How to make the most of trade shows in 22 steps

export worldwide at a tradeshow

Once upon a time… we didn’t have a clue how to prepare for a trade show. Sometime later, with plenty of experience under our belts, it got easier. Hopefully, our trade show tales will give you an idea of what to expect and how to make the most of exhibitions for your business.

We remember our first trade show like it was yesterday. Donning freshly printed company shirts and armed with new look marketing literature, we came away with a barrel load of leads. There were plenty of productive conversations, plus the opportunity to network and build brand awareness.

It’s these opportunities that make attending trade shows so worthwhile. They are the perfect setting in which to present products that need to be ‘seen to be sold’ or demonstrate your service face-to-face, to get instant feedback from a target market.

Equally, trade shows are the ideal stomping ground for some sleuthing. You can check out the competition, research new markets and ‘test the waters’ for customer demand.

To ensure that you get the best out of an international trade show, you need an effective strategy to engage visitors, especially if it’s your first exhibition. Everything from stand design, pre-show PR and post-show evaluation matters…

But where to start? Let’s break your typical trade show requirements into sections, starting with the pre-show preparation.

Pre-Show Checklist

Choosing a trade show
Choosing a trade show comes down to which promoter’s pitch you trust most.
Step #1

First things first, you need a trade show to attend. No matter which exhibition you decide to attend, those promoting the show will promise the earth. However, you will never know if a show is the right fit for your business until you attend. When you’ve selected a show(s) try to make your presence felt as cost-effectively as possible.

Once you’ve tried out a few trade shows, you will develop a knack of knowing what constitutes a good or bad event. This will make it easy to identify which exhibitions work and where to invest your time and money.

When selecting a show, aim for those that give you the most return in terms of visitor numbers and quality.

Step #2

Choose an internal co-ordinator to be responsible for managing trade show operations. Assigning responsibility to an individual or a small team saves time, resources and ensures that preparation for a show gets the dedication it deserves.

Step #3

Decide which personnel will attend. This splits into two main camps:

  1. Setup and break down staff.
  2. In show staff.

Theoretically, you can have the same staff do both, provided you know who is responsible for doing what. This cuts costs and limits the number of staff needed to attend an exhibition. It’s worth training staff in the correct use of tools and the setup and take down process.

Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to have a team member in attendance who is health and safety trained.

For the show, take or hire multilingual staff to chat with more attendees and secure more leads. While English is the universal language of business, speaking in a person’s native tongue opens up a dialogue initially. 

When selecting staff members, bear in mind that it will have an impact on operations back in the office. Your presence at an exhibition could increase call volumes and email enquiries back at headquarters. Have someone available to follow these up.

Meanwhile, make sure staff on the stand are equipped to answer all manner of questions, both sales and technical related.

Having staff on stand with the right attitude matters. Take staff that will actively engage attendees and not hang back waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity, which does not exist. Every staff member needs to be proactive, and have the ability to ask open ended questions. Consider attending a trade show training course.

Step #4

Arrange local accommodation and staff transportation for the show. Ideally, you want to be within walking distance. You will need to arrange flights, where necessary, and transportation to and from the airport. Remember, setup and take down staff will need an earlier flight out and a later return flight.

Step #5

Sketch out a stand design on paper. This gives you an indication of what you will need to take and help you to make arrangements for getting equipment to a show.

Meanwhile, it’s worth doing a dummy run for setting up your stand, provided you have the space. This is a great way to gauge whether everything you want on stand will fit and operates as expected.

For a show, make sure your stand has an electrical power supply – but remember – non-UK shows will have different power specifications. Make sure that any electrical equipment you plan to take complies with international electrical standards.

Other useful items to have include carpet, name boards, insurance documents and lead scanners. Meanwhile, it’s worth having a plan in place for equipment handling and the storage of goods.

When drawing up your plans, consider having two stands at a show. Why? One big stand doesn’t guarantee more leads. In fact, spreading your presence gives you a greater opportunity to capture potential customers. However, you will need to consider how you will man these stands.

The type of stand you have is important too. Aim for one that has as many open sides as possible. You want to make your stand as visible and accessible as possible for maximum footfall.

Armagard trade show stall
Make your stand as visible and accessible as possible. Here an open stand at a US exhibition allows visitors to enter from all angles.

Equally, you will want to secure a spot that has a good natural flow. You will need to bear in mind entrances and exits, while determining how best to guide people to your stand.

Step #6

Organise your marketing material. Display boards, brochures, digital signage content, business cards, handouts, branded pens etc… Whatever it may be, make sure the materials you need are in place in advance of a show and made available in the local language.

Step #7

Get the logistics sorted. There are multiple options for shipping internationally, but we’ve found that sending cargo out by air and returning by sea, works. Sending by air is more expensive but faster, while shipping by sea is cheaper, but takes longer.

For UK-based shows there are plenty of haulage firms available to help you. However, international shipping can be more complex, which is why it might be worth hiring the services of a freight management company.

Step #8

Prior to a show, use every opportunity to market your attendance. To get the most from attending an exhibition, a targeted email marketing campaign is highly recommended. It’s arguably the fastest and most cost-effective way to reach a mass audience.

Promote your brand using social media to enable attendees to recognise you once an exhibition is underway. Most trade shows have a social media presence, allowing you to tap into hashtags and conversations that are relevant to the event.

You can continue to make the most of social media during the show, posting in real time and directing attendees to your stand.

During ‘show season’, Export Worldwide tends to update its social media banners highlighting exhibition details such as start and finish times and stand details. We will post frequently prior to a show to raise awareness of our attendance.

Explore content marketing opportunities. A number of trade shows offer the opportunity to promote your business directly on their website. This can be a blog, a press release or a company biography.

A company profile is a great way to feature on a show organiser’s website. Make sure you complete all contact details requested online.

The advantages include additional publicity and exposure, the chance to build authority and improve brand recognition on a site that targets a relevant audience. Plus you get links back to your own website.

You should write an article for your own website too, which lets your customer base know that you will be in attendance. This gives them the chance to meet you face-to-face, if the opportunity has never arisen previously.

Equally, it’s a great way to announce new products or services that will be on display at a show. Export Worldwide finds that a pre-show article introducing the team that will be on stand is a great way to break the ice and inform our customers and attendees.

Going Global speaker slot
Guest speaker slots at trade shows are a great way to showcase your expertise.

Next, try and secure a ‘speaker slot’ at the show(s) you’re attending. Export Worldwide’s, Mark Neal, is renowned for doing this. Speaking on a topic that you specialise in instantly creates authority and rapport. It’s a prime opportunity to pitch your business too.

As you draw your presentation to a close, tell delegates about your products and services. Gather business cards and network afterwards to make the most of the marketing opportunities available.

Step #9

Check if you’re eligible for a government grant. In some cases the government can help to fund your attendance at a trade show.

In Show Checklist

trade shows stall
How you set up your stand plays a key role in getting the most from a trade show.
Step #10

Prepare for things not to go according to plan, which is OK. It’s rare to get through a trade show without a hitch. The key thing is not to panic, while thinking on your feet. Every problem can be solved and compromises can be made, if the worst comes to the worst.

Step #11

How you set up your stand is crucial. Three of the key things to think about when building your stand are:

  1. Visibility.
  2. Accessibility.
  3. Sustainability

To make your exhibit as visible as possible, brand your stand with a tag line that stops attendees in their tracks.

A tag line that asks a question tends to work, but be prepared to test and change it until you find something that works.

Equally, you should use digital signage, not only for visibility, but sustainability. Digital signage serves as an extra member of staff on stand, occupying visitors if the team is actively engaged in conversations with other attendees. Meanwhile, you can use it to demo products and services interactively.

To make your stand accessible, and pull more people in, position products and accompanying literature at the back. This forces people to venture on to your stand to view them.

We’ve found that positioning products at the front of an exhibit creates psychological barriers that people don’t want to cross. Make your stand accessible from every possible angle, enabling people to enter from the front, the sides and even the rear, where possible.

Keep your marketing material messy, as if other people have picked it up. As daft as it sounds, this makes your stand more accessible. People do not like to mess up perfectly presented literature.

Step #12

Keep your stand secure. Beware of theft and consider how you will keep your goods safe, day and night and during break down.

Step #13

Do a pre-show sweep and a walk around during the show. The pre-show sweep is a great way to engage other exhibitors and generate leads – it does happen. Some of the best conversations and business opportunities occur before the hustle and bustle of a show. 

Equally, it’s worthwhile doing some detective work during an event – posing as an attendee. It’s a great way to check out the competition, investigate the latest trends and identify stands where high levels of interest are occurring. There’s a lot you can learn about your own business at a trade show when assessing your competitors.

Step #14

Look to loan out your technology to other exhibitors, where applicable. It might sound counterintuitive, but actually, getting your products placed on another stand is a great way to get referrals and more visitors to your exhibit.

busy trade show stall
Keeping your stand busy throughout the day is key to getting the most from trade shows.
Step #15

Keep your stand busy. Networking and on stand appointments are great ways to keep visitors on your stand. A busy stand breeds curiosity and people can’t help but visit your stand to take a peek. However, don’t have seats on your stand. Tired visitors can end up blocking your exhibit.

Step #16

Have an electronic lead or barcode scanner available. Attendees at trade shows will often be wearing badges with a QR code. Scan them to instantly capture all their key information. This makes following up with stand visitors easier after a show.

Additionally, it makes interaction much faster and records details if on stand staff forget to write a visitor’s details down. Write down conversations, identifying what a visitor’s pain points are and the product or service they’re interested in. You can then recall the conversation when following up with leads after a show.

Business cards can and do get lost and scanned leads can get deleted. If someone is serious about your products or services, ask for their details verbally, they won’t mind taking the time because they value what you’re offering.

Step #17

In order to squeeze every last opportunity out of a trade show, don’t leave early, which many exhibitors often do. The best lead of the day has a habit of coming in right at the very end of an exhibition or after the show closes.

Post-Show Checklist

trade show evaluation
A post-show evaluation is a must for measuring the success of a trade show.
Step #18

Input all your leads into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. You can then track how each lead performs in the weeks and months to follow. Lead gestation can take a long time. Meanwhile, lead performance can help you to determine which expos yield results and are worth investing in a second or third time.

Step #19

Follow leads up immediately after the show – within seven days is a must if you want to capitalise on so-called hot leads. Attendees speak to hundreds of exhibitors, about the same issues. To stand out, you need to follow up with them quickly. 

Step #20

If the trade show has been a success, rebook it as early as possible. This will help you secure a better position at the show next time around. 

Step #21

If you find an expo that works for your business, make a habit of attending year after year, to build a presence. This builds brand stability and attendees come expecting to find you. It’s far more important to attend a trade show consistently rather than having the largest stand.

Step #22

Have a post-show debrief. Get the expo team together to get feedback on what worked, what didn’t work and what can be done better. Get other people’s opinions of a show.

It’s good practice to get a cross-section of answers and evaluate the success of a show armed with all the information. What you think worked, someone else might disagree with. An open discussion is worthwhile for finding out if you truly got the most out of a trade show.

How can Export Worldwide Facilitate your Trade Show Attendance?

Getting the most out of a trade show is dependent on so many factors falling into place, while requiring time, money and resources. Attending a trade show can seem like a sacrifice, despite having many benefits.

That said, trade shows are often an annual event, giving you one shot to make a lasting impression. Plus, if it’s your only marketing avenue, there’s the pressure to generate a year’s worth of leads in 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. It’s just not going to happen.

In which case, how do you consistently generate quality leads to feed your sales funnel when you have no trade show to fall back on?

That’s where Export Worldwide comes in. We’re an online, international lead generation portal that promotes your products and services in up to 20 languages representing 84% of world trade.

Imagine… A multilingual, international lead generation ‘salesperson’ that promotes your products and services to multiple markets all-day, every day, in one easily accessible place.

Quickly discover where demand for your products is hot and where it’s not, to specifically target international customers who want to buy your products and services, and start selling to them on the same day. Identifying where orders are high is a good indicator of which markets you should be exhibiting in.

Export Worldwide doesn’t take away from the value of attending trade shows or decrease conversion rates on your own website. In fact, it gives you a new dimension for marketing your business, with the sole purpose of generating additional, qualified leads at low-cost and low-risk.

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Topics: Localisation, Market Research, Promotion, Sales & Marketing, Trade Fairs, and Winning Global Contracts
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