7.3. Planning for a Trade Show
Planning for trade shows needs to start at least a few months in advance. If you wish to have a significant presence at a strategic or influential show, you should plan to set up a booth, either on your own or with a key partner. Booth space is limited and must be reserved in advance. Usually, a fee is involved, which varies according to square footage and location on the exhibition floor. Designing the portable booth can take a few months, so plan ahead.
Here are some tips for getting the maximum benefit from your trade show appearances.
7.3.1. Before the Show
A major trade show requires considerable advance preparation and, if you aren’t ready, can present a logistical nightmare. You must develop a solid plan and monitor your progress vigilantly.
Participating in a show can require a major investment of time, money, and resources. Be tough in your evaluation of a show’s worthiness. Are the attendee’s likely customers for your organization? Exposure to a few hundred very qualified targets is better than exposure to thousands of generalists who are very unlikely to be interested in your business.
Before you do anything, contact the organizers of the show to find the show’s manual. Everything you need to know about the show should be there, including a proposed or final schedule, registration information and forms, floor plans, exhibit specifications, invitations for potential speakers, and other important details.
Be specific about the things you want to accomplish as a result of your participation in the show. Do you want to increase visibility, gain exposure to a large number of customers who might be interested in your products, or check out the competition? Concrete goals are important to determine the value of the trade show to your organization.
For each goal, determine a way to measure its success. Make these measurements as specific as possible. You could plan to hand out 1000 brochures, obtain contact information for at least 200 prospects, and take a key editor out to lunch. These benchmarks will help you decide whether the show was worth the expense.
The plan should include a workable schedule, a comprehensive list of preparation activities, and an individual assigned for each task. You cannot leave things to chance, or else Murphy’s Law (Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.) will surely prevail!
Like good advertising, a good exhibit clearly communicates one major message. This draws in more prospects to your booth than an unfocused cacophony of messages.
An open booth design has no tables obstructing access, invites attendees to come in. Your logo should be big enough to be seen from a good distance. Maximize “walking around” space by mounting brochure displays on walls. Use interesting graphics to draw people’s attention. For demos, laptops and flat-screen monitors are space-efficient. If space permits, provide comfortable chairs to encourage prospects to linger. A portable booth should be reasonably easy to set up and take down.
Use tag lines such as: “see us at Booth 1525 at the XXXXXXX Conference” in news releases and other communications leading up to the show (even if those releases are about something unrelated). Write a news release announcing show-related news. Invite editors to stop by the booth, or set up appointments between them and your spokespeople.
If your marketing collateral needs to be updated or redesigned, take care of this early. You don’t want to run the risk of having no brochures to hand out. Design forms for filling out prospect information—clear forms eliminate guesswork. Consider giveaways to generate attention and a sense of fun. These don’t have to be expensive. Pens with your web address and a catchy slogan can be very effective.
These will draw attendees to your booth and help them learn more about your business. Presentations will allow you to communicate information to many prospects at once.
Decide on the dress code for your staff. Matching blazers, T-shirts, or even boutonnieres will make your representatives easily identifiable.
This is very important! Your staff needs to know what is expected of them. They need to be briefed on all new programs and initiatives that should be emphasized. They must know how to run the demos and presentations, and they should know some basic troubleshooting. Nothing looks more unprofessional then demos that don’t work.
7.3.2. During the Show
Your staff needs breaks for lunch and relaxing. They will be more cheerful if they don’t have to stay at the booth all day long.
Encourage your staff to record everything they can learn about a prospect’s needs and experience with you. Stress the importance of getting phone numbers and email addresses. (Creating an information form as suggested above will make this easier.)
Amazingly, this is often forgotten. An inviting attitude can give a valuable first impression. The staff should avoid having their backs to the entrance or taking phone calls while on duty. A friendly greeting to passersby may encourage them to stop rather than simply walk by. Staff who are uniformly courteous and helpful, knowledgeable about all aspects of the industry, and responsive to requests will make a very good impression.
7.3.3. After the Show
Send the requested material within 24 hours. A quick response is your second opportunity to make a favorable impression. (Your performance in the booth is the first.)
Be sure to mention your organization’s name and the name of the conference on the outside of the envelope or in the email subject line, so they know your letter is not junk mail.
Make sure your literature packages make responding easy for prospects by including your web address and information on the opportunities available to them.
Nothing signals the success of your trade-show effort better than having prospects purchase your products or having the media spotlight your efforts. Keep a record of the customers who found out about your products through the trade show. Use these results to demonstrate the show’s return on investment.
After each show, evaluate what went well and what didn’t. Critique each aspect of the show and ask others for comments. Pay special attention to feedback regarding communication to prospective customers. The “lessons learned” will help improve your efforts in future shows.