a surprising 29% of buyers only buy at trade events.
Although the initial outlay to promote your company at an exhibition or trade show can take a large chunk of a small business marketing budget, events like these are an ideal platform for a small business to get in front of potential customers, as you can meet buyers and decision makers face to face and on your own terms. It actually costs 22% less to contact a potential buyer at a show than through traditional field sales calls, so these events definitely deserve a place in your marketing plan.
Here we share some pointers on how to choose which events to go to, get the best value for your spend, and maximise your return on investment.
- Be Selective – Research each event you’re considering, and compare them against each other to choose the one with the best potential.
- How many people attend?
- Are they potential customers for your business?
- Do your competitors attend, and if so would that put you off?
- Is the event good value for money compared to others?
- What’s included in the stand package?
- How do the additional costs compare?
- Are speaking/seminar slots available, and do you have to pay for them?
Event companies are in the same position as everyone else in that they need to make sales. Find out which points they can be flexible on, and negotiate these; for example:
- Size of stand
- Location of stand
- Price of package
- Extras they can throw in – e.g. a seminar slot or enhanced directory listing
**TOP TIP: Befriend event organisers and let them know you can be available to replace companies who drop out at the last minute – either for stand space or a speaker slot. It’s a long shot, but by saving them a headache of trying to find a replacement you may bag a bargain deal.**
In the run-up to an exhibition there are various decisions to make and things you’ll need to get ready. Lots of these you can do yourself to save money, but others you’ll need to get from suppliers or the organisers, so you need to factor timescales in when you plan and order things.
You’ll need to decide about:
- Stand Location: Corner stands, near the café, outside the room where the keynote speeches and seminars will be taking place…wherever there will be the most footfall.
- Furniture – chairs? A table for a laptop? Don’t overcrowd your stand, there needs to be room for people!
- AV Equipment/Projector – are there images or videos you want to show?
- Internet access – do you really need it?
- Power – probably an essential
- Lighting – not completely essential, but your stand will look much better with than without
- Backing material (see backdrop point below)
Be careful to read the notes and guidance from the organisers, as each event is different and there are certain rules to follow and deadlines you’ll need to meet to make sure everything happens on time. In some cases you’ll be charged extra for placing orders after the cut-off point, while at some events you can’t order at all after the deadline, so be aware.
Organisers do make the most of their captive audience to upsell all sorts of things from permission to broadcast audio to flowers and at-stand catering, so don’t get carried away or before you know it you could be footing the bill for an expensive (albeit luxurious!) stand package. Do some research well in advance of what you can provide yourself and whether it is cost-effective to do so once you have factored in other costs such as transportation and fitting.
- Print/Promotional items – estimating how much you’ll need is a fine art.
- Selection/Recruitment of staff to man the stand – who will give the best impression?
- Training – prepare staff for the event, explain targets and incentives, etc.
- Breakdown plan – make sure everyone helps pack up before they disappear to the pub or to get their train. Make arrangements to transport everything back to your office or storage.
- Follow-up – contacting and nurturing the leads is critical to maximising ROI.
- Measuring performance – calculating revenue achieved as well as other metrics.
Once your stand is booked, and you’ve ordered any print and equipment you need, you can turn your attention to making sure everyone knows you are going to the event. This is especially important if you have a speaking slot, as you want to make sure there are plenty of bums on seats at your session!
Mention it on your website – if you can, update your homepage with an announcement. Promo panels or sliders are ideal for this.
Blog about it – A blog post pre and post event is a great positive news story to share with your readers.
Tell your customers – include an update in newsletters, get your Sales team to mention it in calls and meetings, add it to your email footer… there are plenty of ways to let your existing customers know you are going to an event. Why not send a separate message to invite them to go along?
Social Media – Share your blog post and updates from the organisers across your Social Media channels to create a buzz of anticipation. Most events will have their own hashtag, and this is a good way to find out who else is going, as well as reach out to prospects before the day itself. Make sure you take photos and video while you’re there, and share these to increase engagement.
- Your Stand
Make it inviting
- Remember, less is more. Bells and whistles won’t win you clients. We’ve seen buyers run the other way from a stand with pumping music, an 8ft high inflatable man, go-go dancers and a remote-controlled blimp (true story!).
- Offering visitors free drinks and a place to sit down and take a breather always go down well.
The walls of your stand are an ideal place to put information about your products or services, and there are various ways to present this. Here are some ideas:
- Place banner stands or pop-up displays in front of the stand walls – you’ll lose more space, but the information will be presented exactly as you want it, and will look very professional.
- Print information directly onto stand panels – looks professional and will save space, but is costly to produce/update.
- Fix A3/A2 posters to Velcro backing with Velcro dots – cheap and effective, easy to update/refresh
Videos, presentations – any moving imagery will catch the eye of passing visitors and entice them towards your stand to find out more.
If you don’t have any videos, you can create a presentation with simple statements, questions and quotes to catch people’s attention and draw them in to find out more. Set it up to run by itself, and you’ve got a cut-price version that you can easily update and tailor to each event.
- Give visitors something they’ll use, ideally closely related to your line of work.
- Pens (although not original) go everywhere, and keep your brand front of mind.
- Any sweets or other food you give people should be wrapped.
- On the day
Have clear objectives
- Sale on the spot
- Book appointment (demo, consultation, etc.)
- Obtain contact details
- Ask for an introduction
Keep your team happy
- Being on your feet and talking all day is tiring, so make sure everyone gets the chance for a regular break.
- Supply them with plenty of water and coffee/tea to keep the energy levels up.
- Motivate them with a little bit of healthy competition, e.g. introduce a prize for the person who signs up the most customers/books the most appointments.
With careful planning and the right team on board, exhibitions can be a major source of revenue for your business. Good luck, and let us know how you get on!
Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness and linkedin at npower Business
 Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO)
 Centre for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR)
Source:: Trade Shows – Our Top Tips