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7 tips that will help to make sure your next Expo is worthwhile

As an Expo exhibitor and visitor, it often surprises me how little thought seems to be put into preparation of the stand, and how unprepared the sales team can be who are on the stand.

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As an Expo exhibitor and visitor, it often surprises me how little thought seems to be put into preparation of the stand, and how unprepared the sales team can be who are on the stand. Low budget or not, if you are there, make it look like you want to be. Some exhibitors look like they wish they were not.

Choosing which Trade Shows to attend requires careful consideration and justification. This is probably more so now than it was a decade ago, and the decision has demanded closer scrutiny over the past couple of years with advertising and promotion budgets being slashed while the economy recovers. I have been to too many trade shows, particularly smaller regional ones, where there have been more exhibitors than visitors in the hall. While you might only need one new customer to make it worthwhile, you do require a tangible return on your investment to justify attendance of a Trade Show.

If it doesn’t stack up to attend this year, then also consider whether the cost of not attending will be higher than the cost of attending. If your presence is expected at an Expo because you have always exhibited, then your absence will be noted if you are not there. Your absence can send an equally strong message to the market as your presence. If you do decide to give exhibiting a miss, make sure you are there as a visitor. The major players in your market chain will probably be there too.

The traditional appeal of Expo’s is that you can get the attention of open minded buyers who are coming to you on ‘your patch’. The trouble is your competitors have their same patch across the hall, showing very similar products and services.

So here are a 7 tips that will help to make sure your next Expo is worthwhile.

1. What are your objectives for the exhibition?
Sure you are there to promote your products and services to a targeted audience, but you need to be specific about the objective.

Is it getting qualified leads, launching a new product, entering a new market, building the brand, maintaining market presence and position, establishing market positioning or something else? Focus your efforts on your specific objectives and you will have a more successful expo. This objective should determine the key message for the expo and your stand design.

Too many trade show stands I see are a collection of ‘what we’ve got’, rather than being built around a specific objective and message for the audience.

2. How are you going to measure your success?
“So how was the expo?” asks the Chief Executive when you get back to the office after the show. You reply, ‘Well it was pretty good, we had lots of visitors to the stand, a few hot leads and we collected a box full of cards.’ Two months later you realise that you really achieved nothing. Most of the cards were not really leads, and you are tiring of scraping the ice off the hot leads.

If this scenario is familiar, you will know that it is very hard to justify your attendance at the expo when you have no idea what the return on investment was the last time you were there.

Refer to tip #1, and figure out how you will quantify and measure success based on your objectives.

3. What preshow marketing will you do to help meet these objectives?
Leverage the expo marketing, but don’t just rely on those pre-printed invitation cards that the expo organisers send you. Corporate buyers will receive several of these from other suppliers too. Make your invitation stand out by personalising it and giving a reason for the person you are inviting to meet you at the expo. (Remember your objective?)

4. ‘What do you do?’
When the stand is poorly designed I have no idea what the company does. I keep walking because there is nothing to get my attention, or the display is not big enough for me to see without binoculars. When working within your budget, it is far better to do a few things really well on your stand, rather than several things not very well.

To get the attention of visitors, your display must show the issues and problems that you solve, rather than listing the solutions you provide.

Here’s a simple example: Rather that stating that you supply dental care products, ask ‘do you need relief from toothache?’ Anyone walking past with toothache will come and talk to you.

To give another example, saying ‘the one stop shop for all your legal needs’, and ‘see us if you need a Family Trust’ the passer-by will do just that – pass on by thinking ‘I don’t need legal help or advise’, or ‘I’ve know idea if I need a family trust’. However if you are asking ‘do you want to protect assets from creditors?’ or ‘do you want to reduce tax?’ then these statements get my attention as I can immediately say ‘Yes’.

5. Define a qualified lead
There will be hundreds of tyre kickers at most expos, collecting bags of literature as they go, dropping their card into every goldfish bowl, and grabbing every pen and squishy toy.

Follow up after an expo is vital, but only worthwhile with qualified leads. You can waste a lot of time and resource following up with the tyre kickers. Unless you supply products and services that apply to the vast majority of visitors to the expo, then ditch the gold fish bowl.

Instead, get clear on what information you require to know whether someone is worth following up after the expo. Design a customised lead/enquiry form so that you capture the relevant information.

6. A few quick do’s
Do lock everything down (I’ve had price lists, mobile phones and tools stolen from expo stands), stand up and have open welcome body language, smile, invite people to your booth, speak in language that visitors can understand (leave all your company acronyms in the office), and use literature as a reason to follow up. Keep your premium brochures at the back of the stand. Tell qualified visitors that you will post them a brochure – it will save them carrying it around all day. This then gives you a great reason to follow up next week.

7. A few quick don’ts.
Don’t stand behind counters, lean on counters, look bored (you might be, but don’t tell me you are), sit reading the newspaper, sit working on your laptop, talk on your mobile phone while on the stand, stand in front of key exhibits and graphics, or hand out glossy brochures to everyone in the hope that it might be relevant and of interest.