Attending your first trade fair as a business owner can be nerve-wracking. A conference centre full of competitors and prospects might seem scary at first, but it also means a whole host of new networking and sales opportunities.
We work with many business owners to help them attract customers, generate leads and ultimately sales. Whether it’s for personalised pen giveaways or branded sweatshirts to stand out from the crowd, business gifts are a vital part of any trade fair strategy. Merchandising though, is just one part of the jigsaw, so we wanted to give you a full idea of how to ace your first trade fair.
We spoke to business experts from around the world to get some valuable insight into making the most of the trade fair experience as a new exhibitor. From the preparation in the build-up, to tactics on the trade fair floor, to effective follow-ups – find out more below.
BEFORE THE TRADE FAIR
Preparation is key to a successful trade fair, so how do you know where to start when you’re attending your first one?
If you’ve never attended a trade fair before, then start by researching how they normally work. This means finding out at what a typical trade fair looks like, how exhibitors set out their stalls and how they interact with prospects. By all means, be creative with your pitching, but you can’t break the mould until you know what the mould looks like. Once you pick up the basics, you can start thinking about adding a unique flair.
Look at your industry specifically, can you spot any trends that differentiate between it from others? If you work in financial services, for example, your pitching strategy is probably going to be drastically different than if you’re selling home furnishings. Perhaps most importantly, as explained by Richard Harris of Richard Harris Coaching, look at who’s already doing it well, what can you learn from them?
“Just like any aspect of running a business, look to the behaviours of the top 1% for inspiration. One useful practice I did in the early days was to walk around the competitor stalls and ask them what measures they took to make a success of their event. There is a bond between fellow show stallholders, and tremendous assistance is often given.”
TRAINING AND SELECTION
Once you have your research you need to start thinking about who’s going to the trade fair with you, and any potential training they need. When you’re spending valuable time and money on an event you need to know it’s going to be worth the effort– so spend some time thinking about who you have available and what roles you’ll all fulfil on the day.
If you’re a small business, then you may not have too many options on who to bring but it’s always useful to have an extra pair of hands on deck. If you’re particularly strong at selling, have someone on hand who can explain the products in more detail, and vice versa. The more people you get to your stall, the better chance you have of converting so have a team focused and ready to hit your goals. Dave Poulos, Director of Marketing at Pinnacle Advisory Group explains the importance of both:
“If you’re taking more than two staff members, they should be carefully selected and trained beforehand. The training they receive depends upon the goals you set for the show. If it’s lead generation, your junior sales people need to be trained how to ask qualifying questions in a way that doesn’t sound like an interrogation, more like a conversation. You’ll also need someone who’s outgoing and engaging to draw people in from the aisles into the booth, just to boost your overall interaction numbers.”
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
So, you know what you want to do at the trade fair and who’s going to be doing it, now it’s time to start planning for the big day. Each trade fair will be different, both in size and opportunity, so make sure you know what you’re in for before you arrive. Laura Britten, Head of Marketing at Search Laboratory gives her advice on preparing for specific prospects.
“When we are looking into which events to go to, we concentrate a lot of time into digging into the profiles of the delegates – which industries are they from, what is the average company size, seniority levels, budgets.”
Once you know who’s going then let them know! A prospect is more likely to visit your stall if they know about it beforehand, so promotion is key, otherwise you’re just relying on your tactics on the day. Josephine McCarthy from leading perfume seller Pairfum explains why it’s important to have a two-pronged approach:
“Once you’ve decided to do the show and you’ve booked your stand, then you must make sure that you let as many people as possible know that you are exhibiting, if you already have a customer base then send them a newsletter with stand number, times, dates and any other information you may have for example new product launches or show offers.”
DURING THE TRADE FAIR
Once you’ve arrived at the fair, it’s time to tackle the hard part – how do you attract people to your stall with competition all around you? After all, standing out from the crowd is easier said than done.
PLACEMENT AND PRODUCTS
Where your stall is located can make or break your trade fair experience. This should all have been arranged before you arrive on the day, but you’ll only really get a feel for the space once you’re there with all the other exhibitors and the room starts to fill up. Good sales technique and fantastic products will help drive interest, but you need to make the most of good placement. Richard Harris – Richard Harris Coaching explains where’s best to pitch up:
“While setup of the stall is important, the placing is more so. Corner pitches are usually worth the extra money. Getting your application in early and having a choice of preferential spots is another important thing to do.“
In the same way as a corner shop on a high street has the advantage of capturing traffic from multiple directions, a corner stall with get more footfall, giving you more opportunities to get the interest and attention of prospects. Placement is just one way to do so though – you still need something visual to distinguish your stall to your neighbours. Branded products are a great place to start, as Richard Harris goes on to explain:
“The key is to make your stall visible. If you want to truly maximise this, get extremely large feather banners and a high prominent sign. Crowded and busy people need to quickly and easily see where you are and what you can offer.”
SET UP AND SENSES
Treat your stand as an experience. If all you’re doing is pushing your product then you’ll only get customers who are already sure about what they want – the aim of a trade fair is to get as many leads through your stall as possible. Give them a reason to stop and don’t be afraid of giving away freebies. Laura Britten, Head of Marketing got creative at her last trade fair.
“We hosted tea and coffee from our stand at events that led to a lot of people coming and seeing us, which was great.”
By creating a reason for your prospects to stick around at your stall, you naturally have more time to get to know them, why they’re here and how you can help them. You have to use that time wisely. Josephine McCarthy who visits trade Fairs all over the world with Pairfum explains the importance of creating a sensory experience for your visitors.
“It’s all about the senses for us especially the sense of smell, but it’s also very important to remember that people buy with their eyes. When setting out your stand you are showcasing not only your products and brand but also giving your potential customers an idea or glimpse of how it will look in their store. When setting up our stand we always display our products & perfumes for the customer to try, it creates a sensory experience and invites your potential customers to ‘stop’ or ‘pause’ in their journey around the show.”
PEOPLE AND PROBLEM SOLVING
Now you’ve got prospects at your stall and they’ve got a reason to pause and spend some time there, you have the perfect opportunity to open a dialogue. This is a sales pitch, but it shouldn’t start as one. Dave Poulos, Director of Marketing at Pinnacle Advisory Group explains how to naturally open a discussion with potential customers:
“Friendly, polite, warm and open engagement is the real key to getting those “lookie-lous” into buying mode. Draw up a list of key questions your prospects and customer encounter every day and use those to open the conversation.”
This initial dialogue is vital to creating a relationship. This relationship may only last a few minutes or could be the beginning of a long business arrangement, either way you need to get to the root of what it is they’re here for – they need to see what value you can add to their business. Dave Poulos shares further insight into developing your conversation into a problem-solving exercise:
“To draw in and engage customers, you have to be seen as both a problem solver and an expert, someone the prospect can tell their troubles to, and get a cogent answer that just happens to include what you’re selling. Questions are great conversation starters, everyone likes to talk about themselves and their problems – they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have a problem your industry can solve.”
AFTER THE TRADE FAIR
If the trade fair is about casting a wide net, then your job after the event is to focus in on conversions. Here’s how to be efficient and effective in ensuring your prospects develop into relationships and eventually, hopefully, turn into sales.
By the end of your jam-packed day at the trade fair – you should have a whole bunch of leads to follow up on. That means email addresses, phone numbers and details about everyone you’ve spoken to – although you need to take into account GDPR guidelines. Make sure this is all collected in one central, secure place so that you keep track of who spoke to who and what they spoke about, so you can avoid any crossover and keep to guidelines. These leads should be the main focus of your day. There are many ways to get a lead, Richard Harris shares just one example:
“The best giveaways are free samples of your products. Giving away tons of information freely positions you as an expert and is a fantastic way to build a real relationship with your prospects.”
Free products and samples give you a reason to get in contact with people you spoke to. Whether it’s to ask how they’re finding the product, if they have any questions about it or if they’d like to discuss anything else, it’s all about continuing your existing dialogue. Prospects may speak to hundreds of exhibitors at a trade fair and you can be sure they’ve given their details to many of them as well, so you need to make the most of their information with your first contact.
Your first follow-up with a prospective client or customer is perhaps the most important. While your meeting at the trade fair will have introduced your product or service, it is only at this stage that this initial contact can start to develop into something more. Dave Poulos explains the importance of haste in your communications.
“Plan your follow-up long before you leave the office for the show – everything pre-written, set up, and ready to go, hopefully with a scoring system in place and some way to follow up from the stand – don’t wait to go back to the hotel that evening exhausted from the day to do follow ups – use automation to make the job simpler and better.”
While automation is great to get things out the door quickly, always follow with a personalised message where possible. From your notes, address specific problems you discussed and share your own insights into how these can be addressed with your product or service. Just in case it needed to be said – a phone call is often worth twice an interaction over email.
Not every lead and follow-up will generate a business relationship – but this should be your primary goal. The more trade fairs you attend, the more you’ll meet the same people, and someone you didn’t manage to catch this time, you can try again next time.
ADLER Business Gifts’ Senior Director of Marketing for Europe, Patrick Caillat, commented on the relationship opportunities presented by trade fairs:
“Trade fairs provide the perfect opportunity for you to discover new clients and customers. While the day itself might flash by, the events themselves are all about developing long lasting, fruitful relationships for all parties. By doing research into your sector, attracting prospects with a sensory experience to pause at your stall and by following up with useful and actionable insights into how your product or service can help them, you can make the most of attending your trade fair, no matter what your experience.”