Trade shows gone wrong: are you getting the most out off your most costly marketing activity?

It’s well accepted that trade shows are eye-wateringly expensive and highly stressful but also an important way to drive business and increase brand exposure.  When done wrong, you haemorrhage money, waste time and potentially damage your company’s image in the process. When you’ve cracked it, you stand to win orders, gather a ton of good leads and give your company’s profile a boost with the people in the industry that matter.

So when stakes are this high make sure you’re well prepared with these 10 tips for trade show success:

  1. Pre-prepared order sheets and pricing strategy.  Before you even get to the event make sure you and your team (especially the sales guys) know what your pricing and discount structure is per order quantity.  There’s nothing worse than haggling with a determined customer only to find yourself back peddling or that you’ve made a loss at the end of the negotiation because you’re unfamiliar with the margins.  Also, make things easy on yourself and bring pre-prepared order sheets either in hard copy or electronic form.  That way orders won’t be scribbled down on an illegible piece of paper only to be dubiously translated post-event when memory of the details are fuzzy.
  2. Marketing materials that matter.  Most delegates will walk away from an event with a sponsored bag filled with about 20 different companies’ brochures, data sheets, white papers, giveaway tat, snack wrappers and goodness knows what else.  If you want people to read and remember your business, you need marketing materials that grab attention and stick out from the rest of the recycling! Keep your messaging short, sharp and take some inspiration from these unique and striking examples.
  3. Leads, leads, leads.  One of, if not the main reason why businesses attend events is to capture leads in the hope that they might turn into an actual paying customer.  Lead capture is a hugely important and, yes, slightly onerous task and can be done effectively a number of ways: stick them in a spreadsheet, use the scanners provided by the event organiser to scan people’s name badges, ask delegates to drop their business cards into a bowl in order to win a prize.  Sometimes the organisers actually distribute attendee contact details but you may need to sponsor something at the event to enjoy this benefit.
  4. Sponsor something.  If you have a little extra budget and the event has exactly the right calibre of people in attendance, get efficient and sponsor, say, a drinks reception for example.  This way you can get your brand up front and centre and get some valuable networking done at the same time.
  5. Get cosy.  Events are often held in very large, very impersonal conference centres with very little privacy to speak of.  Unless you have a sizeable stand with its own meeting space, it might be worth hiring private meeting rooms within the conference centre to have somewhere less exposed to talk to bigger clients.
  6. Free tat.  Instead of your giveaway being a throwaway, why not make it something delegates will keep, use and enjoy?  There are a number of companies out there that do some interesting, original products, it may just involve a little extra research and thought.  Here’s a good place to start though!
  7. Tell a story.  If your products or solutions aren’t the most engaging or are quite dry, try and create a more relatable story around what you’re selling.  How does it help the buyer?  What problems does it solve for them?  Sometimes it’s not what you buy but who you buy it from so if you have an interesting back story, use it!  Provide some company background and inject some personality into what you do and why you’re doing it.
  8. Ooh pretty!  Again, in a conference centre of sometimes hundreds of exhibitors, you need to stand out.  People are like magpies, they tend to gravitate towards aesthetically pleasing, eye catching things regardless of whether they’re interested in what your selling or not.  But once you’ve drawn them into your stand, that’s half the battle won! Make your exhibition space look as attractive as possible.  Move away from a sparse pull-up banner or three – there are plenty of cheap and easy ways to dress a booth, you just need a bit of creative thinking.  Here’s some food for thought.
  9. Be Social.  Thanks to smartphones, tablets and free wifi, delegates are taking more photos at trade shows and posting more tweets and Facebook and LinkedIn updates than ever.  Capitalise on this social behaviour and make sure you and your space look spectacular showing the passing traffic that your company has something to get social about.
  10. Get punchy with the PR.  When media focus is already on an industry event, it’s a good time to release a story because the press are already primed.  Industry press will always be in attendance so make sure you have a good press pack ready and you’ve put time aside to speak to journalists to either sell in your story or keep your company on their radar for the future if you have nothing newsworthy to sell at the time.  There’s nothing wrong with building those relationships now for use later down the line.

And that sums up my 10 tips for trade show success.  As with most of these ‘tips & tricks’ blogs, it’s not an exhaustive list but gives you a little direction and somewhere to start when it comes to planning your attendance at an industry event.  There’s a raft of things you can do as a small company to make your trade show budget stretch as far as it can (speaking opportunities etc) just make sure you’ve researched and planned far in advance and trade events may well turn out to be the secret to your company’s success.