Friday, 21 January 2011

How To Exhibit Successfully At Trade Shows - Part One

To Exhibit Or Not To Exhibit, That Is The Question...

Trade exhibitions (sometimes called fairs, expo's or shows) are a feature of most industries. You'll know which one(s) relate to your line of business. They're the events when suppliers spend loads of money showing off their products or services to the people who are, or who they hope will become, their customers. Sometimes they're fairly small events staged in venues such as hotels, race courses or small exhibition halls, others, the real monster events, use enormous venues such as the NEC, Birmingham or similar sized purpose built exhibition arenas throughout the world.

A client trade stand at GLEE 2006
If you've reached the stage where you're considering taking space to exhibit your products or services at a trade show, there are a few important questions it's worth asking yourself before you part with any money or sign on any dotted lines.

Question 1: What do I want to achieve by exhibiting at the show?
Now that might sound pretty banal, but you'd be amazed how much money gets spent without anyone having a good answer to this question. In some industries where there are long established shows, they become something of a fixture, an annual event that everyone just 'does'. It's a bit like the old idea of doing 'the season', you're expected to be there to see and be seen.

But one thing is for sure, exhibiting doesn't come cheap, so before you commit to anything, it's vitally important to be clear about why you're going and above all, what it is that you want to achieve as a result. Now call me old fashioned, but I like to be able to measure the effectiveness of spending corporate money (I'm not so finicky when it comes to my personal spending, as my DH will tell you), but in business, it's not a good idea to wave goodbye to hard won income without knowing what you expect to get in return.

So for a few moments forget the glamour, the glitz and the smooth talking sales rep from the exhibition organiser, and think calmly about your objectives. Common answers I hear are 'to be seen by potential customers and competitors so they'll think we're important', 'to make new contacts', 'to sell xy and z' and often 'because if we're not there, people will wonder why not, and assume there's something wrong with our business'.

There can be value in all these objectives, but hold on to your biro a bit longer. The thing is, how will you decide after the event if it has been a success - how well has your objective been achieved? To do this, you need to make your objectives quantifiable, in short, convert your objectives into measurable targets.

So, for example, if you want to be seen by potential customers, how many do you want to see you? The organisers will beguile you with the numbers of hot buyers they promise will be hungrily prowling the halls looking for you. But let's return to the real world and accept that of the total visitor numbers, only a small percentage are actually going to come to you, talk to you and give you their contact details - so decide right now, how many contact details do you want to get in order to know it's been a successful exhibition.

If your objective is to sell a product, then how many do you need to sell to feel that it's been a success?

If your objective isn't quantifiable, for instance 'to look important', have another VERY hard think about whether you should be there. I'd always caution against exhibiting unless you can attach some measurable targets.

Question 2: How much is it going to cost?
It's easy to underestimate the total cost of exhibiting. It's not just the space you'll be paying for, in addition you should be prepared to budget for; stand dressing, fittings & props, pre, during and post event marketing, hotel rooms, subsistence and travel for people working on your stand, and additional personnel if required. If you're taking a salesforce off the road to man the exhibition, you should also consider what sales will be lost from their normal schedule during the exhibition period.

If you're having a stand built for you, then you'll need to have a very clear idea of your budget for the build and storage too.

Once you have a ballpark idea of the cost, you can look at your quantifiable objectives and decide if it still stacks up. If you can expect to generate 100 new leads, and the cost is going to be £5,000, then you can see that each contact has cost you £50. You'll know what proportion of leads will turn into billable business and what profit you can expect, so you're then in a good position to say if it's worth exhibiting. Of course you will also have some unmeasurable benefits, but I really do urge you to be clinical about your estimates at this stage, Ask yourself if it was your money (and for those of us running small companies, it is!), would you still do it.

Don't lose sight of the fact that there are other ways to achieve the same objective - they may be cheaper, so don't get too attached to the trade show idea until you can firmly put your hand on your heart and say it's worth the effort and the cost.

If you've made the decision to go ahead and exhibit, my next post 'Trade Exhibitions, Getting Started' will have tips for keeping you sane in the preparation period. 

Part Three, Creating A Brilliant Exhibition Stand, is for people doing it themselves on a small budget.

Part Four, All Present And Correct - what to do and what not to do at the show.
Part Five, Tell Them You're There - publicising your stand
Part Six - Home & Dry - evaluate and follow-up

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