To promote products and services, most small businesses need to know how to make the most from exhibiting.
Just like the hitchhiker, you put yourself right in front of passing potential customers, waiting for someone to take interest and stop by…
Attending exhibitions is fun – and if you get it all right, it can also be highly profitable. Over the last 25 years I’ve spent thousands of hours on stands around the world learning how to make the most from exhibiting. But it’s not always a bag of laughs. And just like other marketing activities, you have to accept costs may not be recouped.
So if you want to exhibit, what should you do to maximise the marketing opportunity, make best use of time and minimise the financial risk? Here are my top ten tips:
How to make the most from exhibiting – 10 tips
1. Profile attendees
Before deciding to exhibit find out about the audience being promised by the organiser. Ideally you need to know both the profile and volume of attendees, so request details. Then ask yourself what proportion of delegates fit your target customer profile? In my experience, I’ve found small events (100 – 250 delegates) offering a high proportion of people who fit my market to be more effective than large events that offer a small proportion of the people being targeted.
2. Cost the risk
As part of your preparation, work out the full event cost (include promotional materials, travel, accommodation, equipment hire and stand costs). To calculate the ‘risk’, consider how many sales (at an average sales value) you need to make in order to breakeven. However, also bear in mind the typical lead time for sales to be concluded, so don’t plan for people to necessarily order at your stand. If your gut tells you the costs outweigh the benefits be cautious since you are unlikely to make the most from exhibiting at that show.
3. One simple message works best
When creating stand promotional material, keep everything simple and easy for passers-by to understand. Whilst you should make your stand attractive, it’s a common mistake for exhibitors to overdress their space and fill every inch with information that conveys different messages. If people are confused by what you offer, they will continue walking.
4. Provide incentives for stand visitors
To make the most from exhibiting, give people an incentive to visit your stand. You can either provide an inexpensive ‘giveaway’ such as pens/sweets, a product trial or a free entry raffle draw and/or offer discount for orders placed during the show. By rewarding visitors with an event exclusive special offer you increase the goodwill between you and the customer and improve the chances of an order being placed.
For reference, in my experience, the average order time can be several months after a show takes place yet all the costs have to be met in advance. Offers that lead to quick sales are great for cashflow.
5. Create movement and interaction
Dull and boring stands don’t attract visitors. If you can create movement or include an activity that creates curiosity and interest, people are far more likely to stop by. And nothing pulls in people like a crowd. By way of example, the SimVenture team has exhibited at the annual IEEC event for several years and recently it was felt an interactive element was needed to maintain the strong interest.
A game based on the theme of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ was created and throughout the event’s 3 days we were inundated with requests to participate. The show was a great success on all levels.
6. Build rapport with people
When considering how to make the most from exhibiting, always treat people who pass or visit your stand as you would like to be treated. A common mistake (and pet hate) is the exhibitor who asks one question of the innocent passer-by and then spends the next 10 minutes telling them all about their wonderful gizmo.
Give the poor souls who take interest a chance to talk about themselves by asking questions and listening to the answers. Building rapport through questioning and listening creates confidence and helps you understand how your product/service fits customers’ needs.
7. Gather contact information
Ensure you collect the contact details of everyone who takes an interest in your products and services. Without this data you can’t follow the inquiry up at a later date or inform people of future offers. Record the information electronically or use a pad and pen – if you know your stand is going to be very busy, create a simple system so visitors can record their contact details for you!
Since event attendance means you are out of the office, it’s almost inevitable you will need to access your website or email whilst away. If you rely on such access then check with the event organisers that they offer free Wifi as part of the package (especially abroad). If the organisers want to charge an exorbitant fee (and some do) consider investing in a mobile phone with Personal Hotspot access.
When the event finishes and everyone goes home, it’s time to make the most from exhibiting by following-up all inquiries. It’s important not to be too pushy and certainly don’t pressure people into anything. A short personal email to thank people for their interest is a good place to start.
Finally, wait two or three months to fully evaluate the success of any event. Whatever you do, don’t sign up to exhibit again until you have completed the review. Waiting allows you to be completely objective and means you can assess the overall financial position of the show. It’s quite possible that your costs outweigh sales at first-time events so be careful not to judge matters purely on financial performance.
Key Learning Points Use exhibitions as part of your marketing mix to promote your business and reach new customers. When considering how to make the most from exhibiting, plan and prepare carefully and think through the whole experience from the customer’s viewpoint. Use this free event guide ebook to to increase your chances of event success.