Exhibitions & Trade Shows

I’m not a huge fan of exhibitions and trade shows. I think it’s my inner accountant which saw the big costs involved and the vague comments I always heard when I asked about what the business achieved.

However I do accept that buyers go to exhibitions to find out information and to discover solutions to problems. I’ve done it myself but again I’m often shocked at how badly genuine interest is handled.

Key Factors In making Your Exhibition Give A Return On Investment

  • Often expensive in money & time – pick carefully
  • Chance to make personal connections
  • Invite prospects/press to stand – give incentive to visit – samples, coupons, simple competition
  • Display interesting / inviting to potential buyers
  • Clear goals – leads or sales
  • Right people – knowledgeable, engaging
  • Qualify – spend time with buyers
  • Follow up – capture details/take notes/grade

Exhibitions are expensive in time and money. I was always sceptical that it is a big jolly for the sales and marketing people with a chance to get away for a few days, stay in a nice hotel and dine/booze at the company’s expense. When I expressed these thoughts, I was always told that they were very hard work, extremely tiring and the sales staff needed a few perks to restore their spirits after a tough day. (No pun intended on the spirits.)

Whichever view you take, you should pick your exhibitions carefully and find out what kind of visitors they really get.

Is what you offer at the core of the exhibition or at the periphery? The closer to the bullseye, the better the chance you have of success.

I can’t deny it. Exhibitions are a great way to meet people in your market and to start building personal connections and relationships.

There is a difficult balance. You don’t want ten potential customers to every one of your staff members on your stand at the same time. But you also don’t want to look like “Billy No Mates”. Exhibition stands benefit from the same kind of social proof as restaurants. People attract more people.

Before the exhibition, you need to campaign to get people to your stand. If possible run an appointment system so that 33% to 50% of your sales staff have scheduled visitors (prospects, joint venture partners or press) leaving the remainder to deal with the people who walk onto the stand.

Look for ways that you can incentivise people coming to your stand. You can offer free samples, discount coupons or some kind of competition to build interest and get involvement.

Look carefully at the design of your stand and even attend a totally unrelated exhibition to pick up ideas on good practice. You want to make your stand look attractive and interesting. It needs to look like the kind of place potential buyers would want to linger if they are waiting to see someone to talk to.

Motor shows used to be notorious for using scantily clad models of attractive women but it worked. A pretty girl not wearing very much certainly attracts attention but may be out of place at more serious and professional events.

When you are planning your exhibition be every clear on what a successful exhibition means to you. is it a source for getting more leads or do you expect to make sales on the day? OK I’ve seen some sales people manipulate this where they’ve delayed signing a contract to get a deal they’ve been working on for months booked as an exhibition success so don’t let the numbers fool you.

Set clear goals for the exhibition and make sure you have some way of measuring your results. The more you take away the emotion surrounding the exhibition, the more you can judge whether it was money well spent and whether you should be back there next year.

Having the right personnel on your stand is essential. They need to be knowledgeable, engaging and have a lot of stamina. it is tiring and you want your people to be as enthusiastic at 4 o’clock in the afternoon as they were at 10 o’clock in the morning. Having a common dress code can help give visitors confidence to speak to your people and makes sure that everyone looks smart.

I joked about the drinking at night earlier but beware of people drinking too much and showing the side effects the next morning. A late night at the bar can leave unpleasant traces as people sweat out the booze under the bright lights. Having a hangover isn’t conducive to laying on the charm either.

When you start to talk to people, you first task is to qualify them as a person of interest or a browser. Success depends on spending time with potential buyers. How hard a line you take depends on how busy the stand is. Remember the social proof aspect because talking to anyone says that people are interested but you don’t want buyers getting impatient and wandering off to your competitor’s stands because they got tired of waiting while your sales staff chat about the football from last night. Also beware of your people being seen in a little huddle chatting to themselves and especially if you’ve taken the uniform approach.

Finally if your goal is to generate leads, make sure that you capture their contact details, any important information they share on the day and grade the lead potential. Attendance at a good exhibition can create hundreds of leads and you want a way to focus your follow up on the red hot leads as soon as the exhibition ends. It’s a race to get to them before your competitors.

I recommend that you systemise and create a Trade Show Lead Sheet

Ideas For Your Trade Show Lead Sheet

  • Name & contact details
  • Qualifying needs & wants – consider tick sheet
  • Decision maker
  • Time frame
  • Budget
  • Who else is being considered?
  • Other information you need or the prospect volunteers
  • Who took the lead

If you are going to get a good return on investment on your decision to spend time, energy and money at an exhibition or trade show then you must have a good way to follow up the enquiries.

Imagine you get a list of 200 possible customers and you have 3 sales people plus yourself. That’s 50 each on average and will take a considerable time to ring each one on the telephone, let alone make a visit to their offices, stores of factories.

You need a way to prioritise and distribute leads to the right people.

Your mind will be a whirl from everything that has been said so right it down as you talk to prospects. It even shows that you are a) interested and b) professional so it will create the right impression.

Design your Trade Show Lead Sheet and then train your staff how to use it. It may seem obvious to you but not so obvious to other people on the stand. It also helps to get others involved in case you’ve missed an obvious question.

Obviously you need to capture name (person and company) and their contact details. I recommend you ask for both their telephone number and email address. It does take time to contact everyone so a quick email saying how good it was to meet and possibly answering any questions you couldn’t answer at the time shows you care.

You may even want their postal address if you’re planning to send some kind of follow up mailing – perhaps you’ve run put of brochures.

Then look to qualify them and capture their needs and wants. Since these are often fairly standard, a tick sheet can save a lot of time.

Find out who the decision maker is. The person you are talking to? Their boss? The board? In your follow up, you want to get to the main decision makers or influencers quickly.

Time scale is obviously important in deciding priorities in your follow up.

There’s a big difference between “I need to buy this month” and “we’re looking to replace some time in the next 12 to 18 months and wanted to get an idea of what’s on the market.

So too is money. It may be better to concentrate on a few big deals than many small ones although it is nice to get a few quick wins under your belt. Obviously you don’t want to waste time on people who can’t afford to buy what you sell.

It’s also nice to find out which competitive products they are considering. While the list may not be complete because they haven’t been around all the stands on the exhibition, it can guide you on the opportunities you are most likely to win.

Have a quick brainstorm to see if there is any other information you need. Also have a space on the form to record any interesting tidbits of information the prospects share on the stand.

Record who took the lead. When you follow up it’s important that you leverage any favourable impressions made at the event. The average attendee may well have spoken to 25 people including your five closest competitors. It’s no surprise that they won’t remember what’s said clearly (but they may) because they’ve heard different variations.


Using a competition and giving away some good prizes (either linked to your business or not) can create a lot of interest.

It’s also a good way to capture business cards for possible leads who haven’t managed to talk to anyone on the stand. I’ve attended trade shows to deliberately see a few people, waited around their stands hoping for conversations to end and never made contact because I got bored or I had to hurry away for an appointment elsewhere.

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